flaga Yap

An astonishment a day- 
drives your depression away...



The exchange rate of stone money.

"C’mon kids. We’re going shopping" says the lady of the house to her children. The four grown lads, her sons, pull a thick pole from the bushes, thread onto it a huge coin, groaning lift it up on their shoulders, and the five of them set of for the market. In fact, people didn’t really go to the market like this, but more serious business was carried out in this manner in a certain small nation lost in the Pacific Ocean. The group of Pacific islands that currently belong to Micronesia, is called Yap. Yap, together with a few of its neighboring islands have an area of under 100 square kilometers and are inhabited by 12 000 people who speak four languages (plus English) and are segregated into seven social classes.
Incredibly, before whites came to the islands, Yap was the center of a huge sea empire (as far as the area was concerned), and much of the Pacific trade was concentrated right there.
It is not known what reason led to the use of this particular currency, that really is one of a kind, in which the coins are huge stone rounds called vai. Should the need arise, the vai could be transported from place to place with the use of a thick pole inserted in the hole in the center of the currency. Smaller coins only required two men to carry, however the larger coins could measure up to four meters in diameter, and required a whole team of strong men. What’s even more fascinating is that the coins were made of aragonite, a material that is not available on Yap, but had to be transported from the island of Palau, approximately 400 km away. The transportation of the material would have taken at least five days over the rough Pacific, and often took the lives of men. The value of the coin depended (and still does) on its diameter, but the number of sailors that were killed in its transportation also have an effect on the value. The more casualties, the more the coin was worth. There is certain logic in this. Of course the vai was not a normal currency as we have come to think of it, but more a symbol of prestige and wealth, with which one could purchase all there was to purchase in such a society. Sometimes after the transaction, the coin would stay in the very same place, but everyone would know who it belonged to, and that was enough.
In the year 1929, 13 821 stone rounds of varying sizes were counted on the island, however currently only about half of these remain. The reason for this decrease in numbers, is their commercial, or more precisely, their bank value. The vai are officially bought by the ‘Bank of Hawaii’ and have an ordinary exchange rate that is determined by their diameter. For one inch of diameter one can get 72 dollars. So a two-meter large vai is a fortune for islanders. 


One of the largest stone coins, not yet sold.

[And here you may see the satelite view of Yap] 

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© (selected from publications of 
 R. Antoszewski

Titirangi, Auckland, 
New Zeland

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2003

v.36

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