This is an interesting story that I came across this week, if you thought carrying a lot of loose change around with you was a nightmare then you want to be glad you don’t trade with these!
I would love to see someone try and buy a coffee from Starbucks with one of these!
In the middle of the Pacific Ocean is the incredibly beautiful island paradise of Yap. Yap is one of four states that make up the sovereign island nation called Micronesia.
These islands are home to around 12,000 people and cover and area of about 100 square kilometres.
The island of Yap does not have precious metals like gold or silver so the locals used giant stone disks as currency.
These disks were carved out of limestone and called Rai.
These Rai stones vary in sizes with some being 12 feet tall and weighing nearly 5 tons. They have a hole in the middle resembling doughnut.
Some stones are so large and heavy that they cannot be used and are simply owned as an immovable asset and their ownership or transaction history is recorded in a traditional oral manner which is passed from one person to another and down through the generations.
Where the stones are located is not important but the ownership of them is, in one story a large Rai stone coin was being moved by a canoe when it accidentally dropped into the sea and sank to the floor.
The stone could no longer be seen but it was known that it was there so it was accepted as payment when used during trading.
Sometimes stones do need to be moved and to do that are long pole is placed through the centre hole and it is carried by men to the new destination. Some of the smaller Rai stones measure around 7 centimetres in diameter and are a lot easier to carry and use when trading.
What is even more curious and impressive is that the stones are carved from limestone which is non-existent on the island of Yap. The limestone was quarried from neighbouring island of Palu some 400 kilometres away!!
This made the stone very valuable to the Yapanese, the perceived value of individual stones was based on its size and the craftsmanship used to create them. The larger the stone the more valuable it was.
FSM – Yap – Island Tour
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The transportation of the stone from Palu to Yap took a lot of time and effort and could result in the loss of life. Sadly a death during transport would increase the value of a stone. Which Rai stone it was and how many men died transporting it could greatly affect the value.
The use of Rai stones for trading stopped at the start of the 20th century when trading with Spanish and German traders would end in disputes with the locals.
During the second World War the Imperial Japanese Forces took control of Yap and used many of the stones as building materials and anchors for boats.
Modern currency has replaced the traditional Rai stones on the island however they are still used today by the locals when conducting rare and traditional important social transactions such as marriage, inheritance and political deals.
YAP Island Micronesia
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