Kina shell

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On display

Room 68: Money 

Object details

Width: 21.6 cm
Museum number: Oc1990,09.273

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Kina shell

Papua New Guinea, 20th century

Countries often use images on their coins and banknotes to make statements about their identity. The five kina banknote of the Bank of Papua New Guinea, was first issued in 1981, and depicts a bird of paradise on the front and a kina shell on the back.

For many centuries, pearl shells were traded from the coast to the Highlands of New Guinea, where they were valued for their shining beauty, and were used as gifts exchanged on important occasions such as marriages. In the mid-twentieth century Australian colonial officials brought many more shells to the region. Pearl shells were then presented on impressive banners. When Papua New Guinea gained independence in 1975 the new coins and banknotes introduced were named after these shells.

Currency, in the form of paper money, has now largely replaced pearl shells in the local economy. Today, kina banknotes are presented on banners topped with bird of paradise plumes, in the same way as the pearl shells used to be.

Like the banknotes, Papua New Guinea's first coinage, issued in 1975, also alluded to tradition and the 1-kina coin carries a stylised bird of paradise emblem on one side.

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