Tag Archives: polynesia

The Legend of Stone Money

Background: The informant was born in the Philippines to a Filipino mom and a white dad, and spent his childhood, from age 2 to 13, from 1966-1977. Yap is a small group of islands in Micronesia, of which he grew up on the main island of Yap. I was told of this legend over the phone. 

Informant: So, um.. when I grew up in Yap, the Yapese… they don’t have a written language. And so, when all, well indigenous peoples for lack of a better word, indigenous peoples without a written language have a history of oral tradition and in Yapese they were all referred to legends for the oral traditions. 

A very popular or well-known one is The Legend of Stone Money. So yap, as you may know, the island, is known as the island of stone money, and there are many anthropologists that have gone there and there was even a ted talk about the legend of stone money.

To give some background, stone money on the island of yap has monetary or currency value and the reason it comes up a lot with economists is that it’s a method of exchange but that you don’t actually… you can’t actually carry or give somebody stone money as they’re usually really large pieces. And, um, it’s very difficult to transport and so what it often then becomes is the ownership of the money changes hands, but the location doesn’t, if that makes any sense

Me: Yeah. And what classifies a stone as stone money? Is there a set size?

Informant: They can be huge… as large as 8-10 feet in diameter. They can be huge.

Me: Gotcha. How does one get it in the first place? Are there carvings or something?

Informant: Yeah, yeah. So stone money is actually limestone, of which there isn’t actually much found on Yap itself. Yap is a coral atoll, it’s not really volcanic, so somewhere inside the island there’s limestone as that’s what coral turns into. So the legend is, what the yapese decided many many years ago… they also have a history of sailing as well… but many many years ago the Yapese decided they wanted to go…. To sail to the moon. They wanted to go see the full moon. So, the full moon, as you might imagine, when it comes up on the horizon (you may have seen), imagine being on the beach in PayPay, and all you see perhaps in the distance are a couple islands, but all you see away from the beach is the sea and the horizon. When the moon comes up, it’s super spectacular, especially wen it’s low on the horizon. So imagine the moon coming up and 

The way that stone money came about is the Yapese decided they were going to go the full moon, they were going to sail to the full moon. People in Micronesia, particularly in the island of yap and the outer islands of yap are known to be incredible navigators

Small islands, Micronesia, and their primary mode of transportation is sailing from island to island using canoes. In the legend, Yapese men got together in their sailing canoes and decided to sail to the moon. Well the moon rises in the east, like the sun, and sets in the west, like the sun. They started off on their journey to the moon and as they followed it over the course of the night, because the moon was rising and setting, they were changing course along the way.

Where the moon set to them actually had them sail to the island of Palau. Palau is the closest large island to Yap. Completely different language, completely different culture, but the closest large island. The Yapese end up in Palau and the Palau are known for the “rock islands of Palau.” There are big, huge, walls of limestone that resemble the color of the moon. In order to return home and not be made fun of by the rest of the people, the men decided to quarry out disks that look like the moon. They’re not spheres, but they’re round since they see the moon as two-dimensional, but in order to carry them, because they were so heavy, they put holes in the center of disks so they could put a bamboo pole through the center and have two or more people carry them down. 

The size of the stone money also has some valuation consideration—the bigger the piece of stone money, the more valuable it is. I don’t know exactly how that value is calculated, but in the photos, you will see that there are varying sizes of stone money. 

The story board art tradition is from Palau, and not Yapese, but it depicts the Palauan version of the Yapese story of stone money.

Thoughts: It’s so interesting to me that the oral tradition in Yapese culture is still so prevalent even today. While this legend was something told to the informant when he was a child, he never read any script of this legend, and even when retelling it there are parts that the informant needed to pause to remember, and as he was retelling this legend to me there were moments that triggered other memories related to the original legend. Doing a little bit of research on the stone money legend doesn’t prove to produce much similarities to the legend I was told, and instead paints the origins of stone money as coming from a need for money in a society. The other version of the legend I found detailed an explorer who, similar to the story I was told, found himself off course when exploring, and found himself on Palau as well and carved disks out of the limestone. The details and the premise of the latter legend and the one I was told are still quite different, and it’s interesting to me that there are som any different versions that all share the same result—the origin and use of stone money in Yapese culture. To read the other versions of this legend, you can find them here: 

Barach, Paul. “The Island of Yap and the Idea of Money.” Medium, Mission.org, 25 Aug. 2016, https://medium.com/the-mission/the-island-of-yap-and-the-idea-of-money-9f570421d854.

Adamovich, Kirill. “Stones as Means of Payment: The Story behind Island of Yap Money.” PaySpace Magazine, PaySpaceMagazine, 11 June 2020, https://payspacemagazine.com/economy/stones-as-means-of-payment-the-story-behind-island-of-yap-money/#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20Yap%20legend,therefore%2C%20they%20became%20valuable%20materials.

Bananas on Boats


It was the last full day of my Spring Break vacation in Maui, and my parents and I had signed up for a snorkel/snuba tour out to Molokini Crater and Turtle Beach. The weather was rather poor – a light drizzle – and the water was slightly choppy. I was unable to swim that day, so I stayed on the boat with captain and most of the crew. I got to talking with the captain of the boat, and asked him if he knew of any sailing superstitions, as I knew that there were tons of them.



Me: So do you know of any sailing legends or superstitions?

Informant: Well, I don’t know if this counts as a legend or something else, but there is an old Hawaiian – it started actually as a Hawaiian lore –

Me: Okay.

Informant: And it is regarding bananas on boats.

Me: Okay?

Informant: Yeah. Have you heard of this before?

Me: No, I have not.

Informant: Allegedly, it is bad luck to take bananas out on a boat. The reason being, you know, that it will lead to bad weather or mishaps or something like that. And the reason it came to be, from my understanding, and from now, what I understand it is pretty much worldwide.

Me: Okay.

Informant: From my understanding, it is something that people from anywhere are told this, and they are told to not bring bananas on a boa. But it started in Hawaii. When they did their runs from Samoa to Tahiti to Hawaii to Fiji and to all those places…

Me: Yeah?

Informant: They, you know, obviously needed food for these long journeys in these outrigger canoes, sailing canoes. And os they would load up green coconuts, green bananas, taros – things like that that would last a while. And they would start their journey. To you know, to Tahiti or Fiji or wherever they’re going.

Me: Yeah.

Informant: And they would be fishing the whole time because they needed protein and such and so you would catch fish. And the fishing was not really all that good until the bananas were gone. And so, after the green bananas finally ripened and the everyone ate the bananas, all of a sudden they would start catching fish.


Informant: and so they believed that, you know, that once the bananas were gone they would catch fish and good things would happen. They didn’t really put two and two together that once they got a few days out where the fishing was better and they would start catching fish. So that’s where that came from.

Me: That is really cool.

Informant: Yeah. Here’s one of my more memorable experience concerning this. I remember, before I captained this boat, doing tours out to Molokini and Turtle Beach and other snorkel/snuba spots, I was a fisherman. You know, big game fish – ahi, mahi mahi, the like. Huge fish.

Me: Uh huh.

Informant: And my first mate was a Hawaiian, and he believed in this superstition wholeheartedly, would refuse to bring a banana on board. So one day, I wanted to prove to him that this superstition was baloney. So I hung a huge, huge bunch of bananas on the boat, and proceeded out to go about my day.

Me: And what happened?

Informant: At the end of the day, we brought in about 3200 pounds of fish.

Me: Wow, that’s a lot of fish.

Informant: Yes, and I told my mate, “See? There’s nothing to this banana superstition.” And he replied to me, “But, if we didn’t have the bananas on board, we would have caught 4000 pounds today, rather than 3200 pounds.” I gave up on trying to convince him that bananas did not bring bad luck when on a boat.

Me: Hah. That is awesome. Well, thank you very much for this. It is certainly something that I did not know before.

Informant: You are very welcome. I hope this project of yours goes well.



This superstition, like many others, deals with the forbidden, or something that is believed to bring bad luck. The explanation that the informant gave for the origins was truly interesting, in that it revealed how a superstition comes into being. The Hawaiians, and the Polynesian peoples in general, taking green fruits, including bananas, onto their outrigger canoes, and supplementing their provisions with fish, would have realized quite quickly that it wasn’t until the bananas were gone that they began catching more and more fish. Thus the belief that bananas on boats were unlucky.  A superstition is born when one action is believed to be correlated with another action or state of being. In this example, the first action is bananas on boats, and the second action is no fish getting caught, and the state of being is unlucky. Also, the fact that this belief spread worldwide is interesting. The Polynesians were some of the greatest seafarers of the Pacific, and so they would have passed on the superstition of bananas on boats being unlucky to the peoples that they met on their voyages at sea. Furthermore, they almost certainly would have influenced the American and European sailors who can to Oceania as well. Thus, given that the only method of travel between Oceania, America, Europe, and Asia was by boat, it is not surprising that a, originally Polynesian superstition has now become a belief that sailors worldwide are familiar with, whether they actually believe it or not.


“Luaus are gatherings that you can find and go to, especially in the touristy areas of Hawaii.  Basically, people eat Hawaiian food like lomi salmon (tomatoes and smoke salmon), lau lau (meat-like chicken of fish or pork-wrapped and cooked in taro leaves), long rice (clear-looking spaghetti noodles in a soup), poi (ground up taro made into a mush), and kalua pig (traditionally cooked in a hole in the ground).  Luaus are a time to celebrate the Hawaiian culture.  Not only is there Hawaiian food, but there’s also Hawaiian music, which is usually performed by a local band or singer from the islands.  These bands and singers perform Hawaiian songs with ukuleles and other instruments.  Also, hula dancing to slow Hawaiian songs is a popular form of entertainment.  Another type of dance, the Tahitian dance, involves women who dress up in a really big skirt and wear coconut bras and move their hips around really fast.  There are also fire dancers, usually men who spin around sticks that are lit at the ends and toss around a baton thrower.”

By living in Hawaii her entire life, my informant has been exposed to luaus all the time.  Luaus are always going on and there aren’t any specific dates as to when a luau is held.  Luaus occur in hot tourist spots like the Waikiki strip or in the countryside on the North Shore, where people hang out at the beaches.  There’s also a Polynesian cultural center at the North Shore that holds luaus for tourists.  Luaus have become so popular that they’re popular among both Hawaiian natives and tourists.  She doesn’t attend luaus whenever she wants.  People hold luaus as parties, so she goes whenever she’s invited.
    Antonette thinks that luaus are great.  She considers them as parties that she attends to see her friends and family, only everything in a luau is about the Hawaiian culture.  If anything, it’s also a cultural experience, so the main idea is to celebrate the Hawaiian culture and spread it around to others.  She likes going to luaus when she has the chance because of the food, music, performances, and dancing.  Luaus allow my informant to eat Hawaiian food because she doesn’t normally eat Hawaiian food on a daily basis.  Also, she likes some of the bands that play Hawaiian or reggae music because she doesn’t listen to that type of music often, so it’s cool and exciting to see live bands and to dance on stage with friends.
When I traveled to Hawaii on vacation five years ago, I was able to experience an authentic Hawaiian luau.  Of course, the luau was staged for tourists, but I witnessed actual Hawaiian activities, food, and music.  I can definitely see why both natives and tourists enjoy going to luaus.  I was never bored during the luau because there were so many activities going on.  The Hawaiians even allowed tourists to participate by learning the different types of dances.  In addition to observing, tourists are able to learn part of Hawaiian culture.
Everything that my informant described to me was there at the luau that I attended.  I was able to observe a very entertaining Hawaiian tradition that I think is important to maintain.  Hawaii has such an incredible and unique past, and it is extremely different from the rest of the United States.  It’s important to continue the tradition so that future generations can take pleasure in attending such a distinctive custom.