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V13 2010 INDEX       E-SYLUM ARCHIVE

The E-Sylum: Volume 13, Number 51, December 19, 2010, Article 15

MYTHS ABOUT YAP STONE MONEY

Allan Speedy of Auckland, New Zealand submitted these thoughts on Yap stone money. Thanks! -Editor

Allan Speedy Yap Stone Money Thank you for the fascinating article in The E-Sylum Volume 13, Number 50, December 12, 2010 on the stone money of Yap.

In July 2008 my family and I spent ten days on Yap expressly to learn more about this fabulous money which I had first seen in a photograph in a coin book at my local library when I was a boy in the 1960’s.

Unfortunately the article perpetrates many myths about Yap’s traditional money, including:

1) Sailing to Pulau on ‘small bamboo boats’. In fact I visited a boat on Yap which was near completion and which would shortly sail to Pulau under the direction of traditional navigators. The boat was made of timber, rather than bamboo. (However the Yapese use rafts constructed of bamboo for local transportation only.)

2) Whilst it is true that the ‘coins’ are made of limestone, it needs to be stated that the stone is a crystalline form of limestone (aragonite CaCO3). At night my torch shone through the stone money so it is better described as ‘crystal’ money. In the tropics the ‘coins’ quickly become ‘gardens’ being covered in moss, mould and ferns and their translucent properties are covered over (which does not affect their value) - This is however corrected in the audio interview linked at the website.

3) The myth that it was mostly used for non-commercial transactions. In fact Willard DeMille Price who spent some time on Yap in 1936 took a photograph of a slave bearing a coin to market to purchase consumables for the queen of Yap.

4) Failure to mention that there are other forms of money on the islands and the red shell bead necklace money is more valuable than ‘stone’ money.

Other myths include the ‘antiquity’ of stone money (early European visitors failed to make mention of its’ existence), the influence of Europeans and in particular Captain David Dean O'Keefe who was shipwrecked on Yap in 1871 and subsequently provided sailing ships and metal tools to greatly expand the money supply, and that Yap is in fact not the indigenous name for the island (When the Spanish first arrived they came across a Yapese in a boat and apparently cried out in Spanish ‘What’s this place called?’. Of course they were misunderstood but the Yapese thought they were asking ‘what’s in your hand?’ so he called back ‘yap’, ‘a paddle’! The correct name is ‘Wa'ab’ which means ‘land’.)

A paper I wrote on the money of Yap ‘A Yap about Money: Journey to the Forbidden Island of Stone Coins’ can be found at www.speedy.co.nz/TraditionalMoney along with some photographs of stone money and stone money ‘banks’, a sketch of the largest ‘coin’ in the world (photography is forbidden) and an article on the origins and epistemology of traditional money.

I would encourage the numismatically curious to visit Yap. It is safe, clean and comfortable. The snorkelling is fantastic. You will be treated with the greatest respect by the Yapese. However, please in turn, respect the local culture which is very traditional and conservative.

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see: YAP: THE ISLAND OF STONE MONEY (www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v13n50a21.html)

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Wayne Homren, Editor

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