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Yapese Quarry Sites


Johnson stands before an abandoned piece of Yapese stone "money" at Metukerabisech in one of Airai State's Rock Islands. This site, accessible only by boat, has been set up for tourists.


“The Yapese came to Palau to quarry stone money from the Rock Islands— to ‘mint their coins,’ so to speak” Johnson relates. Two Yapese quarry sites exist in Airai State, one on the island just off Airai Village. While these sites do not specifically represent Palauan culture, there presence attests to one legacy of Palau: as the source of these carved stone objects, and of the limited interaction between the Palauans and the Yapese who came to carve these.


“The voyages between Yap and Palau were risky. People lost their lives. And when they came here, they worked using crude, primitive tools made of shells, or whatever they could find, to quarry and carve out these huge disks—round, wheel-like disks with a hole in the middle—as their money.

"And then they would transport them back to Yap in their canoes, or on bamboo rafts towed by the canoes. It was very risky and lot of them lost their lives."


Quarry Sites map

Quarry sites in the Airai Rock Islands relative to the location of Airai Village.


Yapese dock

Approaching the dock (left) to the quarry site at Metukerabisech. The terrain is steep.


“That currency is part of their social order there," Kathy explains. “Yap has a caste system, and the people who came here from my understanding weren’t the highest caste. And I think that accounted for them to keeping to themselves while they were here.

“Yap is a very stratified society” Tina adds, “but when the Yapese came, they were connected with Koror, some with Airai, and some in other areas. There would be a connection between the high chief of a village here, and a high chief of a ranking village in Yap. They acquired permission to come to the Rock Islands. Our relationship with Yap is very close. And we feel very comfortable with them."



Unfinished Disks

Remains of two unfinished disks at Metukerabisech. They sit below a stone platform (right) that comprised part of the work area built by the Yapese.



“Only Koror and Airai had the Rock Islands where the rocks are that are good for stone money,” Kathy points out. “You don’t quarry stone money way up in Babeldaob. Quarry sites are only in Koror and Airai, close to the traditional settlements and villages that were in existence then.

“When the quarrying was done, the tools were shells. They used clam-shell adzes to carve. There was some burning, and then some chipping. That was really hard, and it took a long time. Then the disk was ferried on a bamboo raft."



“It was hard living up in those ridges. Carving those stones took time, and you didn’t bring that much with you. We require so much now, you know. But the Yapese sufficed with staying under a cave, with a hearth for warmth and just a little space to rest.

"And their food was not extravagant—basic taro, fish, coconut, and whatever they could get from the sea, or grow in the area. I’m sure it’s not like people nowadays, when we sit down for lunch. It’s like a feast, with so many different foods. For them it was just basic staples, enough to keep them going."



Map of the quarry site at Metukerabisech


A chunk of the calcite crystals from which the money was carved. To see an example of these crystals in a piece of stone money, click here.


"I am sure they would come over to the village to get food, and also the villagers would go visit them, taking taro and whatever they could bring. But they kept to themselves."

“There are quarry sites near the shore," Walter points to Orrak island, just off Airai's waterfront. "And more up the ridge, maybe close to 30 meters above sea level. I don’t know if it was the best quarry area up there, and some they just finished and left them up there. That is kind of a rugged island for trying to bring them down.

"But it is now probably the best quarry site where you can still see the remains and the platforms and the living areas where they were."


Orrak Island, just off Airai's main landing place. The causeway that divides Ibedul and Reklai sides of Palau reaches towards it from the left.


“When I asked Rurecherudel,” Johnson relates, “he said the Yapese would work there for a few days and go back to the Airai Village, help the people plant taro and coconut and then they would bring some food over and they would work for a few days and then come back. And in fact one of the Yapese boys, 5 or 6 years old, was adopted by a Palauan family, because he would go with his father everyday. And the Palauan family said ‘hey this is a rough life for this kid you know. You can leave the kid with us,’ and eventually the kid became a Palauan, lived and died as a Palauan in Palau. So there was a lot of interaction."



“A lot of us from Airai Village have Yapese relatives, because of their sojourns in Palau when they came for the stone money. So we have a very close ties with Yap. We’re ethnic cousins. See, Airai is called Airai, the name of the same Palauan halibut fish, the flounder. That is called rrai. And the Yapese money, in Yap is called rai, or fei. In Palau we call them baláng, But when I was in Yap, I said ‘hey, what does baláng stand for?’ They say ‘oh that simply means rock. But our money is called rai or fei.’

"So here we have the Airai View Hotel, and there was a hotel in Yap on the hill called Rai View Hotel, and there was a stone money right in front of it.”


One of the sleeping caves at Metukerabisech.


Palau & Yap map


“Those who stayed were exceptions," Kathy adds. "They were unusual circumstances. They were sometimes adopted into a particular family and remained there. But there wasn’t really that much of going and coming on a daily basis. They kept to themselves and we honored that, and we stayed within our boundaries also.

“We consider Yapese a very different kind of people. We respect them for their quietness, their patience. They have a different language, different customs. Although we fish, they have a different way of fishing and we have a different way of fishing. We cultivate taro, they cultivate differently. There are a lot of similarities on the surface but very different approaches to life, although we have the same features and the same looks, and we share some of the same things."



Stone money on display at a men's house in Tamil, Yap.


“I think of all the Micronesians, the Yapese are closet to Palau both historically and culturally," Johnson concludes. "I got to know Yap during my professional years as an attorney. I got to live there and work with the lawmakers, the chiefs. And I learned to like them a lot. Then recently I went back, and got to know the people there much better, and I respect them a lot."



We will learn about more storied places in Airai later. But first, we turn our attention to the sea.



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