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Micronesia - Yap

Courtesy of media-cdn.tripadvisor.com

Stone Money

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9.515053, 138.109345

Overview of Stone Money

Yap is notable for its stone money, known as Rai: large doughnut-shaped, carved disks of (usually) calcite, up to 4 m (12 ft) in diameter (most are much smaller). The smallest can be as little as 3.5 centimetres (1.4 in) in diameter. There are five major types of monies: Mmbul, Gaw, Fe' or Rai, Yar, and Reng, this last being only 0.3 m (1 ft) in diameter. Many of them were brought from other islands, as far as New Guinea, but most came in ancient times from Palau. Their value is based on both the stone's size and its history. Historically the Yapese valued the disks because the material looks like quartz, and these were the shiniest objects around. Eventually the stones became legal tender and were even mandatory in some payments.

The stones' value was kept high due to the difficulty and hazards involved in obtaining them. To quarry the stones, Yapese adventurers had to sail to distant islands and deal with local inhabitants who were sometimes hostile. Once quarried, the disks had to be transported back to Yap on rafts towed behind wind-powered canoes. The scarcity of the disks, and the effort and peril required to get them, made them valuable to the Yapese. However, in 1874, an enterprising Irishman named David O'Keefe hit upon the idea of employing the Yapese to import more 'money' in the form of shiploads of large stones, also from Palau. O'Keefe then traded these stones with the Yapese for other commodities such as sea cucumbers and copra. Although some of the O'Keefe stones are larger than the canoe-transported stones, they are less valuable than the earlier stones due to the comparative ease in which they were obtained. Approximately 6,800 of them are scattered around the island.

As no more disks are being produced or imported, this money supply is fixed. The islanders know who owns which piece but do not necessarily move them when ownership changes. Their size and weight (the largest ones require 20 adult men to carry) make them very difficult to move around. Although today the United States dollar is the currency used for everyday transactions in Yap, the stone disks are still used for more traditional or ceremonial exchange. The stone disks may change ownership during marriages, transfers of land title, or as compensation for damages suffered by an aggrieved party.

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Photos

Meeting house and stone money - Courtesy of media-cdn.tripadvisor.com Courtesy of media-cdn.tripadvisor.com Courtesy of media-cdn.tripadvisor.com Stone Money bank - Courtesy of images.travelpod.com Yap Stone Money, taken by Scott Fitzgerald - Courtesy of media.npr.org

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Tours

  • Traditional Land Tour of Yap - Our traditional land tour offers a local's-eye view of the complexities and traditions that comprise the unique character of Yap. Guests will be led t...
  • Island Tour of Yap - Visting some of Yap's outlying villages where you will tour the meeting houses, the stone money banks, the men's houses, stone paths that intertwined ...

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News

  • PRIs The World: Stone money - On the Pacific Island of Yap, you can’t exactly keep change in your pocket when dealing in the local currency. It’s stone – and up to twelve feet across. Its origins go back millennia...more
  • A Giant Stone Coin At The Bottom Of The Sea - The question led us to Yap — a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, where for hundreds of years people used giant stone discs as a form of money. As it turns out, those stone discs say a lot about the meaning of money...more

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Random User Comments

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