The 1/10th ounce .999 silver 9 Tang of Pura Palue; above two pictures
Pictured above is the first of the Tang wooden tokens or coins for Pura Palu'e. True to the unique lifestyle and culture of this isolated island is captured beautifully through these coins hand fashioned from scrap wood, a design burned into the wood by hand one coin at a time, making every one different, then finished with a stain. Other denominations will be offered. The coins are designed and produced by artist Justin Giorgi, who was commissioned by Blue Waters Mint for this project. In short, every coin is purely handmade, totally unique and truly a work of art. Each one is about 30 to 33 millimeters across with some not perfect circles. Justin said he would number each coin in ink that shows under UV light but I haven't checked yet.
Above: the 1 Tang, about 4.8 grams of pure copper. Wikipedia states: "To subdivide the Indies stuiver, in 1658 an official issue of the Lari known as Tangs - 'fish hook' coins made of copper (based on money in use in South Asia) - was attempted. A tang was equal to a quarter 'Indies stuiver', with five equalling tbe Dutch stuiver coin. The tang were to be officially stamped to prevent clipping, but this was unsuccessful as the copper proved too hard to work. A revised order authorizing production in pewter followed in 1660. As only one specimen is known to survive, it seems that this was not a successful issue." Certainly unsuccessful in the Netherlands Indies, the coin did catch on with Pura Palu'e that was not under control of the Netherlands. It survives through today as the currency of preference on the island. Paper "Oa" notes were then a term for 'coupon money' and generally valued at about 10 to the Tang.
Pura Palu’e, meaning White Palu’e in English is located in the Indian Ocean amid the ‘circle of fire’. It’s name likely given to make the distinction from Palu’e, as Pura Palu’e Islanders are light skinned or ‘white’. This rather large mountainous island is 8 miles long and on average 3.5 miles wide. The island reaches heights of 2,870 feet and has rich tropical soils.
The island, known in earlier days as ‘the water island’ or ‘the water kingdom‘, boasts over 30 streams and rivers and receives in excess of 100 inches of rain a year. The warm temperatures and plentiful rainfall create a tropical jungle canopy for the island. In fact, there is so much running water, there has never been a case of mosquito-borne illness in memory.
Although the island has many beaches and coves, boats must anchor in deep waters and come ashore in smaller crafts.
A wide variety of tropical fruits proliferate on the island. Food is almost as plentiful as water. The waters around the island teem with fish and responsible fishing has kept the aquatic environment healthy.
The island, in colonial times, became a popular spot for ships. They could easily trade for water and fresh foods. Captains noted in the 18th and 19th centuries that the natives were always friendly and the ladies were keen on attending to the desires of the men much to their pleasure and the men always ready to assist the island men in work.
Perhaps this is why the population is five times greater than it was a century ago and some 20 times as large as recorded around 1800. Even though the population grew by leaps and bounds, the people suffered from the constant visitation. Common ailments would wipe out virtually entire villages. Survivors would be shunned by other villages for several years after an outbreak of disease, as they were considered ‘cursed’ in some way.
Not to be confused with the Indonesian island of Palu’e, Pura Palu’e is inhabited by a tall, slender, fairly light skinned people. Some have said their appearance is most similar to the appearance of the people of Kazakhstan. Their light skin and physical features are unlike other islanders in the region. Not much research has been undertaken to trace their ethnic origins. Only speculation has led some to believe the islanders have a good deal of European blood in their mix and some Polynesian traits. Some have felt the island may have been settled by a people taken to be slaves or a lost group of Polynesians who drifted far beyond their realm. Whatever the case, the people are an obvious mix of ethnic backgrounds that has resulted in a mostly uniform appearance after many generations.
The people of Pura Palu’e are generally brown or black haired with green, blue or brown eyes and light skin color for the region. They typically are on the tall side, appear in good physical shape and healthy. The women have been described by many as among the most lovely on earth (others said well endowed) while the men have been described as well toned and tanned. Some remarked they seem oblivious to their good looks.
Pura Palu’e has been inhabited for centuries. The people have lived a pastoral lifestyle and have developed their own society and belief system.
Interestingly, visitors attempted to bring the Islamic faith to the people but when one refused to convert and was threatened with death, the islanders charged the invaders, chasing them from the island. The Anglican Church had little success as well. Ironically, the I-Pura Palu’e are noted for a society void of violence to the point of obsession yet when threatened with death from someone from the outside, they appear even more blood thirsty than the most vicious fighter.
The I-Pura Palu’e (the proper term for people of Pura Palu’e) are a non-violent people who lack a defined leadership. The society functions very well without any one group in control. The assertion of control is so resented, the Pura Palu’e people will rid the island of those who attempt to control them or resort to violence. Thus, missionaries had a difficult time converting the I-Pura Palu’e.
The society, while having no defined leadership, tends to work cooperatively through an intricate set of rules. The daily work is viewed as simply the right thing to do versus an obligation. Simply put, tending to chores and work for 2 or 3 hours a day is just part of the routine of life. One might suspect that since all tend to benefit, they eagerly assist one another in work knowing they are on the receiving end of the result of the work.
Men and women are seen as equals in all decisions yet very different in their destined duties. Even so, there are no fast and hard rules. For example, men traditionally hunt or fish while women garden but men are frequently seen gardening and a woman hunting or fishing is not terribly unusual.
Ownership is highly restricted. While one might work a garden, it’s harvest belongs to all. Any who need may take from the garden without permission. Houses are considered as owned. Personal clothing, for example, is considered owned. On the other hand, if someone needs a place to stay for the night, it is typical to be accepted at any home where the person asks. Should they need a garment, it would not be denied in almost every case. The people feel compelled to give whatever is asked of them. On the other hand, the oral tradition, memorized from childhood, warns of the perils of asking for what one does not need.
Interestingly, store owners are seen as owners of all the property contained in the store. This obviously is out of synch with social norms, however, it is recognized that the store owner is directly responsible for the importation of needed supplies and the store owner facilitates trade of the island’s surplus. It is these duties that give the store and its contents a special status among the islanders. Even so, the store owner will typically be generous and help out those in greatest need without much coaxing. The store owners are typically the ones utilizing the motor boat to transport goods.
If there is a leadership role, it is earned. The people live in small villages throughout the island and tend to the land around the village. All in the village share among all others in the village. No family goes without. As differences arise, generally the involved families attempt to resolve the difference. If this is not successful, then a person in the village that both parties feel can resolve the issue is asked to decide. In rare instances, this person may choose to speak with people in other villages for input before making a decision. In most cases, both parties simply avoid one another until both no longer harbor bad feelings toward the other. In more extreme instances, one of the party will leave the village, sometimes for a long period of time, residing in another village until they harbor no ill will toward the other party.
Of special interest is children. Children may belong to a family but they are cared for by the whole village as if the village is an extended family. The children are free to do whatever they like and the only successful manner of parents forcing the children to adhere to their words is the threat of angering their deceased ancestors.
The I-Pura Palu’e believe after death one’s spirit lives in the sky and the deceased of a village watch over those living in the village. To have anger or violent thoughts towards others, it is believed, is revealed to these ‘spirits’ than can cause bad things to happen to the person, their family and the village. The threat of thunder and lightning is used on children to force them to abide by the desires of their parents. To children, thunder and lightning are seen as their ancestor’s spirits expressing their disapproval of the child’s behavior.
This unusual belief is hampered by dreams as well. Dreams hold an inner connection to the deceased ancestors who can influence one’s dream. To have a dream involving anger or violence is seen as a bad omen for a person who feels compelled to make things right in order to prevent the dream from happening again. If the dream continues, it is felt the person, family or possibly the village will suffer. The person experiencing the dreams will sometimes leave their village, taking the threat to the village away. The person might reside in a nearby village until the dream stops occurring.
In short, I-Pura Palu’e believe they must not harbor anger, must not resort to violence, attempt to control others by any means and must share everything with those around them. They refuse to own land, claiming it belongs to their supreme being who created all land for them to live upon. Even harvesting of food requires the harvester to give back to the earth.
Interaction with other villages is fairly common. Local custom is one cannot marry one of their village. Young men and young ladies typically go village to village on a regular basis. Typically they assist those in the villages with daily tasks, then gather food for a ‘picnic’ of sorts, inviting the opposite sex. After some time talking, some couples pair off and sometimes
do not return home until morning.
This brings up another interesting facet of life on Pura Palu’e. The people are almost obsessive about being clean. This extends from bedding and clothing to frequent bathing in designated fresh water pools, sometimes several times a day. They use various plants and flowers to give their bodies a pleasant scent and will sometimes change their meager garments several times a day.
The girls, at about age 5, are taught about keeping their bodies clean and learn about the concept of sexual relations. They are forbidden to be sexually active until puberty, but simulating is a game that is sometimes played. Puberty is considered adulthood. Once an adult, both sexes are expected to have many partners so they can become experienced in lovemaking for their future mate. Needless to say, children born out of wedlock is fairly normal and generally the family raises the child as their own. It is not unusual for some females to have a couple of children by the time they marry.
Marriage involves both parties choosing one another. They must be from different villages. The woman’s family must pay the man’s family as the man must leave his home and join the family of the woman. The payment relates to the level of contribution the man offers his home village.
The wedding is a public exchange of the purchase, taking place at the home of the man’s family, attended by all in the man and woman’s village. The man’s village then follows the couple to her village where a feast is hosted by her village. That evening, the new couple are taken to a new hut, called, for lack of a better term, the honeymoon cottage. Food and water are quietly brought to their door for several days until her family decides it is time the couple rejoin the village in daily life. Should the couple want more private time, they simply say so and nothing more is said.
Consuming alcohol or mind altering substances is seen as evil. The locals think being under the influence as a person being taken to another realm where humans are not to wander. They noted the worst qualities of humanity and a disregard for social customs were typical of the one who consumed alcohol or some mind altering substance. A clear mind is seen as the way of finding favor with the ancestors in the sky.
Pura Palu’e today has about 11,500 people living in 40 villages. Each village is built in a circular manner with an area in the middle as a common area. It is here most community activities and work are performed. The children play here and for the most part, the center is cleared. Houses back up to the forest. None of the villages are along the coastline. Villages range in size from just a few families to almost 500. Generally a family household includes husband and wife plus any unmarried children. By tradition, the larger family lives beside one another. One home might have the grandparents while those households next to them occupy the children and so forth. Most families have an unoccupied building for visitors who do not belong to the immediate family. This includes more distant relations and those that do not belong to the family.
The lifestyle seems leisurely. Usually only a few hours a day is devoted to chores, farming and fishing. Socializing and play seem to occupy most of the daily routine.
There is no electricity on the island. There is no water system or sewage disposal.
There is no post office, no banks and no telephone service on the island. There is no clear leadership and therefore no police. People solve their own problems. There are no roads although hiking paths meander village to village.
What very few visitors make it to Pura Palu‘e say you need not have any money to stay on the island. One may camp anywhere once they ask permission. Even food and water is provided by the villages.
Medical services are limited to one nurse and ill equipped clinics in 7 or 8 of the largest villages.
Contact with the outside world is via battery powered radio.
There are 42 poorly stocked stores that are frequently closed before the next shipment of supplies arrives. They carry a very limited supplies (salt, spices, kerosene and cotton cloth) as well as a few tins of tuna and a few bags of rice. The stores generally are cash only except when a boat arrives. When this happens, some produce is traded for credit or cash.
There is no scheduled transportation to the island. Small wooden motorized boats provides the only transportation to and from the island on an infrequent schedule. Usually the boat is ‘hired‘ for the trip and on average there are about 30 visits a year. The long ride to the island is limited to about 4 passengers plus a few boxes of supplies. Yachts are more infrequent, perhaps two or three a year, stop off at Pura Palu’e.
There is little the island does not provide for its inhabitants. Salt, kerosene, batteries and cloth are the primary products brought to the island. Surplus produce is frequently traded. Most trading is conducted by the small stores on the island.
When typhoons threaten, villages have caves of stored foods and water, retreating to these spots for the storms. The islanders seem to have a knack of understanding what weather conditions are on the way.
With all the qualities of paradise evident on Pura Palu’e, it is hard to understand why the island has not become a tourist haven as many others have in that part of the world. The most frequent answer is likely the one that has kept Pura Palu’e a secret: the people just are not interested. Other factors must be considered. It is a challenge to get a people void of any universal government on the same page. The culture of the people, especially the belief that they cannot own the land outright, could very well be the biggest factor against tourism on an organized scale.
With that said, the few who do venture there find the people, warm, sincere and friendly. Indeed, the society is social with much interaction between villages.
The local economy is not always monetized. Since much of the actual economy is not monetized, the actual amount of cash circulating about the island is considered to be about 20-25% of the per capita income of about $7 US a month. This means little money exchanges hands on Pura Palu’e.
Except for the stores, there is little need for cash. When trades, which are few, are made, coins might be symbolic of a future payment, but normally are not equal to the value of the trade. Paper notes, somewhat like checks, are the more common use of money at the island stores, denominated on ‘Oa‘ at a value of about 100 to the Tang
Pura Palu’e paper money is made by the island’s stores and accepted as fixed value currency by everyone on the island.
The more common form of currency is a small paper note with ‘fill in the blank’ areas filled out by the merchant, signed by the store owner and duly stamped with the Pura Palu’e seal.
We now understand the local merchants have decided a common currency should be utilized on Pura Palu’e. The ‘Tang’, generally a copper version of the Maldives Larin that never took hold in the Netherlands East Indies in previous centuries, would be the denomination unit. The ‘Tang’ had been a common storekeeper’s reference. A throwback to the Stuiver, again a Netherlands denomination, was a monetary basis as 4 Tang was equal to a Stuiver. The Tang was first introduced around 1658 but never caught on in the Dutch East Indies, although it seems to have on Pura Palu’e although they were never under the Netherlands’ rule.
The coins shows the image of a spirit that represents the evil emotions of humanity. The image is to be a reminder to be honest and fair in all monetary dealings.
Before the local coinage, many different coins circulated on the island in addition to the more common paper notes. As more coins of various types began to be traded and as more customers began presenting notes issued by different stores, the need for a more uniform monetary system took root.
Now we understand a wood token in several denominations of Tang were introduced and in some time, the copper 1 Tang and several other coins in odd denominations, some in silver, were produced. We assume the unusual amounts were to coincide with more common foreign coins found on the island. We do know the wood tokens that were introduced as a temporary bridge the lapse in time needed to introduce the new currency.
As more details have come forth, we feel the paper notes are utilized by merchants when coins are in short supply. Remaining wood tokens are also utilized. Metal coins, we understand, come in the copper 1 Tang, a silver 4½ Tang, 5 Tang, 7½ Tang and 9 Tang being the largest denomination, at about 1/10th of an ounce of silver.
We have no reference to other currencies to offer a standard exchange rate. The only reference we found was that it took 72 Tang to make one U.S. Dollar. This was an old conversion back before silver’s upward swing. We apply the following conversion: Assuming silver’s market price at $36 US per troy ounce, the Tang would be worth around 40 cents.
Circulation figures are unknown but considering the per capita income is around 190 to 195 Tang a year, we doubt more than a few thousand of each coin would have been produced, if that many.
Above is the image of this man with the god-like qualities, adapted for Pura Palu'e coinage.