Vakuta Island kula ornament - soulava
Vakuta Island kula ornament - soulava
Vakuta Island kula ornament - soulava
Vakuta Island kula ornament - soulava
Tribal Bod Mod

Vakuta Island kula ornament - soulava

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Item details

Vintage from the 1950s

A VAKUTA ISLAND KULA ORNAMENT (SOULAVA).

An older 'soulava' collection of shell currency linked together with various polychrome beads and seeds threaded with wire and fiber string used in the kula trade ring of the Trobriand Islands. Composed of spondylus shell disks, clam shells and seed pods, it measures about 18" overall. Early to mid-20th century. Rare. Great display piece.

The Kula ring spans 18 island communities of the Massim archipelago, including the Trobriand Islands, and involves thousands of individuals. Participants travel at times hundreds of miles by canoe in order to exchange Kula valuables which consist of red shell-disc necklaces (veigun or soulava) that are traded to the north (circling the ring in clockwise direction) and white shell armbands (mwali) that are traded in the southern direction (circling counterclockwise). If the opening gift was an armband, then the closing gift must be a necklace and vice versa. The exchange of Kula valuables is also accompanied by the trade in other items known as gimwali (barter). The terms of participation vary from region to region. Whereas on the Trobriand Islands the exchange is monopolized by the chiefs, in Dobu all men can participate.


All Kula valuables are non-use items traded purely for purposes of enhancing one's social status and prestige. Carefully prescribed customs and traditions surround the ceremonies that accompany the exchanges which establish strong, ideally lifelong relationships between the exchange parties (karayta'u, "partners"). The act of giving, as Mauss wrote, is a display of the greatness of the giver, accompanied by shows of exaggerated modesty in which the value of what is given is actively played down. Such a partnership involves strong mutual obligations such as hospitality, protection and assistance. According to the Muyuw, a good Kula relationship should be "like a marriage". Similarly, the saying around Papua is: "once in the Kula, always in the Kula."

Vakuta is an island in the Trobriand Islands group of Papua New Guinea. Vakuta is a near continuation of the Trobriands' main island Kiriwina to the south, separated from it only by the 400-metre (1,300 ft) wide Kasilamaka Passage. It has an area of 21.16 km2 (8.17 square miles). At the census of population in 2000, Vakuta had a population of 971, which has increased significantly over recent years. The smaller island of Vakuta maintains a stronger traditional kula exchange, while the more populous main island of Kiriwina has let many kula traditions and attitudes become diluted.