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Palau: Metuker Ra Bisech stone money quarry

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Metuker Ra Bisech stone money quarry | Palau | Oceania

[Visited: January 2016]

Palau is our first stop on a journey through the Micronesian region, and the next one is going to be Yap. Famous for its stone money, we know that this money was actually taken from Palau, and it turns out that some of the quarries used by the Yapese can be visited. We get a permit from a government office near the airport on Babeldaob, and talk to an employee in the agency responsible for a protected area in which the quarry we want to visit lies. We pay for the fuel, three rangers go out to get the boat, while our friend shows us the oldest bai on the island, and takes us down to the sea. From here, we see several small islands; apparently, one of them was also used for stone money mining. We drive back to the bridge linking Babeldaob to Koror, and our boat arrives almost at the same time. It is now getting late, and I wonder if we will still make it before it is too dark.

Picture of Metuker Ra Bisech stone money quarry (Palau): Palauan guide sitting on the disk of stone money at the quarry

The light reflecting off the steep hills rising out of the sea is warm, and we see patches of limestone through the woods. We eventually dock at a small pier, walk up a steep path through the forest, and arrive at a big, fat stone disk with a huge, perfect hole in the middle. It lies on the ground, surrounded by plants and trees, and a yellow barrier. It has been carved out of the limestone here, but for some reason it never made its way down to the sea, and to Yap. Our guide stands on top of it, which is how we can appreciate its sheer size. We are surprised a little: we had expected to see a quarry, an open area with more stone disks, but even though the quarry might be at this very spot, the forest has taken over, leaving only the one rai, or stone money, as a testimony of what this area was once used for.

Picture of Metuker Ra Bisech stone money quarry (Palau): The trail leading to the stone money quarry

All kinds of questions come to our minds. How did the Yapese manage to carve out these enormous stone money disks here, and carry them down to the sea? Were they rolled? Not likely, given the fact that that would make it harder to control them. Were they carried, with sticks through the hole in the middle? Could be, but given the steep trail we have just walked, that would be a daunting task to carry out, and it would need very strong sticks to carry this kind of load. Why was this stone money disk left behind? Then, once at the sea, how were they loaded on the canoes and rafts that transported them? How were the sailors able to steer their canoes with their important cargo hundred of miles across the Pacific to their final destination? And lastly: will we find answers to these questions on Yap island? Our brief visit to the stone money quarry has only raised our interest in the Micronesian island. Before heading back, we stop briefly at the wreck of a Japanese fighter plane resting on the bottom of the sea just off one of the islands. But we will carry the questions about the stone money with us.

Picture of Metuker Ra Bisech stone money quarry (Palau): The disk of stone money once quarried by the Yapese still lies on the ground in Palau
Picture of Metuker Ra Bisech stone money quarry (Palau): Ngurusar Bay seen from the boat
Picture of Metuker Ra Bisech stone money quarry (Palau): Contours of a Japanese fighter plane on the bottom of the sea near the stone money quarry

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