Lifestyle & Belief

Strange currencies of the world


Stone money in Yap, Micronesia can weigh several tons and is usually never transported. Residents simply note who the new owner is.


Jeff McNeill

The drachma may no longer exist, but the economic crisis in Greece has inspired some communities to invent new ways of trading goods and commodities.

In a backlash to the euro, enterprising Greeks have created their own currency systems, such as the TEMs, in which individuals earn units of TEMs based on goods or services rendered. The system bypasses the euro altogether, and some have seen the cashless system as an easier and more direct way to engage in trade.

Greek citizens, however, aren’t the only ones who have shunned modern payment methods. Several communities around the world have established alternative currencies:

1) Yap, Federated States of Micronesia

This tiny island in the Pacific officially trades on US currency, but its residents have a long tradition of exchanging giant stone discs as a form of currency for expensive purchases such as houses or cars. The discs, weighing tons, never actually change hands — residents simply know who the new owner is. 

2) Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe suspended the trade of its own currency in 2009 due to hyperinflation and now officially lists the US dollar as its currency for government transactions. The South African rand, Botswana pula, pound sterling and euro are also accepted forms of currency. But with GDP per capita at $500, most Zimbabweans rarely have access to any of these currencies. As a result, citizens have turned to the barter and trade system where medical bills can be paid with three goats.

3) Lewes, England

The small town of Lewes, in East Sussex England, introduced its own local currency: the Lewes pound. The value is pegged to the pound sterling but can only be used in local shops and establishments. It was created as a way to promote local businesses by ensuring that money would be spent within the town. Since Lewes took the plunge, other towns like Brixton, Gloucestershire and Totnes have also introduced their own currencies.

4) Internet

Bitcoin was introduced in 2009 as an open-source digital currency that can be used to exchange goods and services on the internet. The currency is exchanged directly through peer-to-peer networks. Bitcoins are slowly generated by users in exchange for lending computer resources to process transactions and the total number of credits that can be created is capped at 21 million. The currency has not been widely accepted, although several internet communities accept it as a form of payment.