Numismatics, or coin collecting, is a widespread hobby and a lifelong passion of many people. Coin collectors are willing to spend a lot of money and travel far to get a unique coin. However, there is one place on our planet, coins from which will never belong in anyone's collection - not only because they are not for sale, but also because they are huge and heavy. We are talking about Rai stone money, which is one of the attractions of Yap island in the Federated States of Micronesia.
They used some big, circular stone disks, usually carved out of limestone. That’s right: big chunks of rock. These stones, known as Rai, were obtained from quarries on the island of Palau, and then transported to the isle of Yap.
Rai coins are large is discs with a hole in the center, weighing up to 5 tons, 4 meters in diameter. Obviously, you can't carry this money around in your wallet or keep it in a safe at home. Because of that, Rai coins just lay around in the streets of the island without any danger of being stolen. They have been the island's currency for 80 years. During this time, no new coins have been manufactured or taken out of the circulation.
“The stone tokens of Yap were just the physical manifestation of the monetary system; without the oral history of their ownership, they were just worthless pieces of rock. That is why stealing them was pointless: if the transaction wasn’t officially recorded in the oral history of the island, it still belonged to its old owner. The person that owned it needed to announce that he no longer possessed the stone and passed it on to another.
The local legends say that the people of Yap discovered the limestone on Palau 500 to 600 years ago, when Anagumang, a Yapese sailor, led an expedition there. He noticed that they didn’t have such stone on their island and therefore considered it as precious. Allegedly Anagumang ordered the first blocks to be cut in the shape of a fish, but stone wheels were chosen later because they were easier to transport. Laborers used to put a pole inside the hole in the middle to help them carry the Rai.
Besides the giant valuable money there is “small money” as well – about 10 cm in diameter, which one can actually carry around. When making a purchase or other financial transactions, the big coins remain standing in the beautiful, picturesque groves, where they were before, and the name of the new owner is carved into the stone.
As a result of thriving technology and fluctuations in the Yapese market, in the 30s of the last century there were more coins than residents. But during the WWII, when the island was occupied by the United States, many Rai stones were confiscated. Part of them went to the construction of fortifications, some stolen, and some survived. Today the remaining Rai stones are a cultural heritage strictly protected by the state.