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Yap’s Giant Money: Where Rai Stones Rule as the World’s Most Unique Currency

In the western Pacific Ocean, there is a small island called Yap, which belongs to the Federated States of Micronesia. The currency used by the residents of Yap is the most valuable currency in the world. It is neither gold nor diamond, but a huge stone, which the locals call “rai stones”. In front of and behind almost every house, there are several pieces of stone as tall as a person standing. The bottom of the stone is buried in the soil and fixed. Visitors to the island for the first time will think that it is a special decoration. The stone is usually carved into a large disc shape with a round hole in the middle. When people carry it, wooden sticks can be passed through the hole to facilitate transportation. The largest existing stone is 3.6 meters in diameter, 50 centimeters thick and weighs 4 tons. Although this piece of stone is a huge treasure in Yap, the owner has no worries about it being stolen because ordinary people cannot move it.

Stones are everywhere, so why did the residents of Yap choose them as currency? Laishite on Yap Island is made of calcite. This stone is not produced on the island. The nearest mining site is in the Palau Islands, more than 400 kilometers away. According to local legend, more than 500 years ago, the ancestors of the residents of Yap came to Palau in canoes and discovered this special stone. They carefully carved it into the shape of a whale and named it “Lai Stone”. “It means “whale” locally. Their ancestors overcame the difficulties of crossing the ocean and used canoes to transport heavy rocks back to Yap. Later, the stone coins circulating in Yap Island basically came from the Palau Islands, and they were all carved into disc shapes for easy transportation. It often takes several months to mine, carve and transport the stone, and sometimes even encounter tragedies of shipwreck, loss of life, and stone sinking into the sea. The number of stone that can be successfully transported to Yap Island is limited, resulting in the “rare stone is more valuable” “Families who own Laishi all regard it as a “family heirloom.”

The value of the stone depends on the size, the fineness of the polishing, and even the difficulty of obtaining the stone. If there are no twists and turns from mining to transportation, the value of the stone will not be high. According to records from European travelers more than 100 years ago, a raishi with a diameter of about 60 centimeters can buy a 40-kilogram livestock, and a raishi with a diameter of 1.8 meters is worth the same as a large canoe. In 1871, American captain David O’Keefe was shipwrecked near Yap Island and was rescued by locals. After he returned to the United States, he used modern quarrying tools to mass-produce lai stones and transported them to the island in exchange for valuable sea cucumbers and dried coconuts, which caused “inflation” on Yap Island for a time.

Today’s Yap residents also use U.S. dollars for daily shopping, but when it comes to major transactions and family wealth inheritance, they are still accustomed to using Laishi. Smaller stones can also be “handled with one hand and delivered with the other”. It is quite difficult to move large stones, so there is no need to change its position. It only needs to be witnessed by all the islanders to declare that the stone has been replaced. The owner only needs to mark it, and neither party has to worry about breaking their promise. It is said that an expensive lai stone in Yap Island was encountered in a storm on the way back and sank to the bottom of the sea. However, the residents of Yap Island unanimously believed that its value has not changed, so the family who owns the lai stone still enjoys this money. wealth. Since this transaction method is similar to Bitcoin, Laishi is also known as the “oldest blockchain”.

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