SHELL MONEY AND SHELL NECKLACES
Stone money is by no means the only Yapese valuable. The most highly valued money on island is called “Gaw”, a necklace formed of shells and whale teeth. This valuable is reserved for chiefs.
“Gaw” was first brought to Yap by the ancient navigator Angumang of Teb vil-lage in Tomil. According to legend, Angumang discovered the shell necklaces while on a voyage to Udot Island in Chuuk lagoon. While there he saw some beautiful strings of shell worn around the waists of a group of Chuukese women who were performing a dance. Captivated by the beauty of the shells, Andgumang decided to obtain them and, late at night, stole nine from the area where the women put them for safekeeping.
In the morning, the Chuukese discovered the theft and suspicion immediately feil on the outsider, Angumang, who was down at the beach preparing to depart for Yap. An expedition of Chuukese men was quickly rounded up and sent to die beach to search Angumang’s canoe and retrieve the stolen valuable. After an exhaustive but fruitless search, though, the Chuukese were forced to release Angumang and his crew who piously proclaimed their innocence.
Sometime later, Angumang and his crew arrived in Yap. They had many stories to teil and were loaded down with gifts obtained during their long voyage, among them nine ropes of shells that made beautiful necklaces – gifts from the people of Chuuk. Unbeknownst to the Chuukese, Angumang had hidden the stolen goods in hollowed pieces of bamboo on his boat!
Another important Yapese valuable is “Yar”, or shell money. There are four kinds of Yapese shell money that are used for important events like marriage proposals and celebrations, as well as to tender traditional apologies. Shell money is also used as payment for local medicine.
One kind of shell money comes from Palau, another from the Philippines and Indonesia. The third kind of shell money comes from a sunken coral island thirty-five miles north of Yap called Seepin, and the fourth is indigenous to Yap. The types of shell money are easily distinguished by Yapese based on the coloring on the insides of the shells. Some of the shells are whole while others are cut and attached to deco-rated wooden handles, coupled like an oyster shell, or put in groups of five on lengths of coconut rope.
There are important norms governing the exchange of shell money that are passed down from generation to generation, and the Yapese pay dose attention to the type and number of shell money that is offered during exchanges. An inappropri-ate offering may result in under or overpayment for a particular service, and can be refused, rauch to the embarrassment of the offering Party.