The U.S. Navy Seabees have served on all seven continents and on many of the islands in the Pacific beginning in World War II. As Seabees were stationed all across the world on deployment, they returned home with souvenirs from a variety of communities; many which have since been donated to the Seabee Museum to preserve their stories.
One of these stories and artifacts comes from the Island of Yap that was donated by the Civic Action Team 6207. The Island of Yap is located in the Caroline Islands of Micronesia in the western Pacific Ocean and is approximately 300 miles northeast of Palau.
The Civic Action Team (CAT) was a program created by the Department of Defense in 1969, as a continuation of a joint partnership between Palau and the U.S. since WWII. The CAT mission is to provide a continuous favorable U.S. military presence, transfer technical skills to local residents, and partner with Palau in basic infrastructure development. The first seven teams deployed in 1969 were by Navy Seabee teams.
On one of the first deployments of Seabee Civic Action Team 6207, they brought back a curious circular stone disk carved out of limestone. Theses limestone disks are called Rai and are used as a form of currency on the Island of Yap. Of the 4 pieces of Yap money we have in our museum collection, this piece of limestone money weighs 50 pounds, is 12 inches in diameter, 3.5 inches thick with the hole in the middle measuring 4 inches across.
The limestones that the Rai are made of are not native to Yap and were quarried on several of the Micronesian Islands. Palau was the main source of limestone which was transported back to Yap on rafts for use as currency. The oral history of this tradition goes back many centuries.
Rai comes in a variety of sizes. Some are as large as cars. Most Rai do not actually change hands physically due to their size, but it is known who the owner is, similar to online banking today. The value of a specific Rai stone is based not only on its size and craftsmanship, but also on its history. Each stone was given a name, usually that of the sea warrior who brought it back.
Nowadays, the U.S. dollar is used for most transactions, but the Rai is still used for large transactions, such as a daughter’s dowry.
The CAT Program is still running with civic action teams operating on 6-months assignments and rotating between the Army, Air Force, and Navy Seabee teams.
Come visit the Seabee Museum on Tuesday March 1st at 2pm to learn more about Yap money and see other fascinating treasures and stories the Seabees have to share at our Curator’s Corner event.
Meet the Curator: Robyn King earned her Bachelors in History and Anthropology from the State University of New York at Oneonta. She has experience working at State Museums, Historic Sites, the National Parks Service, and most recently the Navy. She’s an expert in collection management, and has worked closely with both natural and cultural collections. Robyn loves all museums and sharing her love of history. When’s she not working, she’s volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.