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GUNANTUNA (Tolai people) of East New Britain; Gunantuna

Designed to mesmerise viewers in ceremony, these majestic rings, known as Tutana, were created by the Gunantuna (Tolai people) of East New Britain, Papua New Guinea. The spectacular rings are banks – which are legal tender in East New Britain, alongside the government-issued currency of the PNG kina – and are comprised of shell-encrusted cane strips, known as Diwarra or Tabu.

Diwarra is used for everyday transactions, including buying store goods and paying school fees, but it is the only currency allowed within ceremony relating to bride price, death and initiation. During such ceremonies, rings of shell money are opened and broken into lengths of Diwarra to articulate important relationships between clans and individuals. As Diwarra can be stored in these rings for decades, its redistribution connects current and past generations.

These Tutana banks were created by a group of eight men, with female support, led by artist and historian Gideon Kakabin (1956–2018), an initiated elder from Nangananga Village who sadly passed away shortly after the works were completed.

As part of APT9 opening celebrations, a shell money ring will be broken and distributed as a mark of respect for Gideon Kakabin. In his words:

They are not just shells. There is an intimate link between the physical shells themselves and the spirit of the Gunantuna people. It is not just an art object or a currency. It is a spiritual object as well for us.