Although many Americans have seen foreign currency, not many know about the more rare forms of money that exist outside the traditional means of paper bills and coins. One example of this occurs in the fascinating islands of Yap, a country which has been captivating anthropologists, naturalists, and economists since the mid-1800s with their unique idea of money.
The islands of Yap are tucked away in the Western Pacific Ocean near the island of Papau New Guinea and are part of the Federated States of Micronesia. All of the islands are encompassed in a common coral reef and have a total square mileage of only 38.7 miles. Even in this millennium, the population still stands around roughly 6,500 people (see map).
As their national currency, the Yapese used (and still currently use in some cases) a stone currency called Rai. These calcite stones are shaped in the form of thin wheels with small inner circles carved out. They are generally much taller than they are thick and range in size from one inch to 12 feet.
The value of each Yap stone is not determined by size but rather by the lengths that were taken to acquire the stone. None of the Yap stones found in the Yap Islands are indigenous to the area; they are mined and shipped from Palau primarily, 250 miles to the southwest. Factors that contribute to a stone’s value include the type of tools used to mine and carve the stone (the more primitive the tools, the higher the value) and the manner in which it was shipped. The more difficult the circumstances were for acquiring the stone, the higher the value. For instance, if a man working on mining, carving, or transporting a stone died in the process, the stone was considered extremely valuable.
Many modern societies claim that the Yap stone currency suffers because it lacks the “portability” factor of paper and coin monies but this is not completely accurate. However, physical possession of the stones is not necessary for the transfer of ownership. For instance, the transfer merely has to be communicated between parties for the ownership to be changed.
To many American citizens the transfer of funds via this sort of “honor systems” seems improbable and illogical. However, we often forget that nearly all transactions on a daily basis occur without the transfer of anything physical, in the form of electronic payments. EPayments account for most dollar transactions within the US and are represented only on balance sheets showing adjustments from one financial institution to another. Like in the Yap stone currency system, with ePayments there is no need to physically transfer money or deal with the burdens of transacting through physical exchange.
This core concept behind the Yap Stone currency symbolizes the business of ePayments and digital transactions. The Yap stones represent a fundamental shift in how we view the transfer of money in today’s world. YapStone, Inc., at the forefront of eCommerce evolutions, reflects upon a common, old world currency exchange that has been long forgotten and offers a fresh, new outlook on ePayment options.
-Annalies van Stigt, YapStone’s Resident Anthropologist