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Feather Currency

Culture Santa Cruz Islands
Title Feather Currency (Tevau)
Date 20th century
Medium Feathers, fiber, bark, shell, and and beads
Dimensions Object (width of the whole): 14 5/8 × 33 3/16 × 2 3/8 in. (37.1 × 84.3 × 6 cm)
Overall (width of the whole): 14 5/8 × 33 3/16 × 2 3/8 in. (37.1 × 84.3 × 6 cm)
Credit Line Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University
Accession Number 80.42

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About this Work

The people of the Santa Cruz Islands used a very distinctive form of currency, referred to as feather currency or a currency roll. When unrolled the currency can be up to thirty feet in length. Feather currency rolls were created over a wooden structure with valuable red feathers from the scarlet honeyeater (Myzomela cardinalis) to which shells and beads were sometimes added and served to enhance the roll’s value. This form of currency made on Ndende Island was traded throughout the region but was not used for everyday trade. This currency was only used for large, important purchases: for canoes and pigs and for payments to a young woman’s family by her husband-to-be. Coils with intact feathers still vividly red were considered the most valuable.

Between five and six hundred hours of work by three different hereditary specialists usually went into the making of a coil of Santa Cruz feather currency. One man gathered the feathers, a second made plaques by gluing together feathers from gray Pacific pigeons and then attaching the red feathers to them, and then the third specialist assembled the plaques together into a coil.

Provenance research is ongoing for this and many other items in the Eskenazi Museum of Art permanent collection. For more information about the provenance of this artwork, please contact the department curator with specific questions.

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"Feather Currency | Collections Online." Collections Online. Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University, 2024.