Posts Tagged ‘money’

Rai

We often hear the phrase “Money is just paper”. It is light and colored, and looks almost the same in all countries. But what if money is made out of stone, it is heavy and costs more if someone died because of it? That’s exactly the case on Yap.

Yapese money, also known as “rai” was first invented on the island of Palau when a man tried to carve a stone in such a way that it would resemble the shape of the moon. In order for him to carry it, he had to carve a hole in the middle of the disk. The Yapese embraced the idea and soon it became their official currency.

According to the article  “The Stone Money of Yap: A Numismatic Survey” , the money ranges from a foot in diameter to about ten feet or even more. The value is determined by how the disk got transported to the island. The more difficult and hazardous it was, the higher the value.

The supply is now fixed since no more rai are being carved or imported from the neighbor islands. What matters to the Yapese is not the quality of the disk’s carving but who the owner is and how they got it.

Even though the US dollar is their de facto currency, one can still buy property on the island using rai that has a high value to the Yapese. There are around 6,800 rai scattered on the island and its inhabitants know the owner of every single disk. They don’t move the money because every inch of Yap is private property and that accounts for a certain etiquette among the islanders. More about that fascinating code of behavior, coming up in the next post.

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Government

According to the official website for the Yap State Government, the island has a constitutional democratic form of government. The Federated States of Micronesia, which used to be under the rule of Germany, Spain and Japan, is now an independent sovereignty. It is however in alliance with the United States through an agreement of free association which helped the Federated States of Micronesia become self-sufficient.

The U.S. dollar is used in the FSM, the U.S. Postal Service serves the island chain, and the government is also largely funded by the United States.

The Yap State Government website states that its Constitution took effect on December 24, 1982, and while much of Yap’s structural setup and constitutional mandate is modeled on the U.S. democratic system of government, in addition to the three branch system of government, the Yapese government has a fourth branch of traditional power- the Councils of Pilung (Yap Proper) and Tamol (Yap’s Outer Islands).

The executive power of the State is vested in the Governor who is the head of government. The Executive Branch consists of five departments and three offices. Governor Tun is given credit for the much repeated saying in Yap, “If you don’t have a dollar, you don’t spend it.” Another famous Yapese saying: “If you don’t save for a rainy day, you will get into a lot of trouble” also shows the importance of frugality. This is one of the reasons why Yap is in a better fiscal position than the other islands. A very interesting article by Robert Underwood from the University of Guam points out that the bank loan default rate is the lowest in the FSM and when the Bank of Hawaii branch closed in Yap, there were still individual saving accounts totaling over $10 million (article can be found in the blogroll section).

If you’re looking to make Yap your new home, however, finding a job would not be an easy task since the government has made it an official policy to give FSM citizens first priority for employment consideration. If you’re a U.S. citizen, you are lucky because you come second. Third country nationals are last on the priority list which makes a lot of sense. Maybe living in Yap is not a bad idea if you’ve quit your job back home, you’ve sold all your stuff and you’re ready to live on your savings and experience the ultimate island transformation.