Rai, or stone money is a large circular stone disk that was cut out of limestone. The stones they used were from Palau and were transported to the island of Yap. The Yap use these great stones as a sign of currency. Some stones were to large to move, so if an item or items were purchased with one of the stones then the owner of the new stones would have the stone sit on the previous owners yard. Everyone on the island new though that that stone now belonged to the new owner even though it still sat on the original owners lawn.
The form and value of these stones varied depending on how big the owner requested the cutters to cut the limestone. The largest stone ever recorded was 12 feet in diameter and 1.5 feet thick and weighed 8,800 pounds! It is located on Rumung Island in the Riy village.How the stones value works is interesting. If someone dies while the stone is being transported or a famous sailer brought the stone in, the stones value will increase. They are still used today for things such as marriage, inheritance, political deals, signs of an alliance, and the list goes on.
In one instant of a stone we had talked about in class; a large stone being transported by canoe was accidentally dropped and sank to the sea floor. Although it was never seen again after that, everyone in the village still agreed that since the stone is in fact still sitting on the sea floor, it belonged to the owner still and he could still use it at currency and a sign of wealth. What is most important it that the ownership of the stone was clear to everyone and that he can still make trade even though the owner or the buyee could not see the stone physically.
There is a great history behind every stone and many generations of Yap’s behind it as well. The earliest limestone that has thought to have been mined dates back to 500 CE, however widespread mining began between 1000 – 1400 CE. The Yapese discovered the rock on Palau abut 500- 600 years ago. Limestone was nonexistent in Yap so to them limestone was our gold. Originally the cutters were told to cut the stone in the shape of fish, but eventually the circular stones took charge because it was easier to transport. How they transported the stone was by sticking a pole through the hole in the center of the stone and the workers lifted it up and brought it where it was needed. They have found flat stones that date up to 2000 years old, so one could only guess this has been tradistion for a long time.
The trade of these stones were eventually stopped due to spanish and german forces interested in the area.quarries were abandoned and once the Japanese took over during World War II, the stones were used in construction or as anchors.