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Kanalaritja: An Unbroken String

The workshop gave Tahana Rimmer (left) her first opportunity to make the traditional shell necklaces. Source: ABC News. Photo: Rhiannon Shine. 

Rhiannon Shine, Unbroken String: ancient art of shell necklaces links generations of Aboriginal Tasmanians, ABC News, 8 December 2016

Just five years ago there were real concerns the ancient Aboriginal practice of shell stringing would be lost in Tasmania.

In 2010, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) started running luna tunapri [women’s knowledge] workshops in the hope the cultural practice, which dates back at least 2,000 years, could be kept alive.

The cultural revitalisation project was such a success a range of necklaces spanning nearly 200 years, created by living pakana [Tasmanian Aboriginal] elders, their ancestors and the next wave of “stringers”, will be displayed in a nationwide exhibition.

Indigenous Cultures senior curator and pakana woman, Zoe Rimmer, said that during the workshops women who had not learnt shell stringing from their families were guided through the intricate processes of collecting, cleaning and stringing.

“Shell stringing was one of the only practices that was continued throughout the invasion and colonisation of Tasmania so it’s something that obviously had a special importance to people,” Ms Rimmer said.

“And now [the necklaces] are incredibly beautiful pieces that people wear to celebrate our culture and identity.

“It’s something that has been handed down through generations and was maintained by only a small number of families on the Bass Strait islands.”

Passing stringing skills to new generation

Through the workshops Ms Rimmer’s mother, Tahana, was able to learn the skill of shell stringing for the first time.

“One of my ancestors, Pularilpana, was taken by sealers to the Furneaux Islands in the early 1800s,” Tahana said.

“My mum was born on Flinders Island, [but] when my mum was young a lot of our culture, it was taboo. It was fairly well covered up.

“It was unfortunate that we lost that opportunity to gain that [shell stringing] knowledge.

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