From Canoe to Web: Ports Ancient Gift Exchange To The 21st Century

Share Article

Ovation guitar, brass flamingo, and votive candle from Watergate are some of the gifts changing hands while "digital breadcrumbs" let others follow their path.

Past News Releases


Gifts need no longer travel by canoe. Toliwaga LLC, a Vermont-based social software company, today introduced Handmeon, a gift-sharing website modeled after a South Pacific ceremonial exchange system known as Kula. In Kula, participants travel up to hundreds of miles by canoe in order to exchange valuables such as shell necklaces and armbands. Kula valuables never remain long in the hands of the recipients; rather they move from one hand to the next throughout a vast network of islands. The tradition serves to build and strengthen relationships between tribe members.

"In an age of rampant consumption and accumulation, we were delighted to discover that a more satisfying model for gift exchange already exists," said Jeff Doyle, co-founder of Toliwaga. "Handmeon, like Kula, emphasizes the experiences we have around gifts and the stories that are passed along with them. Stories add meaning and value to objects." Like Kula valuables, Handmeon gifts are passed from hand to hand. Unlike Kula, which relies on oral tradition to record the history of an object, Handmeon borrows from the blogging world, letting successive owners record stories in a variety of web media.

One example from the website is a brass flamingo that started its journey in Vermont and now resides in Texas. It's a metaphor for unchecked human desire, with posts that explore the possibilities of post-consumer consciousness. Other examples include an Ovation guitar, several pieces of artwork, a stuffed Doberman that raps Jingle Bells, a rock from Mt. Washington, and a votive candle from the Watergate complex. A Handmeon gift can be anything you can attach an ID sticker to, but the concept is intended for beautiful, peculiar, or one-of-a-kind cultural artifacts.

While Kula valuables circumnavigate the Massim archipelago in prescribed clockwise or counter-clockwise fashion, Handmeon articles are free to travel throughout the world. The site keeps track of where, when, and with whom a gift has sojourned, with the help of Google maps. The result is an online history of the gift's relationship to the community, a sort of digital provenance. Phil Cubeta, a Handmeon member who blogs at, said "I appreciate the boundary spanning aspect of Handmeon's approach, crossing over the divide between online and real world networks, and letting the emissary and marker be a gift - how wonderful a thought that is."

The new site has over 100 members and about the same number of objects. Membership is free, and the company provides free ID stickers that participants can use to create Handmeon gifts out of purchased, found, or handmade objects.

About Toliwaga LLC
Toliwaga LLC is a social software company focused on the creation of conversations around cultural artifacts. The company offers software services to museums and galleries, and maintains the gift ecology website Toliwaga is based in Norwich, VT. For more information, visit the company's website at .

Dwight Aspinwall


Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Dwight Aspinwall
Visit website