I recently came across some news from Yap in Micronesia that I would like to share. During the first week of March is when Yap Day is celebrated throughout the Micronesian country. In Yap the modern world exists alongside the traditional world. But on Yap Day, traditions take center stage. These include traditional dances, crafts, tattoos, food and ceremonial dress, among other features of local culture.
Yap tradition, history and beliefs are celebrated and there are various performances featuring Yapese of all ages, including the women’s bamboo stick dance and the men’s standing and sitting dances. According to the Yap Visitors Bureau (YVB) all Yapese dances tell a story. There is this dance “about a woman who was exiled from her village of Aloq for having leprosy. She slept under a banyan tree and saw this dance in her sleep night after night and eventually she was dancing. When she woke, she was cured. A spirit taught her this healing dance. Without leprosy she could return to her village. She began teaching the men how to perform this dance.”
The modern lifestyle, the YVB says, has only a partial grip on Yapese people.“If you were to ask most Yapese people what they wanted to see in their future, their answer would be to modernize and keep their traditions.“As faster WiFi and access to the larger world increases, Yapese culture and traditions remain strong.“Here, many mornings start with a coconut husk fire, and some evenings the forest resounds to the beat of bamboo sticks, war cries and chants from a traditional dance practice in the village.” Valerie Conley, a Yapese, says she’s proud that Yap continues to keep its culture and heritage alive.
The state of Yap consists of 134 islands and atolls. Twenty two of these are populated, stretching across an excess of 100,000 square miles in total area. Yap’s main island is made up of four high volcanic islands, accounting for 38 of Yap’s approximate total 50 square miles of land area. The main island of Yap is where the state capital and commercial center, Colonia, is located. Most of the outer islands stretching approximately 600 miles east of Yap Island are coral atolls. These atolls are sparsely populated by people different from the Yapese in both culture and language.
Yap is famous for its stone money or “Rai.” Initially these stone discs were smaller but over the centuries this became the largest and heaviest money in the world. The weight of these “coins” reached 7.6 tons! The money of Yap is made of a white or brownish varieties of limestone, consisting of aragonite crystals. They have been used in trade by the Yapese as a form of currency.
At one time, Yap was the epicenter of a large trading network of the surrounding islands. People would use huge stones to trade among each other, especially for large transactions. The stones were used mostly for expensive transactions, such as buying land or property. In other instances they were purchased as status symbols. Oftentimes, wealthy owners would place the stones outside their residence for others to see.
Today, the most common currency traded in Yap is the U.S dollar. When Rai stones are used as currency, they usually remain in the same location, thus showing that a transaction has been made. Many Rai stones are located near banks where they are arranged in lines making up walkways. Others are placed somewhere visible in a village or located outside meeting houses.