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Stone Money
 
Long before manta rays made Yap famous to the diving fraternity, Yap was well know to anthropologists for its stone money. These discs of stone, some as much as 12ft in diameter where the traditional form of money and are still used today for major transactions such as for purchasing property and as dowries in marriage. They can be found all over Yap, but particularly in some of the more traditional villages leaning in neat rows next to the Men’s Houses, or faluw, in stone money banks. These huge discs of stone are without any doubt the largest pieces of money in the world! Fortunately for us, the US dollar is the "offical" currency of Yap, and you need not ask your bank to supply you with 5 tons of stone discs in loose change!
The stone money, or rai, were quarried on the nearby Palauan island of Babelthaup, cut from the living rock with simple stone implements. They are valued by three factors; firstly, and most obviously, by their sheer size – in general, the larger the disc, the more valuable. Secondly by the shape, texture & hue of the disc; the rounder the better, and those with attractive markings etc are better than dull ones. And thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, by the effort that was involved in getting stone back to Yap, perilously lashed to an outrigger canoe and subject to the vagaries of local weather. In other words, the more storms encountered, the more lives lost and the more hardship endured in getting it back to Yap, the more valuable a rai would become. So, a 5ft rai may in fact be worth more than a 10ft rai, purely because of the ordeal in getting it back to Yap!

Even when a transaction has taken place, say as a dowry between families in two separate villages, the stone disc may not necessarily be moved. After all, it may get damaged! The bush telegraph spreads the news fast that a rai has changed hands, so all know that this rai or that now belongs to someone else!

A day tour of the island is an essential part of any holiday in Yap – the cultural heritage is not only rich but strong, and you will get the opportunity to visit beautiful villages in fabulous locations, meet people living a traditional lifestyle and see for yourself the stone money that, with the manta rays, makes this country so unique.

 
 

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