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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (December 3, 1998 - Post-Courier)---The founder of a traditional shell money bank, Henry Tokubak, has called on the Tolai people to take stock of their shell money as it may become useful if the country's economy continues to suffer.

The Universal Bank or Kastom Benk is involved in the trading of shell money for the kina as well as other traditional forms of currencies such as New Ireland Mis, Pomio Kakal and Manus dog teeth.

East New Britain Province, in particular the Gazelle Peninsula, which is home of the Tolai people, is probably the only society in the country which operates successfully on a dual currency system, with the shell money having strong value against the kina.

It can sometimes be even higher if shell money is in short supply.

Mr. Tokubak said as the country continues to experience a downturn, the Tolai Tabu could one day be the only means of survival for the Tolai people.

"I urge the Tolai people to take stock of their shell money now and record how much they have, for they may one day rely entirely on this traditional form of wealth to live,'' he said.

"The way things are going, our kina may mean not a cent one day so we need to be prepared.''

Years ago, a fathom of shell money was exchangeable for two kina. Today, the value of two kina has risen to K 3.50 in some places and K 5 in other places.

Even today, in Tolai societies, payments for brides, land and warporong in shell money is considered more fitting and carries authority.

Mr. Tokubak said shell money was valuable to the Tolai society and formed the basis of many of the Tolai customs.

Under the bank's trading policies, which are promoted in the province, a customer can buy any item from any shop on the Gazelle Peninsula using shell money.

A store owner who accepts shell money in exchange for goods can do two things: he can either take the shell money to the Universal Bank and exchange it back into kina or, if he is a Tolai and wants to build up his Tabu wealth, he can keep the shell money.

"This should always be happening, although many store owners, especially foreigners, do not accept it because they do not understand it,'' Mr. Tokubak said.

"There is a need to have more publicity and awareness of the Universal Bank's policies,'' he said.

Mr. Tokubak estimated that currently there are around four million fathoms of shell money on the Gazelle Peninsula, which should have a value of around K 8 million.

Out of that, he estimates that only one per cent, worth around K 400,000, was being circulated around the peninsula, mostly through buying and selling.

The Tabu shell is valuable to the Tolais because it is not found in East New Britain. Most of it comes from West New Britain, Manus, Madang and New Ireland province.

In former years, the Tabu shell was traded for other goods from those provinces, mostly West New Britain.

(NOTE US$ 1 = K 2.12765 on December 4, 1998.)

For additional reports from The Post-Courier, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Post-Courier (Papua New Guinea).

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