Saturday, May 10, 2014

Island of Stone Money: Yap

Just hours after he baptizing a new member, Eric boarded a plane with his companion to visit the missionaries on the island of Yap.

File:Flag of Yap.svg  Flag of Yap

Brief History

Yap is an island in the Caroline Islands of the Western Pacific ocean. The land is mostly rolling hills densely vegetated. Mangrove swamps line much of the shore.  Colonia is the capital of the State of Yap which includes Yap proper and the fourteen outer islands (mostly atolls) reaching to the east and south for some 800 km (500 mi), namely Eauripik, Elato, Fais, Faraulep, Gaferut, Ifalik, Lamotrek, Ngulu, Olimarao, Piagailoe (West Fayu), Pikelot, Sorol, Ulithi, and Woleai atolls, as well as the island of Satawa. Historically a tributary system existed between the outer islands and Yap proper. This probably related to the need for goods from the high islands, including food, as well as wood for construction of seagoing vessels. 2000 population was 11,241 in both Colonia and ten other municipalities. The first recorded sighting of Yap by Europeans came during the Spanish expedition in 1528.

Yap is known for its stone money, known as Rai: large doughnut-shaped, carved disks of calcite up to 12 ft in diameter (most are much smaller). 

Many of the stones were brought from other islands, as far as New Guinea, but most came in ancient times from Palau. Their value is based on both the stone's size and its history. Historically the Yapese valued the disks because the material looks like quartz, and these were the shiniest objects around. Eventually the stones became legal tender and were even mandatory in some payments. As no more disks are being produced or imported, this money supply is fixed. The islanders know who owns which piece but do not necessarily move them when ownership changes. Their size and weight (the largest ones require 20 adult men to carry) make them very difficult to move around. Although today the US dollar   is the currency used for everyday transactions in Yap, the stone disks are still used for more traditional or ceremonial exchange. The stone disks may change ownership during marriages, transfers of land title, or as compensation for damages suffered by an aggrieved party.

The people speak Yapese, an Oceanic language. The Book of Mormon has been translated into Yapese.
Footnote: the traditional dress for the women has different modesty standards that what Americans are used to - not wrong, just different. On Yap the women are topless, but are very careful to cover their thighs, an area of the body that is considered vulgar to be shown in public. Often the skirts reach down to their ankles. As a missionary this is somewhat AWKWARD, beginning when you get off the plane at the Yap Airport and a topless lady puts a lei around your neck. Not really what a young man expects when he goes on a mission.

However, Eric said the people there are very friendly and kind. He said when you walk around to different villages you must carry some leaves to establish that you come in peace. If you come empty handed, it indicates you have no purpose for your visit and therefore are looking to cause trouble. When the missionaries were walking around the villages to teach people, he learned that you must make a certain call to get permission to walk onto someone's property. Eric and the other missionaries are mindful to always show respect to the different peoples they teach and come in contact with. What a wonderful experience.