Buying supplies in the market here for our trip to Liapari Island, I got to thinking about money. The US has about the ugliest money in the world. By contrast, many countries go for much nicer designs. Here’s the $5 Solomons note, worth about sixty-five cents.
At least that’s what it is supposed to look like … here’s the one I got in the market today in change.
You can see that it is crumpled and dirty, with brown colored stains … but what you can’t see is that it is slightly slippery, and it has the distinct smell of coconut oil.
When I first came here I wondered why that was, particularly because I didn’t see that on any of the higher denomination notes. The $2 and $5 bill were often heavily oiled, the $10 not so much, and the $20, $50, and $100 bills not at all. I came up with a number of odd theories to try to explain it.
The answer turned out to be … dancing.
In particular, it comes from the dances done by the people of Kiribati (pronounced “Ki-ri-boss). As I mentioned in my last post, there are a lot of “i-Kiribati” (pronounced ee-Ki-ri-boss, meaning Kiribati people) in the Solomons.
Why is the pronunciation so strange? Before independence, the islands of the i-Kiribati were called the Gilbert Islands, commonly called the “Gilberts”. However, the local orthography contained neither the letter G nor diphthongs like “lb” or “rts”. The rules of the local orthography are one consonant at a time.
So they used the “K” for the hard “G” sound, the “r” for the “lb” sound, and the “ti” like in “motion” for the “rts” sound … and Kiribati was born.
In any case, among other things the i-Kiribati are renowned for their dances, which are chock-full of joy, laughter, and passion.
When they dance, they coat their bodies with coconut oil. And when the dance is happening, if people are impressed by the dancer, they’ll come up and slap say a $5 bill on the dancer’s shoulder or arms … where it will stick for the rest of the dance because of the coconut oil.
Of course, nobody here would dream of doing that with say a $20 bill, which is why only the small bills are oiled. They don’t have enough money for that … which brings me to the other side of money in the Solomons.
Basically … they have none.
The Solomons is listed by the UN as an “LDC”, one of the Least Developed Countries. Their per capita gross domestic product (GDP-PPP) puts them 175th out of 198 nations … by comparison, US per capita GDP is $57,300.
For the Solomons? $2,000. About 4% of the US. And that underestimates the problem because as in many such countries, the wealthy have money and the poor … well, the poor abide. They might see $300 per year in actual money, a buck a day or so.
Care for a contrast? The “poverty level” for a family of four in the US is $24,000 per year … an amount people here would be overjoyed to get. As I discussed in a post once entitled We Have Met The 1%, And He Is Us, we’re blind to our own wealth … but I digress.
Now, it’s hard to run a national economy on a remote island. But the Solos have made it much worse by entering into a free-trade deal with Australia. I detailed the results of this madness in a post called Why Free Trade Isn’t. Short version? Free trade means that there is no local manufacturing. It’s great for the foreign corporations. It’s terrible for the Solomons. Read the post for the reasons why.
In any case, today, Don, Constance, Abraham, and I brought the ICE to Liapari Island, where we will put it on the slip tomorrow. Here’s a small part of the Gizo waterfront as we were leaving …
And this is an i-Kiribati village on the way out …
It was a lovely run, full of squalls, restricted visibility, good friends, lots of rain, and plenty of wind. What’s not to like? No pictures along the way, sorry, it was mostly gray … plus working our way along a narrow channel with reefs on both sides gnashing their watery teeth is not all that conducive to photography.
When we arrived we anchored up, and went ashore for lunch with Noel and Rosie, our long-time friends who are the owners of the island. Here’s a shot of the lovely ladies, Constance and Rosie …
After lunch Constance and Don got in the skiff to run the 17 miles back to Gizo … and do a little fishing on the way back, of course.
Here, it’s nighttime now. More to come. It’s strange to be back at this lovely coral island. I lived here for three years and tried to buy the island, only to be glad after the deal fell through. But that’s a story for another time. This is the view out my window earlier tonight.
Abraham and I are on the boat, we’re anchored in the lagoon. It’s time to turn off the ship’s generator and see what the night brings. I believe a bit of moon-watching is in order, the squalls are gone now. Tomorrow we haul the boat, it should be interesting. Noel says the slipway cradle is only 4.5 metres wide … and the ship is 4.6 metres wide. Wish us luck …
My best to all of you, and may your lives be full of adventures, surprises, sudden squalls, and sunlight far-reaching on the sea …