After the long days of snow and ice, many of us are longing for warmer temperatures, even if we are not jumping on an airplane. In what seems my never-ending task of clean out the accumulations of a lifetime (good tasks for being stuck in the house due to iced roads and below freezing temperatures!), I found a stash of items I had set aside for artwork. In 2016, I had chanced on a calendar called 1,000 places to see before you die. There were even a few places on it that I have actually seen, so now I only have about 998 to go.
One of those places was Yap, one of the four states of the Federated States of Micronesia, and the cover photo was a line of these “wheel-shaped stone money units called rai.” They line some of the roads and in front of meeting places. Due to the heavy and large size, they are seldom actually moved, but there is a record of ownership and indeed, records of all prior owners. Numerous scholarly articles and news items have been written about the stone money of Yap and the economic system they represent.
Some of the rais were as large as 10 feet across and could weigh up to 8,000 pounds. The value was assessed considering the size, shape, and the difficulty of acquisition. The light-colored crystalline rock is calcium carbonate, and those with brown or white stripes were considered more valuable.
National Public Radio published an item about the stone money in 2010 that is a quick read, and also includes what economists understand about exchange. You can read it (and see a few recent photographs) at the link above. Yap was home of one of the last Pacific Island cultures to encounter Western cultural methods. During World War II, the Japanese occupation resulted in many of the rai stones being used for ship anchors and foundations for construction. The banking system now is ‘modern’ but the stone rais are still used in ceremonial experiences, such as weddings and other formal events, and the ownership records are maintained.
Yap is located in the area of the Caroline Islands, near Guam. Birding and diving are part of the eco-tourism. If you want to add this to your bucket-list, check out Visit Yap and see photographs of the stone money, a range of accommodations, culture and history, and how to get there.