Imagine if one day you woke up and found that your bankcard and all cash in your wallet had just disintegrated. Making your way to the shops, you noticed customers dancing in exchange for milk, and others furiously beading necklaces to earn enough food to feed the family for a week.
If this sounds like a vision from a post-apocalyptic world then there are two things you should be aware of. Firstly, the drive to create a "cashless society" is a very real thing. Soon, there's a chance that everything will be paid for by phone or by using contactless devices, and the need for actual coins is fast disappearing. But money as a concept still exists. The second thing is that for some communities around the world, the notion of moving towards a cashless society is an alien concept, because they’ve never had cash at all.
So who are these tribes for whom money is such a foreign concept? And how have they managed to avoid using currency?
Tribes at the Jonbeel Mela
A community fair held over three days in India is based completely on a barter system, and has been since the fair started 600 years ago. The market consists of tribespeople coming down from the surrounding hillsides to sell local wares. It’s at this fair in Assam where there is evidence of the last remaining barter system in India.
The Yanomami Indians
The Yanomami live deep in the Amazon rainforest, but like many tribes from the Amazon they are at risk. After gold was found near their homes miners arrived and since then child mortality rates have skyrocketed and diseases increased. Their way of life is still based predominantly on trading and bartering rather than physical coinage, although this looks set to change. They survive by fishing, hunting, and foraging, so there is little need for cash.
Part of the Massim Archipelago in Papua New Guinea, the islanders who participate in the Kula exchange often travel for hundreds of miles to exchange and barter their goods. Red shell necklaces are exchanged for armbands - interestingly the items exchanged within the Kula Ring should be passed around the ring and constantly exchanged and bartered.
However, entry into this trading ring isn’t automatic and must be reached by a right of passage. Other items exchanged are stone axe blades and kitomu shells.
Awa Tribes people
The Awa people, also known as the Guaja, are an endangered, indigenous tribal group in the Amazon only 350 people strong. They don’t use a system of money at all and live completely off the land and therefore have no need for cash at all.
The Nyimang People
Wealth and status among the Nyimang is dictated by how much cattle is owned. Somebody with more cattle than somebody else is considered wealthier and thus has a higher status within the tribal community. Cattle is traded for seeds with other tribes, so land and cattle are used like currency for the Nyimang peoples.