Traditional money banks in Vanuatu

26 Jun 2007

Traditional Money Banks are alive and well in Vanuatu. Wealth based within pig tusks, red mats and stringed shell money, have an ancient and respected history. The traditional money banks project aims to maintain and revitalise living traditional cultural practices whilst stimulating income generation in Vanuatu.This project was jointly undertaken by the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, the Vanuatu Credit Union League (VCUL), the National Council of Chiefs, UNESCO Office (based in Apia), and the Government of Japan (Japanese Funds-In-Trust (JFIT).

© K. Huffman. Chief Paul Tahi Hubwehubwen Vanua, from North Pentecost wearing pig's tusk

Traditional wealth includes forms of currency with sacred aspects and the cultures using them have advanced ideas of investment, banking, lending, interest and compound interest.

The modren western economic system and the use of modern money is much simpler and does not fulfil the wide range of social, economic, cultural and sacred functions of the traditional system.

Traditional Money Banks explores the possibilities of linking traditional systems into self-reliant and sustainble development paths for Vanuatu.

Objectives of the project are:

  • To survey and understand the production processes, banking and investment using wealth items in Vanuatu
  • To promote and raise awareness of special importance of traditional money methods
    To preserve and continue to pass-on the intangible knowledge relating to skills and techniques for making these money items
  • To develop a strategy for promoting the use of traditional wealth items in Vanuatu
  • To develop strategies to facilitate the use of traditional wealth items to pay for services currently paid for in cash (e.g. school and medical fees), especially in rural areas
  • To establish laws and policies at provincial and national level to support the use of traditional wealth items as part of the formal economy of the country
  • To strengthen the foundations of the traditional economy within culturally appropriate frameworks with a view to stimulating income-generation within local populations
  • To provide infrastructure resources needed to establish effective and viable traditional money banks
  • To Establish the viability for extending this concept to other areas of Melanesia

The first activity of the project, a survey of the production processes and investment and banking mechanisms for traditional wealth items in Vanuatu, was completed by Mr Kirk Huffman at the end of 2004 and the survey report was published in July 2005.

Download the Executive Summary of the report

The project aims to produce a new national strategy for development in Vanuatu that recognises the significant economic resources and “wealth” that already exists at the community level in the rural areas of the country, whilst maintaining and revitaling living traditional cultural practices that produce income generation.

At a national-level the Vanuatu Government took traditional wealth a step further by declaring 2007 as ‘The Year of the Traditional Economy’.

This movement and growth in tradtional wealth has major beneficial implications in many parts of the community, not just within Vanuatu but also in other parts of the Pacific.

For more information, contact Mali Voi and Kirk Huffman