This shell valuable comes from the Baegu tribe on the island of Malaita in the Central Solomon Islands. Baegu shell workers acquire shell discs from coastal Langalanga communities and make elaborate shell ornaments to be worn at feasts, weddings, and other special occasions. People also exchange strands of shells as a form of currency. Anthropologist Harold Ross and his partner Kay Ross collected this object, known as a tafuliˋae, during doctoral research in Malaita in the mid-1960s. Tafuliˋae are used in bride price transactions. They consist of bound strands of red, black, and white shell disc beads. The different bead colors have distinct meanings and the strands are carefully composed. Red beads dominate in tafuliˋa, as red is considered the most powerful color, associated with adulthood, blood, fertility, and the sacred. A man needed to acquire five to ten tafuliˋae to compensate his future wife’s family for his bride; given the high value of these goods, men needed the assistance of relatives to accumulate enough wealth to be able to marry.
In honor of the University of Michigan’s 2017 bicentennial, we are celebrating the remarkable archaeological and ethnographic collections and rich legacy of research and teaching at the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology by posting one entry a day for 200 days. The entries will highlight objects from the collections, museum personalities, and UMMAA expeditions. The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology is also posting each day for 200 days on Twitter and Facebook (follow along at #KMA200). After the last post, an exhibition on two centuries of archaeology at U-M opens at the Kelsey. Visit the exhibit—a joint project of the UMMAA and the Kelsey—from October 18, 2017 to May 27, 2018.