Long before the Yuan was pegged to the Dollar was pegged to the Market and it was all pegged to the whims of Warren Buffett, Yap had its own sort of pegs: stuck into the center of their giant stone money. The Yapese are so proud of this tradition (and rightfully so, its cool!) that even their license plates feature the prominent claim of Yap as the “Island of Stone Money”.
So whats it all about? Though the distance now can be covered with a quick connecting flight of a few hours through Guam, when Stone Money became the common currency it was valued precisely because of the difficulties of getting it in the first place.
The trip to Palau to mine the stones took two weeks or more each way IN A CANOE across the open ocean, followed by a period of indentured servitude to the Palauan kings just to earn the right of mining the rocks. This granted, the Yapese miners/treasure hunters still had to dig the rock out of the ground (often from the faces of cliffs) and shape it before tying it to their canoes for the return trip to the islands of Yap.
The value of each stone is judged not only by size, but also by how much tribulation went into acquiring it. Some of the most valuable set their worth by the number of men that died in the acquisition.
Even today, the stones are still an active part of the living culture of Yap. Villages still pass ownership of the money between each other in payment for social debts and as signs of goodwill. Though not exchanged for mundane transactions, the stones (which sit all in and around many of the villages of Yap) are still owned by and used for the needs of the village.
Sound complicated? I think so too. Even these kids, who tried to their utmost to explain it all to me, eventually admitted that even they didn’t entirely understand how it works. Not to worry, though. Even if you’re not willing to grant the fiscal nature of Yap’s Stone Money, they can always stand in as a great paperweight/doorstop/boat anchor!
Headed to Yap and unsure where to stay in Colonia? The best dive resort/hotel combo seemed to be Yap Pacific Resort, but spend some time searching and you can find other options as well.