Friday, May 28, 2010

Places I’ve Been: Yap (Big Money and Hard Currency)

From 1998-1999, I served as the public defender on the Island of Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia. Yap is a fascinating place to spend a couple of weeks. After nine months, it can get quite boring. Yap’s claim to fame is that, for centuries before Europeans arrived, young Yapese men would paddle their canoes almost 300 miles to Palau, to quarry huge limestone discs, then transport them back to Yap to serve as their currency. Am I the only person who appreciates the irony of young Polynesian men risking their lives for pieces of limestone, whereas for centuries, members of other cultures have risked their lives for gold, silver or gems?

The Federated States of Micronesia still uses the American dollar as its currency. It has often occurred to me that if Yap wanted to revitalize their economy, they might do well to reintroduce stone currency as a way of raising money from tourists. After all, if other governments can decree that carefully engraved pieces of paper have monetary value, why can’t the Yapese government do the same thing with pieces of limestone. What better souvenir could a tourist have than a genuine chunk of Yapese stone money for say, 500 or 1000 dollars. You could include a thank you note explaining how the person had helped finance roads, medical care and more on the island.

For the real high rollers, they ought to auction off one really huge piece of limestone that will get the buyer an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records. Seriously, if you get a bunch of egomaniacal billionaires willing to argue over the fact their piece of stone is bigger than others, who knows how much money you could raise?

I’ve seen some pieces of stone money that are twelve feet tall, so I guess that Yap brings a whole new meaning to the idea of big money and hard currency.

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