|Description:||Yap Stone Money, or Rai, are some of the most intriguing forms of currency in the world. Rai are smooth and round calcite stones indigenous to the Palau group of Islands. Centuries ago, after the Rai stones were quarried, they were expeditiously transferred back to the island of Yap.
The Rai stones provenance can be traced back to the Island of Yap in the early 1800s, where they played an integral part of Yap’s financial system. Rai stones were used as a trading medium at the time, a practice that continues to this day, although, on a much smaller scale. The stones can be referred to as Fei, Stone Money or Yap Stones, but it’s the original name of Rai that remains most common today. Most examples of Rai stones are considered rare and sacred amongst the predominant Yap people.
The largest Rai stones exceed 12 feet in diameter, weighing as much as two tons each. Considering their use as currency, this technically makes the stones the world’s largest coins. Due to their large size and weight, the stones often traded ownership without physically being transferred to new locations. The larger Rai stones would usually transfer ownership at special ceremonies or large gatherings, where there were many individuals present to witness the transaction.
Transporting the stones from Malakal to Yap via boat consisted of traveling about 250 miles and was an extremely dangerous voyage, many times claiming several human lives along the way. Often the value placed on a stone was relative to the number of human lives lost during its transport. Rai stones were also valued by their age, size and weight; the older, bigger and heavier the stone, the more value it contains.
Over the span of decades, different museums around the world have made Rai Stones an integral part of their prized collections. One of these is none other than the renowned Smithsonian Museum, which houses several examples of Rai stones in its collection. Around the world, other museums in Russia, Japan, and Germany have also followed suit by adding Rai stones to their exhibits. Some have stated that Rai stones are part of their major attractions, if not their main attraction.
The first Rai Stones were produced centuries ago shortly after some Yapese fishers got lost and landed on the neighboring Palau Island. Upon seeing the limestone structures on the island, the Yapese immediately became deeply intrigued by them. They proceeded by removing a piece of limestone from one of the structures and that piece was later made into a Rai stone that was shaped like a whale. From there on, the Rai stones were used for centuries in the Island of Yap to execute transactions. The Yapese people would use axes made out of shells and learned different techniques to carve the limestone. Some Rai stones took as long as two years to produce. The Chief would usually oversee the production of the Yap stones, therefore maintaining a controlled financial system for the Island of Yap.
As of 2014, it is illegal to export Yap Rai stones from the island of Yap. Therefore, it is scarce to see examples surface in the marketplace. Examples that are available usually derive from long time sophisticated collectors, museums or private institutions that are legal to own. Here collectors have an opportunity to own a special museum piece that is seldom offered to the public and will hopefully soon reside in a deserving prized collection.
Approximate Size: 24” x 14 ½” x 2 ½”.
Approximate Weight: 40 lbs.
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