The Giant Stone Coins of Yap

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The island of Yap in the Pacific Ocean, is one of the four states that make up the independent sovereign island nation of Micronesia. Covering an area of about 100 square kilometers, these islands are home to about 12,000 people. The island of Yap has no precious material like gold or silver. Instead, they use giant disks of limestone called Rai as currency for trade.

Rai stones are large circular disks with a hole in the center, like a doughnut, and stand as high as 12 feet tall and weighs as much as five tons each. Some of these stones are so large, they aren’t physically moved at all. They are simply owned, like immovable assets, and their transaction or ownership is recorded in the oral history. The physical location of the Rai is not important, the ownership is. In one instance, a large Rai was being transported by canoe when it accidentally dropped and sank to the sea floor. Although it was never seen again, everyone agreed that the Rai must still be there, so it continued to be transacted as genuine currency. When moving a Rai is necessary, a strong pole is passed through the hole and carried by men to the required destination. Smaller Rai stones measure 7-8 centimeters in diameter and are far easier to transact.

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