20 May, 2009

Yap – the Stone Money Island of Micronesia


Yap is a small island of the Caroline Islands situated at the West Pacific Ocean. It belongs to the archipelago of the Federated States of Micronesia. Colonia is the capital city of Yap, which is also referred to as Waab – mostly by locals. The population of the island reaches the 6,500, although Colonia seems to gather the vast majority of the residents. It covers a total area of 102 sq kilometres.

The island itself is divided into four smaller islands, which are very close to each other and merge due to the large coral reef. The shape of the island as well as its geology is extremely interesting and intriguing and has been frequently researched by experts.

Yap’s land features rolling hills, lush greenery and rich vegetation. The barrier reef creates a lagoon, while the island features more than 10 atolls. The most known of them are Ngulu, Ifalik, Garefut and Faraulep.

The island is mostly known worldwide due to a unique characteristic: the stone money referred to as Rai. These are carved disks in the shape of a donut, made of calcite. Their size is immense as their diameter is up to 4 meters. There are five types of Rai, with the smallest one being approximately 7-8 centimetres. The value of the money is based on the size of the stone and its history – some of them were brought from other islands of the archipelago.

These discs are considered to be of high value because they are shiny and look like quartz. The construction and production of Rai has stopped, therefore everyone on the island of Yap knows which stone and which disc belongs to whom. There are no surprises or legal issues with the money and although the US dollar is the official currency Rai is still in use, especially in ceremonies. References and the history of Rai can be found in every travel guide.

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