Friday, September 3, 2010

Strangest Currency

That award goes to...
On the island of Yap in the Solomon Islands, you'll find the world's largest and strangest form of currency: the rai stone. Forget pocket change: these limestone discs with the hole in the center can run 12 feet in diameter and weigh up to eight tons.
Because Yap lacks the proper limestone for rai stones, the villagers would risk their lives to paddle their ocean-going canoes to Palau, where they would carve these behemoths from a mountainside and row them back to the island.

"Part of the value is size, but the real value lies in what it took to get it there, the number of people who died bringing it back," [David] Doty explains.

As for its monetary use, the stones typically remain in place; only the ownership changes.

"Once it gets there, these things can't be moved, but everybody on the island knows who owns which stones, and transfer is done in a public ceremony," says Doty. "But how different is that really from moving bits around in a computer? I mean, do the bits really move, or do you just change the association of the name in the bank account?" The Yap government has banned export of rai stones. One of the few on display resides in the lobby of the Bank of Canada in Ottawa.



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