The First and Last President of Zanzibar, Abeid Amani Karume

Graduates are featured on this side of our banknote. The building behind them is Nkrumah Hall at the University of Dar es Salaam. 
Abeid Amani Karume (1905-1972), the first President of Zanzibar, is depicted on this side of our banknote.

Zanzibar was subsumed into Tanzania.

Abeid Amani Karume (4 August 1905[1] – 7 April 1972) was the first President of Zanzibar. He obtained this title as a result of a revolution which led to the deposing of His MajestySir Jamshid bin Abdullah, the last reigning Sultan of Zanzibar, in January 1964. Three months later, the United Republic of Tanzania was founded, and Karume became the first Vice President of the United Republic with Julius Nyerere of Tanganyika as president of the new country. He was the father of Zanzibar’s former president – Amani Abeid Karume.

Zanzibar united with Tanganyika in 1964 to form Tanzania.

The Zanzibar Revolution brought an end to about 500 years of Arab domination on the island during which the Arab Slave Trade, most significantly, had resulted in a strong resentment among the majority African population.

Karume was assassinated in April 1972 in Zanzibar Town. Four gunmen shot him dead as he played bao at the headquarters of the Afro-Shirazi Party. Some people celebrated his death[citation needed], as different parts of the country did not like the self-proclaimed president who was never a person from Zanzibar by origin. It is believed he came from Malawi. Reprisals followed against people suspected to have been opposed to Karume’s regime.[7]Amani Abeid Karume, Abeid’s son, was elected two times as the president of Zanzibar, in 2000 and 2005 by a popular majority and handed over power in late 2010 to his successor Ali Mohamed Shein.

Karume’s second important political move came when he agreed to form a union with the Tanganyikan president Julius Nyerere in April 1964. The union ensured that the new country, to be called Tanzania, would not align itself with the Soviet Union and communist bloc, as A.M. Babu had advocated. Given the new legitimacy of Karume’s government (now solidly backed up by mainland Tanganyika), Karume marginalized Babu to the point of irrelevance. The Marxist leader was eventually forced to flee Tanzania after being charged with masterminding the assassination of Karume in 1972.[5] As a result, Karume was rewarded the post of First Vice-President.[6]

Having taken control of the island, John Okello invited Abeid Karume back to the island to assume the title of President of the People’s Republic of Zanzibar and Pemba. Other Zanzibaris in foreign territory were also invited back, most notably the Marxist politician Abdulrahman Mohammad Babu, who was appointed to the Revolutionary Council. John Okello reserved for himself the title of “Field Marshal”, a position with undefined power. What followed was a three-month-long internal struggle for power.[4]

Karume used his political skills to align the leaders of neighboring African countries against Okello and invited Tanganyikan police officers into Zanzibar to maintain order. As soon as Okello took a trip out of the country, Karume declared him an “enemy of the state” and did not allow him to return. Given the presence of Tanganyikan police and the absence of their leader, Okello’s gangs of followers did not offer any resistance.

On 10 December 1963, the United Kingdom granted full independence to Zanzibar after the Zanzibar National Party(ZNP) and Zanzibar and Pemba People’s Party won the elections. The Sultan was a constitutional monarch.[2] Initial elections gave government control to the ZNP. Karume was willing to work within the electoral framework of the new government, and actually informed a British police officer of the revolutionary plot set to take place in January.[3]

Karume was not in Zanzibar on 12 January 1964 – the night of the revolution – and was instead on the African mainland. The instigator of the rebellion was a previously unknown Ugandan, John Okello. The revolution was violent, short, and the revolutionaries prevailed. Thousands of Zanzibaris, mostly Zanzibari Arabs & Indians, were murdered, with relatively few casualties on the revolutionary side. The Zanzibar Revolution brought an end to about 500 years of Arab domination on the island during which the Arab Slave Trade, most significantly, had resulted in a strong resentment among the majority African population.

Lesotho – The Three Kings

Three Kings are featured on the front of out banknote. On our right, wearing the hat, is the first king, King Moshoeshoe. On our left, wearing glasses, is King Moshoeshoe II (Constantine Bereng Seeiso) (1938-1996). In the center is the present King of Lesotho,King Letsie III (born David Mohato
Bereng Seeiso; 17 July 1963). 

The First King…

King Moshoeshoe I, was born in 1780 the eldest son of a chief of a regional clan known as the Basotho people.1 Renowned for bravery, as a young man he organized a raid on a rival, the Ramonaheng, and took posession of their herds of cattle. As customary among his people, he composed a poem depicting his exploits in which he declared that he had “shaved the beards” of the rival Ramonaheng; the action of shaving a beard making a sound resembling the sound of the spoken words “shoe” …. “shoe”, he became affectionately know as Moshoeshoe, “the shaver”.

Moshoeshoe and his followers established their village and began to grow in the early 19th century coincident with the nearby rise of Shakra and the Zulu kingdom. Military pressure from the nearby and growing Zulu, forced Moshoeshoe to relocate his people to the Qiloane plateau (elevation 2 km) which proved to be an impregnable stronghold for the people. It was later named Thaba Bosiu or “mountain at night” because it was believed “to grow during the night and shrink during day”,2 enhancing its defensive qualities. The era was to become known as “the time of troubles”3due to incessant conflicts. But Moshoeshoe took care of his people and prospered.

In addition to bravery, Moshoeshoe became renowned for diplomacy. During the time of troubles, his influence grew as he extended friendship to defeated enemies, providing them with land and protection. In later years, in the era that would come to be the Boer Wars, Moshoeshoe negotiated a treaty for protection of his people under Great Britain. With his death in 1870, the colonial era is considered to have begun. However the status of Lesotho was that of British protectorate, as negotiated by King Moshoeshoe I, rather than that of many other colonies, a forced annexation. Moshoeshoe’s people would continue on.

The Kingdom of Lesotho…

In 1966, the Kingdom of Lesotho came into existence with independence from Great Britain. The ruling party, upon losing in the first post-independence election, refused to cede power to the election winners, and imprisoned its political opponents. A struggle continued until 1986, twenty years following independence, when a military coup d’etat pushed the usurpers out of power and brought in Constantine Bereng Seeiso, who took the name King Moshoeshoe II. When he sought to strengthen executive power through amending the constitution, he was forced into exile and his son was installed as King Letsie III. King Moshoeshoe II was reinstated as king in 1995, but briefly, dying in an accident in 1996. His son, King Letsie III was brought as king and so continues to this day.

And King Meshoeshoe’s people continue, to this day.

Guinea-Bissau, Domingos Ramos

Domingos Ramos, a commander in the conflict against European Portugal for the independence of Cape Verde and Portuguese Guinea (now Guinea-Bissau), is featured on our banknote.

Ivory Coast – Queen Pokou’s Remarkable Story

Western Africa CFA franc

The capital letter “A” adjacent to the serial number, above, is the indicator that this banknote is for the Ivory Coast, officially the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire. The West African CFA franc is the currency for eight west African states, Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo. Each is distinguished by a single letter adjacent to the serial number.

The banknote features a symbol of the Ashanti people. It is a bronze, sawfish – shaped, weight utilized by the people for measuring out gold. Beside and behind aresymbols of science, medicine and educations.

Western Africa CFA franc

The Ashanti people, also spelled Asante, dwell in south-central Ghana and Togo and Côte d’Ivoire. A former Asante state1 had for its capital Kumasi, a city currently in Ghana, the neighbor of the Ivory Coast. The Asante empire arose in the 17th century where several tribes united under King Kumasi. 2 In the 18th century, some of the tribe moved to the Ivory Coast under the leadership of Princess Pokou. She established the Akan tribe in the Ivory Coast which is prominent to this day.3.

In the 18th century, one tribe decided to depart from the main Asante tribe that had been brought together under the reign of king Kumasai in Ghana in the 17th century. A story is told that an endeavor to further consolidate power among the already united tribes, was a catalyst for one tribe to break off and depart. The dispute over power erupted into a war; and a portion of the people broke away and fled westward toward Ivory Coast in search of new land. The breakaways departed under the leadership of Princess Pokou.

Pokou had been born into royalty as Princess Ewurabena Pokou early in the 18th century. She was a niece of a co-founder of the Ashanti empire. She was given the name abena, the name traditionally given to a girl born on a Tuesday, as signifies that she will grow to be a bold independent and powerful woman. And so it was. She was accompanied by many people, together with her priest.

Pursued by the Asante warriors, they continued westward until their progress was blocked by a river full of agitated crocodiles. Pressed by warriors behind and blocked by crocodiles ahead, the Princess sought guidance from her priest, who informed her that, to pass unmolested, she must sacrifice the thing most dear to her in life. Weeping, she cast her son into the river and the hippopotami arose holding back the crocodiles. A pathway opened, and the Queen and her tribe passed through unmolested. Then the hippopatami submerged, the crocodiles returned, and the pursuing warriors reached the river’s edge. Seeing that they could not cross, the warriors abandoned the pursuit, and the new tribe was safe in their new land.4 On the far bank of the river, the distraught Queen could only utter one word, “baouli”, which means the child is dead, and so the tribe has been known ever since.

“A powerful kingdom called Bhaooree, which has hitherto successfully resisted the Ashantees, was described to be westward,”5 so records the journal of British historian in 1817. The Baoule6 continued to grow and propser, and, today, is one of the greatest in the Ivory Coast to this day. The first president of Ivory Coast was drawn from their ranks. Their farms are among the most prosperous and industrious. The Baoule are renowned for their arts.

By many accounts Queen Pokou ruled her people with wisdom and grace, renowned for he abilities in resolving the disputes common among any peoples, and guiding her people into peace and prosperity.

Republic of the Congo

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The flag and the coat of arms of the Republic of the Congo are shown above.

the colonial era …

French Equatorial Africa was organized and included, French Congo which by then was known as Middle Congo. Brazzaville was designated as the federal capital.

since independence …

Independence from France as gained 15 August 1960.


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The flag and Coat of Arms of Gabon are shown above.

Gabon is located on the equator and on the Atlantic coast of Africa.

The pygmy peoples inhabited the region known as Gabon and Congo. The term is not well-received these days, being considered pejorative, but, as noted in Wikipedia, there is no know substitute at this time.

The colonial era…

France ‘s official presence commenced in 1885 and continued until Independence in 1960. In 1885 boundaries were defined between the nearby German colonies and Spanish colonies. In 1910, Gabon was joined with Chad and Congo and Central African Republic, to become French Equatorial Africa.

Gabon was Vichy French in the early days of WW2. November 12, 1940, they surrendered to the free French and became an important base for the duration of the war.

since Independence …

Following independence, Gabon favored French culture and language and maintained close ties.

The first president, Leon M’ba, had backing from strong interests in France, including Charles De Gaulle, who sent troops to restore M’ba to power in the face of an attempted coup d’etat. De Gaulle’s intervention made a path for Bongo’s to rise to power following M’ba’s death in 1967.

Bongo established a single party rule in 1968. and continued as the prime political leader until his death in 2009. His son, Ali Bongo, succeeded him in 2009 and is presindent until the day of this writing in 2019.

Coats of Arms, Emblems, Seals


The flag and coat of arms of Mauritius are displayed above.


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The flag of Benin and the coat of arms are illustrated above.


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The flag and coat of arms of Cameroon are shown above.

Sometimes counted as part of central Africa, and sometimes counted more as a western Africa country, Cameroon is a kind of crossroads country. Some have called it an Africa in miniature in view of the so many aspects of the larger continent combined in this single country. 250 native languages are spoken among 20 million people1, but English and French are the official languages of the land.2

Colonial Era…

Germany endeavored to colonize Cameroon following the Berlin conference. Its success was hindered substantially by resistance from the inhabitants of the land. With the defeat of Germany in WW1, the German claims to the Cameroon territory were divided between France and Great Britain. French Cameroon was incorporated into French Equatorial Africa, British Cameroon remained separate.


French Cameroon gained independence in 1960 followed by British Cameroon in 1961. Shortly thereafter, they combined as the Federal Republic of Cameroon. On May 20, 1971, the federal system was abolished in favor of the United Republic of Cameroon.

Central African Republic

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The flag of the Central African Republic and the coat of arms are featured above.

This landlocked region has been inhabited for thousands of years. Its present boundaries, however, were established by France in the colonial era. As of this writing in 2019, the region has been in civil war since 2012.

European Colonial Era …

The European colonization was neither consistent nor steady, but rather lurched about between languages and philosophies and requirements.

Ubangi-Shari was the name given to this region in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Ubangi and the Shari are two major rivers running through the land along which early colonies were founded. Europeans arrived in this inland region during the Scramble for Africa.1 Germans and Belgians competed for territory in the same region. A 1911 treaty between France and Germany seceded a portion to Germany while Germany seceded a portion of Chad to France. Following WW1, France gained control again. France then modeled policies after those of King Leopold which would cause havoc in Rwanda years later.

The Kongo-wara rebellion, the war of the hoe handle, broke out in 1928 and continued for several years. t was a local rebellion against the French administration and their heavy handed methods, The rebellion was concealed by the authroities from the French populace as it was contrary to the narrative of the happy colnials under French administration.

In September 1940, the region was taken over by free French. Folllowing WW2, in 1946, the first representative in French government for the Central African Republic was elected, Barthélemy Boganda. He became disillusioned with French politics and returned to the Central African Republic and founded MESAN, Movement for the Social Evolution of Black Africa, which became the dominant political party in the early years of independence.

Era since Independence …

Independence from France was gained in 1960.

Autocratic rulers have dominated politics from independence into the 21st century.


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The flag and emblem of Ethiopia are shown above.

For individual banknotes of Ethiopia, select the images above.


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The flag and Coat of Arms of Chad is featured above.

Chad is desert. Lying in the heart of that portion of Africa that is above the equator, a thousand kilometers from the sea, it is dry.

Colonial Era …

Chad was a part of the French colonial empire from 1900 until independence in 1960.

French Equatorial Africa …

Chad was combined with regions that today are known as the Central African Republic, Gabon, Cameroon and the Republic of the Congo, to form what was then known as French Equatorial Africa. Today there are 5 countries coming from the conglomerate; then there were four territories that were combined:  French Gabon, French Congo, Oubangui-Chari and French Chad. French Cameroon was joined following WW1.

Mauritania – ancient Ksour of Ouadane, Chinguetti, Tichitt and Oualata

Cow in front of ancient Ksour of Ouadane, Chinguetti,
Tichitt and Oualata
Ardin harp

Ksour (plural) or Ksar (singular) is a North African Arabic terms meaning signifying a castle or a village. Often they included withing a single surrounding fortified wall houses and granaries, shops, baths and mosques. They became the seeds of flourishing communities and centers of Islamic development in the region.

There were four such ksour in Mauritania and they are remembered on this banknote. They are Ouadane, Chinguetti, Tichitt and Oualata. These have now been designated UNESCO world heritage sites.


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The flag and coat of arms of Tanzania are shown above.

Tanzania, the name, is a compound formed the the words Tanganyica and Zanzibar, the two progenitor states which, united, formed present day Tanzania.

For specific stories, select the banknote images below. For general history, read further below.

Zanzibar …

The region was dominated from the Arabian peninsula in the 18th and early 19th centuries, until the Europeans took over in the late 19th century. Oman powerfully competed with other empires in the Indian ocean region from the late 1600s through the late 1800s. In 1698 Oman defeated the Portuguese at Fort Jesus, in Mombasa,1 and thereafter drove them from Zanzibar. By 1700 Oman had established a fort on the island of Zanzibar at Zanzibar City. The island of Zanzibar and much of the nearby mainland coastal regions was claimed by Oman by 1786. In 1840, Oman made Zanzibar city the capital of the empire.2During this time, Zanzibar became the centre for the Arab slave trade.

Tanganyika …

Following the Berlin Conference of 1884 and 1885, Germany aggressively joined other European states in the colonization “game”. The Scramble for Africa was on. Germany and Britain, in an agreement unknown to Oman at the time,3 had divided up the central Eastern African seaboard, giving the region roughly now known as Kenya to Great Britain, and the region roughly now known as Tanganyica and Rwanda and Burundi to Germany. The sultan of Oman, residing in Zanzibar and having laid claim to the coastal region of Tanganyica, objected to this claim of African territory by Germany. Otto von Bismark, the Chancellor of Germany, ordered 5 warships to Zanzibar City, which, upon arrival, on August 7 1885, trained their guns on the Sultans palace.4 The Sultan acquiesced. In 1890, Germany and Britain agreed that Zanzibar would be a protectorate of Great Britain.

Zanzibar …

Great Britain’s involvement with Zanzibar had been growing thoughout the 1800s. Zanzibar had become the center of the slave trade in the region, and Great Britain had had a change of heart and become opposed to the practice. In 1822, Great Britain began to place pressure upon the Sultan to bring an end to the trade. A series of treaties ensued which further restricted the trade. The protectorate established in 1890 included a provision that Great Britain would have the right of approval of a new ruler upon the Sultan’s death. The Sultan died on August 25, 1896, and this provision was violated on August 26, and what has become known as The Shortest War in History, The Anglo-Zanzibar War, began.

It all happened on a Thursday morning, from 9:02 am until 9:40 am, that war commenced and concluded between Zanzibar and Great Britain. It was August 27, 1896, and has been called the “shortest recorded war in history.”5

Tanganyika …

With the defeat of Germany in WW1, the colonial dispositions changed. In 1919, the Paris Peace Conference Supreme Council ceded all of East German Africa to Britain; over the strenuous objection of Belgium. Belgium and Great Britain negotiated a side agreement, and on January 10, 1920. Rwanda and Burundi became Belgian colonies, and the largest portion of East German Africa became a British colony under the name Tanganyika. And so, the territorial stage was set for present day Tanzania.

Tanzania …

Tanganyika became independent from Great Britain December 9, 1961. Zanzibar, having been a protectorate, not a colony, of Britain, was not granted independence, in that same sense as Tanganyika. But the British protectorate of Zanzibar was declared ended December 10, 1963. Following a tumultuous first few months, Zanzibar merged with Tanganyika April 26, 1964. The new united country was named the United Republic of Tanzania October 29, 1964. “On April 26, 1964, The Father of Nation Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and the First Zanzibar’s President Abeid Arnan Karume united Tanganyika and Zanzibar to form the United Republic of Tanzania. The Union was supported by what came to be known as the Articles of Union. Here is the original document of the articles as agreed by the founders of the two nations.”…6.


The flag and emblem of Somaliland are reproduced above.


The flag and coat of arms of Lesotho are shown above.

Known as Basutoland, established as a British crown colony in 1884. Called the Kingdom of Lesotho upon its independence from Great Britain in 1966, October 4.

Guinea Bissau

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The flag and coat of arms of Guinea Bissau are shown above.

The region experienced European visitations as early as the mid 15th century.1 2

Egypt 50 piastres

Egypt 50 piastres front
Egypt 50 piastres back

Ramses II is depicted on the front of out banknote. The Al-Azhar Mosque is featured on the other side.


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Egypt, whose very name appears a cipher, a hieroglyph, who can but feel humble before Thee! Foremost among the Five that complete the African Mediterranean States, You are the oldest; You, must be preeminent in any reckoning. Pyramids that puzzle eminent thinkers to this day, so simple in their structure. Sphinx gazing eternal at Leo’s horizon, stupidly marred by the mechanical troops of Napoleon, but a pretender to thy glory, O Egypt.

Select images above for banknotes of Egypt.

Egypt is ancient, breathtakingly ancient.

Egypt has been invaded and conquered many times, say our encyclopedias. The elders smile, the old men sigh, and the Sphinx remains, poised, unmoved, resting, waiting. The pyramids point, mark, remind, as the simplest of mathematical constructs. Egypt has never been conquered.

From the Crisis over the Suez (1882) to the Suez Crisis (1956) – Colonialism through the 20th century Great War…

The Suez canal had opened in 18691, with great international fanfare, just six months after the completion of the Trans Continental Railroad.2 The combined openings dramatically adjusted costs of trade and brought the world closer. Just 4 years later Jules Verne published Around the World in 80 Days in which his protagonist, Phileas Fogg, made use of these dramatic advances to accomplish his record journey. The Suez Canal soon assumed the world-wide strategic significance as we know it today.

Unsurprisingly, the cost to complete the canal was double the cost estimated. The subsequent indebted Egyptian ruler sold Egypt’s shares, 44% of the total of the Suez Canal Company, to Great Britain which had opposed the project during construction.3

The cost of the Suez increased the debt burden upon the already distressed Egyptian economy. Soon, Egypt sold its 44% share to Great Britain, and in addition to other measures, increased taxes upon the people. To protect their interests, France and now Great Britain too, increasingly meddled in Egyptian affairs. In those days, a colonel in the army named Urabi, rose up and led a nationalist revolt4 seeking to curb the European influence, especially of France and Great Britain.

Great Britain invaded Egypt, and defeated Urabi at Tel el-Kebir September 13, 1882. The intervention was ostensibly at the invitation of the Egyptian ruler, but certainly also to secure its own interests, as well as prevent default on the British loan for shares in the Suez canal. The British presence, ostensibly for just a short while, extended until finally expelled by Egypt in 1956, almost a hundred years later, the decade following WW2.

Britain remained in Egypt from that event in 1882 through the start of WW1, in what has come to be known as the veiled protectorate, “veiled” because there was no legal basis for it, “protectorate” because that was the official term applied to the continuing British military presence following the outbreak of WW1. With the entrance of the Ottoman Empire into WW1 on the side of the Central Powers, Britain unilaterally declared the protectorate of Egypt and compelled Egypt to declare itself independent of the Ottomans. Just a few years after the close of the war, Egypt unilaterally declared itself independent of Britain. Nevertheless, Britain’s military remained, a situation not “normalized” until a 1936 treaty granting that permission to Britain, in order to provide security for its primary link to its great colony, India. 1953 was the year the decolonization wave finally broke for Egypt, and the revolution cast out the British “advisers”, in that mighty tide of colonial revulsion following the close of the Great War of the 20th Century, divided by some into WW1 and WW2. It could not have been stopped, but the British managed to make it seem preventable. Rather than leaving it as an incontestable surrender to the supremacy of the goddesses of fate, they managed to make it look like a bungled administrative bureaucratic mistake. Well, it was that, but it was also the other; and so the history stands.5 6

From Independence to the Arab Spring…

Independence as the Republic of Egypt was declared June 18, 1953 with General Muhammad Naguib as President; but he was forced to resign the following year by General Abdel Nasser, generally acknowledged as the true leader of the independence movement. Nasser assumed power June 1956, the British completed their withdrawal from the canal zone and Nasser raised the Egyptian flag over the zone June 18, 1956. A few weeks later in July, Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, and the Suez Crises ensued.

Nasser ruled in Egypt until his death in 1970. His era is remembered among Egyptians as a time of increasing prosperity, growing standards of living, and the flourishing of culture and the arts.

Anwar Sadat walked onto the world stage in 1970 as the 3rd president of Egypt following the death of Abdel Nasser; and ruled Egypt from 1970 until his assassination in 1981. Sadat was a key man in the 1952 revolution and a key confidante of Nasser and his vice-president twice. He grew into a giant of a man, both renowned and reviled, but enshrined with a Nobel Peace Prize for his bold endeavors for world peace. His kind is missed.

Hosni Mubarek held onto power from 1981 for thirty years, until his people refused it to him any longer in the Arab Spring, 2011.


Libya 1 dinar (2004)

Muammar Gaddafi is featured on the front of this banknote. Gadaffi was 27 years old when he led a bloodless coup d’etat, abolished the monarchy, and established the Libyan Arab Republic in 1969.

Libya 1 dinar (2004)

The Mawlai Mosque in Tripoli is featured on the back of this banknote.

Muammar Gaddafi was oriented nationally towards socialism and internationally towards Pan-Africanism. He had the good fortune of coming to power at the beginning of Libya’s surging oil-based wealth, and the passing of the the international leader of the pan-African movement, his next-door neighbor, the King of Algeria.


Seychelles 25 rupees
Seychelles 25 rupees


Cape Verde

Cape Verde 2000 escudos front 2015
Cape Verde 200 escudos back 2015


Comoros 500 francs
Comoros 500 francs

Algeria 200 Dinars 1992

Algeria 200 Dinars front 1992
Algeria 200 dinars back (1992)

The great Mosque of Algiers is depicted on this banknote above. The mosque was built in 1018, the minaret in 1322, and the whole modernized since then.

Algeria 100 dinars 1992

Algeria 100 Dinars front 1992 

The sea going galley was primarily powered by oars which can bee seen in the water mid-ship. Sails were available and used in favorable winds.

Algeria 100 Dinars back 1992

The Algerian victory over the invading Spanish in the 1775 Battle of El Harrach is commemorated in this banknote.

Also known as the Algiers Expedition of 1775, The Spanish Empire had expended considerable resources preparing for the seizure of Algiers. The intent was to teach to Ottoman rulers that the Spanish Empire would not be intimidated and would not back down. The Spaniards had the year before successfully resisted a British backed Ottoman siege in Morocco.

The Spanish expedition was huge. 300 ships, consisting of about 70 warships and 230 transport ships, carried 22,000 men and considerable war material to the shores of Algiers. But the Algerians were ready. Having been informed by spies of the impending campaign, the developed their plan.

The Spaniards poorly selected a landing ground full of dunes. Shortly after disembarkation they found their cannon mired in the sand. Light Algerian resistance soon fled the scene however, and the Spaniards completed their disembarking. The Algerian flight was a ruse, Once the Spanish army was free of their ships, an experienced Algerian army charged toe Spaniard, including a camel charge of experienced desert warrior tribesman and the Spaniards were completely overwhelmed. They fled to their ships leaving behind 3,000 dead and many weapons of war. The Algerian losses were 300.


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Ghana….her flag and coat of arms are illustrated above.

The prime meridian passes through Ghana, and only 7 other countries 1 in the world. The equator lies just 4 degrees south of Ghana, far nearer than any of those other 7 states, making Ghana nearer to that notional global center2 of the world than any other country.

For stories from Ghana, select any of the banknote icons above.

The prime meridian has a somewhat interesting history, and is a marker of the scientific progress of nations, not dissimilar from the monolith on the moon documented3 in 2001 A Space Odyssey; a first place medal we might say, in a specific, albeit antiquated, race. But, finally, it is entirely arbitrary. The equator, however, was established by God.4.

Ghana was formerly known as the Gold Coast. The name hearkens back to the colonial era when European nations were racing to capture resources for growth world wide. And the gold of that land is good.


Ghana 2 cedis front 1979
Ghana 2 cedis back 1979


Ghana 1 cedi front 1979
Ghana 1 cedi back 1979


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The flag above represented the Kingdom of Libya from Independence in 1951 until the 19969 coup d’etat that brought Muammar al-Gaddafi to power. Upon the demise of Gaddafi in 2011, this same flag was restored to represent the Republic of Libya.

The images above are from banknotes of our country. Select an image for its story.

The land is old, truly old. In olden days, the world was considered as eruba, the land upon which the sun sets, Europe, asusa, the land upon which the sun rises, Asia, and, libya. Libya was the vast unknown territory south of the Great Sea, around which was civilization.1

Tripoli is the capital city and figures prominently in history.2

Roman Libya…

Islamic Libya…

Ottoman Libya…

The European colonial era…

The European colonial era for Libya extended from 1910 when Italy invaded and commenced its territorial claims, through WW2 during which Britain and France assumed administration, until 1952 when Libya became independent.

The war between Italy and the Ottoman Empire,3 from 1911 to 1912, resulted in Italy’s capture of the provinces that would become known as Italian Libya.4

Libyan infrastructure advanced considerably under Italian rule, particularly in the 1930s, until it was interrupted by war.

From after the Great War to the Arab Spring …

Following the Great War of the 20th century, that which spanned from 1914 to 1945, the recently formed United Nations, the UN, the present manifestation of Woodrow Wilson’s dream of a League of Nations, declared that Libya should be, and shall be, an independent state, prior to January 1, 1952. A constitution was created establishing a federal system with separate parliaments for each of three main constituting regions, British administrated Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, and, French administrated Fezzan. A King was chosen by national assembly in 1950, King Idris I. And so it was that on December 24, 1951, Libya declared its independence; and it was not significantly contested.

Oil exploration and development advanced rapidly under the King’s rule; and Libya’s wealth advanced commensurately.

A small group led by 27 year old Muammar Gaddafi staged a coup d’etat on September 1, 1969, abolished the monarchy and established the Libyan Arab Republic. Gaddafi was an advocate of Pan-Africanism.5 6 7 When neighboring leader, president of Algeria Kwame Nkrumah a leader in the pan-african movement, passed away in 1972, Gaddafi became the most prominent and outspoken leader of the movement, calling for a United States of Africa. In 2008, surrounded by 200 leaders in Africa, Gaddafi was proclaimed King of Kings8in 2008, and died in the uprisings associated with the Arab Spring in 2011.

Since the Arab Spring…

Tunisia – Ibn Khaldun

Ibn Khladun,1 a brilliant mind that surveyed the world’s histories and tendencies and organized them in a system of thinking2 that influenced all those that have followed after. Born in Tunisia, he is brought before us on this banknote from that same country.

Tunisia 10 dinars front dated 1994
Tunisia 10 dinars front 1994

Selected somewhat randomly3 by me, from among his numerous contributions, is his theory on taxation.4 He argues for low taxation, such as the people are happy to pay, so as to maintain economic incentive. He observed that early dynasties receive large revenue from a relatively small tax percentage assessment whereas aging dynasties receive smaller revenue from increasingly larger percentage tax assessments; this illustrating the negative impact of taxation on productivity. He says governments expenditures should be wise and productive.

Tunisia 10 dinars back dated 1994
Tunisia 10 dinars back 1994

The date prominently featured on the back of our banknote is 600 years after Ibn Khuldun (1332-1406), thus, has nothing to do with his story. It is however, significant in Tunisia’s story. It is the date of the so called bloodless coup5 in Tunisia when El Abidine Ben Ali came to power, the same who fled his country into exile at the commencement of the Arab Spring in 2011. 6

Libya 1 dinar – Post 2011 Civil War

Images of peace and happiness adorn the front and back of this 2013 banknote of Libya. The banknote, the 1st new issue since the Gadaffi era, was issued February 17, 2013, the 2nd anniversary of the Libyan revolution.

Libya One dinar, back
Libya 1 dinar 2013 back
Libya 1 dinar 2013 front

The people’s jubilation is unmistakable. The flags the people are flying are the clue to the people’s celebration. The tricolor red black and green bearing the white star and crescent was the original flag of Libyan independence, and once again, after 42 years, was their flag, the flag of Libya, their country.

1951 – 1969 The flag of The Kingdom of Libya from 1951 independence until the 1969 coup d’etat that brought Gadaffi to power.

1969 – 1972 The flag of the Libyan Arab Republic from 1969 – 1972 under Gadaffi.

1972 – 1977 The flag of the Federation of Arab Republics 1972 – 1979 under Gadaffi.

1977 – 2011 Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya under Gadaffi.

1977 – 2011 Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya under Gadaffi (the flag has a revised aspect ratio)

2011 – present Libya after the Arab Spring.


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Morocco. On his right hand is the mediterranean and on his left is the atlantic. situated at the northwest corner of africaour country’s uunique positiin , if geography is destiny then moroccos unique posotioning amd unique culture lends support to the throry that geography is destiny. the known world on his right hand and the unknown workd on his left and the pillars of hercules, the ancient remains of the eworlds of the gods in his lap.

Might this not be the most exotic place on earth? Situated on the northwest corner of Africa, Morocco bears the southern half of the pillars of Hercules, the edge of the known world the portal to the vast unknown. The northern is Gibraltar. On her right hand, she watched as the nations of old ebbed and flowed in the great Sea, the Mediterranean. To her left lay infinite, the edge of the world, Atlantis. It is no wonder that Morocco has produced such a unique ad beautiful culture. and then more added

although so close to Europe and washed by the Mediterranean,

Casablanca, Marrakesh, the place the sun sets, the west. Is this the most romantic place in the world? the most exotic on earth? Northward it gazes upon the pillars of hercules1, Gibraltar beyond and its own northernmost prominitory. easteward it ponders placidly the Mediterranean, the cradle of western covilization, westward its showres are wave washed by the might atlantaic, an ocean incomprehensible to the mere mediterranean dwellers on its right hand. The pillars of Hercules to the ancients were the edge of the knwon world. to the right they contemplated the rich unfolding kaleidioscope of civilizations in the medieranea. to the left? there the would gaze in quietude and wonder on the infinite unknown. Platosaid that Atlantis was out there.

blue tiles buildings, yellow dunes, whitecapped oceans and mountains

The westmost land, westward from the middle west and the near west, the land where the sunsets, the sacred land, the land of God.. deriving its name form marrakesh, and the magrihb, the west.

distnat from rome and constantiople, though influences by these empires, morocco developed on its own, its own culture, its own cultural ties, its own government its own lifestyle.

different from other mediterranean dwellers, the earl morrocons watched the sun set evey day over an ocean, seemingly infinite. who can doubt that adventurers aroce amng them who dared that sea, wo went forth, mostly never returning, but some did, with tales. perhaps it was moroccon borne tales that Plato heard and recorded under the heading Atlantis.In the 16th century, Ottoman invaders from Algeria attempted to add Morocco to their empire, thus threatening the country’s independence. They, too, were thwarted, leaving Morocco virtually the only Arab country never to experience Ottoman rule. 2

By the late 17th century, Morocco’s cultural and political identity as an Islamic monarchy was firmly established.  3

Morocco’s isolationism in the era of European wars4

world wars era and early 21st century


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The city of Algiers, the eponym of our country Algeria, is a city of many names, many masters.1 It’s prominence has endured through a procession of empires due to its enviable situation as a seaport for eager traders. A recent writer observed that, with a little encouragement from its present overlords, Algiers would be the San Francisco of the Mediterranean.2

The city of Algiers is also known as Alger la Blanche, “Algiers the White”, for its renowned white buildings climbing up the steep slope of the Atlas Mountains from the seaport to the pinnacle. A 19th century illustration is reproduced below. Alger la Blanche, is of course, French, and the titling hearkens back to the era of French dominance from 1830 until independence in 1962.

Henry Parke / E. Clark [Public domain]
Like a lighthouse beckoning seafaring traders come, the white-washed buildings of Old City Algiers, ascend as a triangle, up the steep slope beyond its famous harboring islands.

“Algiers” means the islands, in Arabic. It is named for the four islands just off this east facing shore on the western edge of a large bay of the Mediterranean. From ancient times it has beckoned traders as an ideal natural harbor.3

“Algiers” is a shortened form of an earlier name signifying the Islands of the sons of Mazghana, recalling the influence of the noble Berber peoples in times past.

In the Greek era, the town was known as Icosium, meaning the twenty, and was explained as the town founded by twenty of the companions of Hercules. Hercules had visited the Atlas mountains during his celebrated Labors. during the celebrated Labors of Hercules. It’s easy to see why. Four islands just offshore on the western edge of the bay of alondro made for an beautiful natural harbor since the days of old. The town changed hands over the centuries many times as political dominions rose and fell. The natural harbor continued to be the attraction of empires

The name Algiers, the islands, in arabic was adopted in 1529 when Spaniards were expelled by the Ottomans. The Ottoman Turk corsair Barbarossa ruled the region largely autonomously from Constantinople; and, in time, turned Algiers into the chief base for the notorious Barbary Pirates, which continued for three hundred years.

Numerous attempts by multiple countries were made to dislodge the pirates. The fledgling United States of America paid tribute money to the Barbary Prirates for a time. The first war of that young country was against the same to end the practice. But it was the French who finally brought the age of the Barbary pirates to a close when they took Algiers in 1830.

European Colonial Algeria…

The city became the administrative center of the French colonial empires in North and Africa. In the dark days of WW2, Algiers served as the Allied forces headquarters in North Africa. In the darkest days, when Germany was occupying France, the city was the provisional capital of the French people.

Algiers is built on the slopes of the Sahel Hills, which parallel the Mediterranean Sea coast, and it extends for some 10 miles (16 km) along the Bay of Algiers. The city faces east and north and forms a large amphitheatre of dazzling white buildings that dominate the harbour and the bay. The city takes its name (Arabic: “The Islands”) from several small islands that formerly existed in the bay, all but one of which have been connected to the shore or obliterated by harbour works. Pop. (2008) 2,364,230; (2007 est.) urban agglom., 3,354,000. 4 One can imagine early sailors, as your sailing west and see four islands on the other side of the north opening by, that is the best harbor i the region. And so the trading posy grwa dn became known as the four islands.

Algiers is the capital. white buildings ascending steeply from the white capped shores in triangular fashion as a lightnouse, unintended homage to its ancient roots as a safe haven and vaulble enriching trading post amongst our forebeares.

ascending glistening white triangle as a beacon to voyagers

1962 is said to be the year that France declared Algeria to be independent, whatever that means.

The Arab Spring…

Algeria, while experiencing unrest, did not see the radical upheavals to its system of governance that occurred in numerous brethren Arab States.


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The name Tunisia is eponymous with its major city Tunis, as is its neighbor, Algeria, with Algiers. Tunis is said to be derived from the verb meaning to encamp, to rest, to lie down. And this is readily understandable to any journeyer who’s had this kind of conversation: Let’s aim for that mountain peak today. We’ll rest the night just shy of the ridge, or just over the ridge in the shade from the wind. We’ll encamp and lie down there, and get a fresh start in the morning. In plan view, in two dimensions at sea level, the conversation would be, we’ll aim for that point today and encamp on the lee side, out of the current and the wind. The ancients were expert astronomers, thoroughly conversant with latitudes, and it is unlikely that they did not understand this point was the northernmost point of Africa in the Great Sea. At the least, they understood it as a point, and appreciated it as a fine encampment.

Carthage grew up on this spot. Yes, that Carthage. The Carthage of legends, the Carthage of epic movies, the Carthage of Hannibal, the center of the Phoenician Empire. A mighty empire was managed for centuries from this campsite on the northern edge of the African continent. No doubt they needed a good right’s rest.

The Romans rose and fell, but not before they conquered Carthage, converted to Christianity, and Carthage had produced Tertullian and Augustine, whose writings altered the course of human thought and whose death dates plagued secondary school students in the after centuries.

The Battle of Carthage 698 AD marked the end of the Roman era as administrated from Constantinople. The Arabs were on the rise, took over the Mediterranean coasts and occupied Carthage, and the land converted to Islam.

From Independence to Revolution

The European colonial era officially closed for Tunisia on March 20, 1956 with independence from France. The following year, Tunisia became a republic, only the second in the modern Arab world, and elected as president, Habib Bourguiba, who continued in office for thirty years until he was removed from office in what was been described as a bloodless coup d’etat.1 His successor, El Abidine Ben Ali, became president November 7, 1987, and continued in office for twenty four years until fleeing the country in the Arab Spring.

The Arab Spring2 may be said to have begun in Tunisia. It was in Tunisia, December 17, 2010, where the street vendor poured gasoline over himself and set himself on fire.

Mohammed Bouazizi died January 4, 2011. Standing before a government building in the middle of the midday street, he emptied a canister of gasoline over his head and cried out, “Then how am I supposed to make a living?”, and then lit the match. He was the prime breadwinner for his widowed mother and six siblings. Twenty-six years old and out of a job, he was selling vegetables from a sidewalk cart. Authorities, that had harassed him previously, had that morning confiscated his cart and scale for failing to present a permit. He went to the government office to protest and beg to get the equipment of his livelihood returned, but no one would listen. Reports vary, but it is said that no permit was necessary and that harassment by authorities was frequent, verbal, and occasionally, physical. One can hear the desperation and anger in his voice as he yells at a faceless government building, “Then how am i supposed to make a living?” The match he lit ignited a fire across many nations as his deed gave expression to the economic dilemma they all felt; and in shared grief of this young man’s unnecessary death, the multitudes rose up as one, uniting in defiance of the inhumane authoritarianism of their various governments.

Like wildfire, in almost spontaneous combustion, protests in other nations erupted. January 14, 2011, ten days after Mohammed Bouazizi’s death, the President of Tunisia fled the country into exile. By the end of February, rulers in Egypt and Libya and Yemen had been forced from power. Essentially all of North Africa and the Arabian peninsula were engulfed in the conflagration. It’s been called “biggest transformation of the Middle East since decolonization.”3

closeup detail from swaziland 10 lilangeni banknote, year 2014 back


Swaziland 10 Lilangeni Banknote — Year 2014 — Face and Back
swaziland 10 lilangeni banknote, year 2014 back
swaziland 10 lilangeni banknote, year 2014 front
closeup of artwork on seychelles 10 rupees banknote front, featuring sea turtle


Seychelles 10 Rupees Banknote, Face and Back
seychelles 10 rupees banknote front, featuring sea turtle
seychelles 10 Rupees banknote back, featuring coat of arms
closeup detail from Namibia 10 Dollars 2015 banknote front (2)


Namibia 10 Dollar Banknote – Face and Back

Namibia $10 banknote front

Dr. Sam Nujoma is featured on our banknote of Namibia.

Namibia $10 banknote back, featuring springbok


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The Place where the King lives; 1 so means the name and so named is this country, the remnant of an empire as magnificent as its wealth was unimaginable. Stretching from the Atlantic Ocean two thousand miles inland, beyond Timbuktu, and encompassing the mighty Niger River bend, for four hundred years the Mali empire continued, the largest and richest in the history of West Africa.

Sundiata Keita, the Lion Prince2, the founder of the empire, was born a cripple, and therefore his life was spared. The king was suspicious of Sundiata’s father and had eleven of his sons, Sundiata’s brothers, put to death to prevent challenges to his rule. But the king did not fear a cripple, and so Sundiata was spared. Exiled, Sundiata began wearing iron leg braces at age 7, and, after long and painful effort, he became able to walk unaided in his mature years.

His countrymen prevailing upon him to return from exile and deliver his people, Sundiata returned, and, with talented generals and the secret aid of his sister3, overthrew the evil king, Symangurur, and founded the empire that would last four centuries and astonish the world with its accumulated wealth.

A hundred years later, Musa ascended the throne becoming known as Mansa Musa I4. While Islam had been introduced into the region for generation, Mansa Musa I became the first ruler of Mali to truly embrace the religion. In 1324 he embarked on his first, and what has become subsequently world renowned, pilgrimage to Mecca. As noted in the 2019 Smithsonian exhibition, Musa brought with him on his journey 8,000 courtiers, 12,000 slaves, and 100 camels each carrying 300 pounds of gold5 “The streets were littered with gold”, says Thad Morgan, writer for “This is the richest guy anyone has ever seen, that’s the point,” says Rudolph Ware, associate professor of history at the University of Michigan .7

Rwanda 5000 Franc 1988 banknote front (2), featuring coffee harvesters

Rwanda 1980’s Francs

Art of Rwanda 1000 & 5000 Francs Banknote, Year 1988 – Face and Back
Rwanda 5000 Francs Banknote, Year 1988, front, featuring women harvesting coffee
Rwanda (1988) 5000 francs, front

Coffee in Rwanda has been a significant industry both before and after the infamous 1990s.  Coffee crops were encouraged by Germany during their colonial period in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Rwanda came under Belgian colonial influence following WWI and coffee growing was systematized.  Coffee has continued as a prime industry for Rwandans since their 1961 independence and is a key part of their economic rejuvenation in the 21st century.

The banknote above illustrates the coffee plant, a family working the coffee fields in one of the numerous small plantations in this “land of a thousand hills”, and a woman carrying the harvested coffee.

Rwanda 5000 Francs Banknote, Year 1988, reverse, featuring banana trees and Lake Kivu
Rwanda (1988) 5000 francs, back

The back of the currency is an illustration from the Rwandan countryside.  Banana trees are shown on the left and lake Kivu and hills are shown on the right.

closeup detail of Rwanda 5000 Francs Banknote, Year 1988, reverse, featuring Lake Kivu
detail from the back of Rwanda (1988) 5000 franc banknote

Lake Kivu, one of the African Great Lakes, covers approximately 1000 square miles.

Rwanda 100 Francs Banknote, Year 1988 front, featuring warriors
Rwanda (1988) 1000 francs banknote

Watutsi warriors are illustrated on the front of the 1000 franc banknote.

The Coat of arms from independence until the 21st century is on the bottom left.  “Republique Rwandaise – Liberte’ – Cooperation – Progress”.

The Coat of arms was restyled in 2001, after the genocide of the 1990s.

closeup detail of Rwanda 100 Francs Banknote, Year 1988 front, featuring watutsi warriors
detail showing Watutsi warriors

The Watutsi, also known as Tutsi, were victimized by the Hutus in the genocide of 1994, but the hostilities went both ways for decades, whereas the animosity was ultimately but a century old.  The Germans appear to have developed the so-called racial distinction between the Tutsi and the Hutu during their brief colonial enterprise, favoring the minority Tutsi for administrative positions.  The distinction appears to have been only a hypothesis as no archaeological, historical nor even linguistic distinctions have been discovered since to support the distinction.  The Belgians relied upon existing the Tutsi administrating structure as they commenced their colonial administration following WWI.  Their rule reinforced the ethnic divide.  In 1931, during the time of the eugenics movement in Europe and the United States, an ethnic identity card was issued for each Rwandan.

Click here for more stories from the African Great Lakes Region.

For story tags, see bottom of this page.

Rwanda 100 Francs Banknote, Year 1989 back, featuring gorillas
Rwanda 1000 francs (1988)

Eastern Gorillas and canoes on Lake Kivu are illustrated on the reverse of this 1988 1000 franc Rwandan banknote.

closeup detail of Rwanda 100 Francs Banknote, Year 1989 back, featuring gorillas
detail showing Eastern Gorillas on back of Rwanda (1988) 1000 francs banknote
closeup detail of Rwanda 100 Francs Banknote, Year 1989 front, featuring zebra
detail from Rwanda (1989) 100 francs banknote
Rwanda 100 Francs Banknote, Year 1989 front, featuring running zebra
Rwanda (1989) 100 francs banknote
Rwanda 100 Francs Banknote, Year 1989 back, featuring volcanoes Karisimbi and Bisoke, and mother with child
Rwanda (1989) 100 francs, front
Rwanda 1000 Francs 1988 banknote back featuring gorillas of Rwanda

Gorillas of Rwanda

Art of Rwanda 1000 Francs Banknote, Year 1988 – Face and Back
Rwanda 1000 Francs 1988 banknote back featuring gorillas of Rwanda

These wonderful creatures inhabit the volcano regions of Rwanda.  They are vegetarians and generally eat leafy green foliage and therefore prefer the dense mountain rainforests and subalpine forests of Rwanda.  The men are black furred and giant, weighing 350 to 450 pounds and standing 5’6” upright.  The women are half to 2/3s their size.  The old men grey noticeably with age until they are recognized as silverbacks.  The silverbacks lead stable and cohesive family groups held together by long time bonds between the men and women.  They are community oriented rather than territorial.  The men defend their women and children, and the silverbacks will defend their clan to the death if required.  Women bear children on average of once every three or four years and their time of pregnancy is about 8 1/2 months.  Newborns have pinkish grey skin and begin to crawl around nine weeks.  The children are weaned when they are about 3 ½ years old.      

closeup detail of Rwanda 100 Francs Banknote, Year 1989 back, featuring volcanoes Karisimbi and Bisoke
Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda, detail from (1989) 100 franc Rwanda banknote

The clans are diurnal, foraging and traveling by day and sleeping by night, when they create nests usually on the ground by folding the dense vegetation over themselves.  Generally, they forage in the morning and the late afternoon, preserving a the midday for a time of rest.  This midday rest is a time for the building and reinforcement of relationships.  Mutual grooming reinforces their social affections and keeps their fur clean from parasites.  The children play, wrestling and running and somersaulting, and the silverbacks and women often join them.

They are normally gentle and quite shy.  Conflicts are generally resolved by intimidating displays and threatening behaviors that rarely lead to violence.  But when two clans meet, if the conflict is not resolved by threats, the silverbacks may fight to the death.

Click here for more stories from the African Great Lakes Region.

For story tags, see bottom of this page.

Rwanda 100 Francs Banknote, Year 1989 back, featuring gorillas
Rwanda 1000 francs (1988)
Rwanda 100 Francs Banknote, Year 1988 front, featuring warriors
Rwanda (1988) 1000 francs banknote
Costa Rica 5 Colones 1990 banknote back (4), featuring “Alegoria”, or “The Allegory of Coffee and Banana”

Costa Rica – The Allegory of Coffee and Banana

Art of Costa Rica 5 Colones Banknote, Year 1990 – Face and Back
cCosta Rica 5 Colones Banknote, Year 1990 back, featuring the mural “Alegoria”, also known as the “Allegory of Coffee and Banana”.
Costa Rica, (1990), 5 colones banknote, back, featuring the mural “Alegoria”, also known as the “Allegory of Coffee and Banana”.

“Alegoria”, or “The Allegory of Coffee and Banana” is the name of the beautiful mural painted by Italian Artist Aleardo Villa in 1897. It decorates the ceiling of the National Theater in San Juan and has been cataloged as one of the ten most beautiful ceiling murals in the world. It was commissioned to illustrate the vitality and progress of the nation.

closeup detail of Costa Rica 5 Colones Banknote, Year 1990 back, featuring people gathered around electric lamp post
electric lampost, detail from back of Costa Rica 5 colones, banknote

The lamppost planted in the sandy beach may seem out of place, but it is an allegorical painting after all. But there was good reason to include it in the mural.

San Juan, the capital city of Costa Rica, was one of the first three cities in the world to have electricity, after London and New York!

One can imagine their civic pride!  Look closely and you can see people looking at it in admiration.

closeup detail of Costa Rica 5 Colones Banknote, Year 1990 back, featuring people loading coffee aboard ship
Coffee prepared for export, detail from back of Costa Rica, 5 colones, banknote

The produce of Costa Rica is marshalled for export to the ports of the world.

In the background are the masts of sailing ships of the old world are mixed with the funnels, or stacks, of the steamships of the new world.

The sacks are loaded with coffee beans, each proudly marked “Café de C. Rica”.

closeup detail of Costa Rica 5 Colones Banknote, Year 1990 back, featuring women harvesting coffee beans
harvesting coffee, detail from back of Costa Rica 5 colones banknote

Women are harvesting coffee accompanied by girls and boys and men.

Notice the animals in the background whose strength assisted the arduous daily work.

Coffee was introduced to Costa Rica in the 1700s. By the time of our mural’s painting, coffee had become a major industry for Costa Rica, providing funding for young academics in Europe, the first railroad to the Atlantic ocean, and for the national Theater.

closeup detail of Costa Rica 5 Colones Banknote, Year 1990 back, featuring man carrying bananas
detail from back of 5 colones banknote from Costa Rica

Costa Rica was the first nation of Central America to plant and export bananas. Millions of bananas were exported by Costa Rica by the turn of the century, 1900.

The man in our mural is happily displaying a luscious bunch of bananas, but, unfortunately, he is holding them up side down! We might forgive our muralist, a brilliant artist living in Italy, and who, as far as we know, never actually visited Costa Rica.

The artist’s interpretation might be seen by some, now a hundred years later, as a something of a prophetic allegory in itself.  The prosperity supported by the cultivation of bananas in the late 19th century would lead to what some have called the banana wars a few decades later which turned the region upside down for a time.

For more stories from Central America on this website, click here.

photograph of The ceiling of the National Theater, San Jose, Costa Rica.
The ceiling of the National Theater, San Jose, Costa Rica.
Costa Rica 5 Colones Banknote, Year 1990  front, featuring man's portrait and orchids
Costa Rica (1990) 5 colones, front
Malawi 50 Kwacha 2017 banknote back featuring elephants of Malawi

Elephants of Malawi

50 Kwacha Banknote – Face and Back
Malawi 50 Kwacha Banknote back, featuring elephant and eco tourists
Malawi, 50 kwacha, back

Elephants, a tree, and a safari vehicle in Kasungu National Park decorate the back of this banknote.

Kasungu National Park extends along the Zambian border.  It averages 1000 meters in elevation and is covered with woodlands and bush and numerous grassy river channels running through it.  It provides home for elephants and hippos, antelope, impala, zebras and buffalo.  The illustration shows a safari vehicle in the foreground and an elephant nearby, but the perspective belies the true size of our beloved creatures. 

photo of elephant and safari vehicle
photo from internet

Try this photo. 

Our elephants can be 4 meters tall!

closeup detail of Malawi 50 Kwacha Banknote back, featuring 2 elephants
detail from back of Malawi 50 kwacha banknote

African elephants are very social beings.  Both the men and women have tusks.  The elephants illustrated in the 50 kwacha note are a mother and child.  Herds are led by a matriarch, usually the oldest woman and consist of their daughters, sisters and their children.  The boys remain with the herd through adolescence and then generally move on.  The men tend to be loners but will sometimes congregate in smaller bachelor pods.  Now for the tree.

If you look closely, the immensity of the tree trunk can be seen below baby’s neck and through mama’s legs.  Yes, this appears to be none other than the wonderful Baobab!  Please compare it to this photo from the field.

photo of baobab tree in Malawi
“Tolkein Tree”, Liwonde national Park, Malawi

This baobab tree resides in Liwonde national Park, Malawi, which is just 250 miles are so, as the creatures roam, from Kasungu national park.

The baobab is also known as the “Tree of Life”.

As to why this particular tree is called the “Tolkein Tree”, well, that is a tale for another post.

For more stories from the Southern Africa in this website, click here.


Paraguay – The Gift of the Speratti Sisters, Adela and Celsa

Art from Paraguay 2000 Guaranies Banknote, Year 1995 – Face and Back
Paraguay 2000 Guaranies Banknote back
Paraguay 2000 guaranies, back

School children are happily marching in their school uniforms along crowd lined streets.  They proudly carry the flag of their country, the tricolor red, white and blue, after the example of France, standing for Liberty and Independence.  This simple scene was so far from happening until the Speratti sisters came home a little over a century ago.

Their young mother had fled from Paraguay with her two infant daughters, Adela and Celsa. It was the late 1860s and their father had already died in the war that was to eventually claim more than half of the population of Paraguay and essentially all of her educated peoples.  The children were spirited away to Argentina in hope of a better life, where they were educated and flourished and excelled so as to gain renown as graduates twenty years later.

Paraguay, following the war, was devastated.  The national school system had only educated only boys, and now, according to census, only 28,000 adult men were alive.  The schools were closed and the teachers were gone.  A future of national illiteracy, and the associated impoverishment loomed. It was essential to the future of the nation that the educational system be rejuvenated and reformed.

closeup detail of Paraguay 2000 Guaranies Banknote , featuring Adela y Celsa Speratti
detail from front of Paragua, 2000 guaranties banknote, Adela y Celsa Speratti

In the ten years following the war, and then the fifteen years and then the twenty years, great efforts were expended in the rebuilding of the educational system. All the while our sisters Speratti were schooled, maturing, graduating and commencing the teaching profession outside the country.

Paraguayan ministers, hearing of their abilities, and in desperation for the reconstruction of the national education system, reached out to these sisters and entrusted them with the education of the country.  We have this letter: “Atanasio Riera, Superintendent of Public Instruction, to Master Teacher, Normal Professor and Senator Don Conrado Romero Corrientes, “I know that there are two daughters of this Nation, Misses Speratti who currently practice the profession in the Normal School of Teachers. They, as daughters of this Nation, who today try to rise up on public illustration, I believe that, inspired by patriotism, they would not hesitate to come and contribute their professional knowledge to the work of regeneration in which we are all interested. See, then, those daughters of the Republic of Paraguay, and tell them that the mother country requires their valuable competition to hasten their march along the paths of knowledge and prosperity.”

And so, these sisters still in their 20s, equipped with acclaimed character traits of diligence and honesty, with talents trained as educators, and energized with a passion for people, commenced upon their work that would give birth to a generation, and then generations of educated men and women in Paraguay.

They began their work in the graduate school for girls, but soon their influence rapidly expanded as they were instrumental in the development of the Normal school for teaches. As Directors, they utilized the influential positions to modernize and advance the educational system. The sisters borrowed from the best educational philosophies and teaching methods from sources worldwide. They educated children, trained teachers and established teaching as an honorable profession attracting many into the noble profession. They educated thousands of illiterate girls throughout the country.
From all the villages of the interior came young people eager to learn, and these eager learners became the seed for the creation of yet later schools for the education of yet later generations of Paraguayan girls.

And teach they did; but not simply teach, they cared, and cared in so many ways.

The sisters regularly offered shelter to poor girls who could not pay their way. They were legendary for working to mitigate the pains of the elderly and sick, and routinely served on the board of one commission or another such as the Society of Charity of the Hospital of Charity. They actively collaborated with Professor Rosa Peña, the wife of President Juan Gualberto González in many activities promoting the national well-being including especially the founding of the National Asylum – an institution created to welcome all the people who had been left by the war in misery. In the course of these years, both Adela and Celsa, also collaborated with their writings in a pedagogical magazine published in Concepción del Uruguay, they spoke at cultural centers and wrote their opinions in local newspapers; but his most laborious cultural tasks consisted in organizing the Pedagogical Conferences as a means of promoting the improvement of the professional knowledge of the teachers of primary education.

Paraguay 2000 Guaranies Banknote front, featuring portrait Adela y Celsa Speratti
Paraguay, 2000 guarnies, front (1995)

It may not be too much to say that their efforts did more to rejuvenate an impoverished nation than the combined efforts of all her economic ministers, few of whom are remembered today.

Upon their passing, commemorations poured in from the people.  Paeans of praise came forth from national poets at commemorative services.  But perhaps the greatest tribute is this sight of our school children proudly marching and happily singing along the crowd lined streets carrying the flags of a grateful nation, Paraguay.  If you listen closely, you can hear the music.

Paraguay 2000 Guaranies Banknote back
Paraguay 2000 guaranies, back
Zambia 50 Kwacha banknote back (2), featuring imafe of Zanco Mpundu Mutembo breaking his chains

Zambia – The Chain Breaking Man

Art of Zambia 50 Kwacha Banknote – Face and Back
Zambia 50 Kwacha banknote back
Zambia 50 Kwacha banknote back
closeup detail of Zambia 50 Kwacha Banknote, featuring  Zanco Mpundu Mutembo as “Chain Breaking Man”
detail from Zambia 50 kwacha banknote, reverse, “Chain Breaking Man”

Zanco Mpundu Mutembo was arrested and handcuffed with chains which he broke in the presence of 18 soldiers armed with guns.


Shockingly, he broke the chains in full view of soldiers and photographers who took shots of what seem like magical power.

He dropped out of school after his father’s death and joined the political struggle led by Robert Makasa and Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe .

In 1957, having already made his impact in Northern Province, suffering imprisonment and beatings in the process, Mutembo, along with seven others were sent to Kenya where Dedan Kimathi was leading a rebellion against the colonial rulers. Their mission was to learn how to carry out their own rebellion back home.

Before Kaunda and others would speak, Mutembo would go on stage first to tell the crowds how bad the colonial government was hence the importance to fight for independence.

Early 1960s, Kaunda wrote a letter to the governor, Sir Arthur Benson, to protest against a clause in the constitution that gave Europeans an upper hand in the legislature. Mutembo took up the task to deliver the letter to Government House (now State House ).

On his way out, however, he was arrested and tortured. At about 15:00 hours that day, he was taken to Kaunda’s office in Chilenje where he was celebrated as a hero.

About 03:00 hours the following day, Mutembo was taken to Cairo Road where he climbed a tree with a megaphone to denounce the new constitution. At 06:00 hours, he started proclaiming his message, but was soon surrounded by police who threatened to shoot him if he did not get down. He was arrested.

Today, the tree still stands opposite the Main Post Office and later came to be known as “Zanco Tree “.

Mutembo appeared in court after having been involved in a political brawl in Matero . He had been badly beaten in the fight and lost two of his front teeth, a mark he still bears. When the judge asked him to demonstrate to the court how he had been beaten, the young freedom fighter walked across the courtroom from the witness box and, reaching where one of the prosecutors – a white man – was standing, and punched him in the face, giving him a bloody nose. His action was a blatant show of rebellion in the face of the colonial government. At the end of the trial, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison plus four lashes for punching the prosecutor. He was sent to Livingstone State Prison where he was held in chains.

At Force Headquarters, after being interviewed, he was taken to a room where 18 military officers stood with guns at ready. He was then handcuffed to a chain and ordered to break free or get shot. Shockingly, he pulled so hard and broke the chains in full view of soldiers and photographers who took photos of what seemed like magical power. It was from these photos that the Freedom Statue would be crafted by casting experts.

Mutembo was also given an official vehicle – a Land Rover station wagon – bearing the initials of his status “SNNRG” (symbol of the nation Northern Rhodesia Government) and a Union Jack.

A statue was made depicting the scenario when Mutembo broke the chains in 1963. On October 23, 1974, during the celebrations of the 10th Anniversary of Zambia’s independence, the Freedom Statue was unveiled and became a symbol of Zambia’s freedom from the British colonial regime, and has earned its place on some of the country’s most important articles, including its currency. The statue is a reminder of Zambia’s fight for freedom. It is displayed at the Government Complex along Independence Avenue in Lusaka.

For more stories from Southern Africa in this website, click here.

Rwanda 100 Franc 1989 banknote front (2), featuring zebras

Rwanda Zebras

Art from Rwanda 100 Francs Banknote, Year 1989 – Face and Back
closeup detail of  Rwanda 100 Francs Banknote, Year 1989 front, featuring zebra
detail from Rwanda (1989) 100 francs banknote

Zebras are beloved in Africa for their beauty.  They are very social roaming in clans, called by humans “harems”, with long-lasting committed relationships.  A harem consists of a stallion, several mares and their offspring.  Many harems will congregate into a herd during migrations and for protection.  They’ll remain together and act in coordination to defend against predators.

Rwanda 100 Francs Banknote, Year 1989 front, featuring running zebra
Rwanda (1989) 100 francs banknote

Herds can be seen today roaming in the grasslands of Akagera National Park near the shores of Lake Ihema in Northeast Rwanada, a region shared with giraffe, hippo, buffalo and hundreds of species of bird. 

closeup detail of Rwanda 100 Francs Banknote, Year 1989 back, featuring volcanoes Karisimbi and Bisoke
detail from banknote showing volcanoes Karisimbi and Bisoke

Volcanoes National Park is in Northwest Rwanda and is the first national park in all of Africa.  It is dominated by five of the eight volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains.  Two of the volcanoes, Karisimbi and  Bisoke are illustrated on this banknote.  The region, covered in rainforest and bamboo is just 100 miles or so, as the wildlife roams, from Akagera National Park.     

According to Wikipedia, “Recent civil wars in Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Uganda have caused dramatic declines in all wildlife populations, including those of plains zebra. It is now extinct in Burundi.”  Why is Volcanoes National ark depicted on the same 1988 banknote as the Zebra?  I do not know, but the suggestion occurs to me that perhaps zebras were well known on the sides of the mountains but departed elsewhere during the war.

Click here for more stories from the African Great Lakes Region.

Rwanda 100 Francs Banknote, Year 1989 back, featuring volcanoes Karisimbi and Bisoke, and mother with child

Hungary (1946) – The Days of Hyperinflation

Hungary 1 Millió B Pengő Banknote – Face and Back
Hungary 100 quintillion pengos banknote, front
Hungary (1946), Szazmillio B.-Pengo, FRONT, the highest denominated currency ever circulated.

This is a Szazmillio B.-Pengo banknote. “Szazmillio” is Hungarian for one hundred million, so, this is a hundred million B.-Pengos.  “B.-Pengo” means a billion pengo. But Hungary used the “long scale” as did much of eastern Europe at that time. Thus “billion” means a million million, or a trillion. (“Short scale” billion means a thousand million. See here and see below). Thus our banknote is the equivalent of 100 million million million pengos, or one hundred million trillion pengos, or one hundred quintillion pengos.

photograph of the earth as seen from space

How much is one hundred quintillion? If in individual pengo banknote was 2″ wide x 4″ long, 100 quintillion banknotes would completely cover our planet, 2000 layers deep!

photograph of Alpha Centauri star

If those individual banknotes were laid end to end, 100 quintillion banknotes would reach to our nearest star Alpha Centari and back again to Earth, 90 times!

Here is someone’s illustration of what just one quintillion pennies would look like……… 1 quintillion pennies. Envision that multiplied by one hundred!

But a pengo was worth far less than a penny in those days.

Hungary 100 quintillion pengos banknote, back
Hungary (1946), Szazmillio B.-Pengo, BACK, the highest denominated currency ever circulated. This is the Hungarian Parliament Building on the Danube River.

What did hyperinflation feel like? The worst year was from August 1945 through July 1946 during which prices increased an average of 19% per day. On the worst days, prices would triple from one day to the next. A loaf of bread that cost a dollar yesterday costs 3 dollars today and nine dollars tomorrow and 27 dollars the day after tomorrow.

Says the Technical People: “Hyperinflations are caused by extremely rapid growth in the supply of “paper” money. They occur when the monetary and fiscal authorities of a nation regularly issue large quantities of money to pay for a large stream of government expenditures. In effect, inflation is a form of taxation in which the government gains at the expense of those who hold money while its value is declining. Hyperinflations are very large taxation schemes.”

How fast did they grow the money supply during that fateful year? How fast did they print more paper money? From what I’ve read, the money supply in July 1945 was 25 billion pengo, and then in January 1946 1,646 trillion pengo, and then in May 1946 65 quadrillion pengo and then in July 1946 47 septillion pengo. They were printing money like it was going out of style. They were printing money so fast that halfway through they stopped collecting taxes (now That had to be Fast!), because the tax value of collections one day late had lost so much value.

It stopped in August 1946 when a new currency was introduced, the florint, at the rate of 1 florint equal to one octillion pengos. And of course, they unplugged the printing presses too.

1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 = 1 octillion


From Wikipedia…..

“The long and short scales are two of several large-number naming systems for integer powers of ten that use the same words with different meanings. The long scale is based on powers of one million, whereas the short scale is based on powers of one thousand.

Short scale

Every new term greater than million is one thousand times larger than the previous term. Thus, billion means a thousand millions (109), trillion means a thousand billions (1012), and so on. Thus, an n-illion equals 103n + 3.

Long scale

Every new term greater than million is one million times larger than the previous term. Thus, billion means a million millions (1012), trillion means a million billions (1018), and so on. Thus, an n-illion equals 106n. “

…..from Wikipedia.

As always, if you have something to add to this story, or a recommended landmark for visiting, I welcome your comments!

For more stories from Central Europe on this website, click here.

For story tags, see bottom of this page.

1000 mil pesos bolivianos banknote closeup of Juana Azurduy, The Flower of Alto Peru

Bolivia – Juana Azurduy, The Flower of Alto Peru

Bolivia 1000 Bolivianos Banknote – Face and Back
Bolivia 1000 Bolivianos Banknote front, featuring portrait of Juana Azurduy de padilla
1000 bolivianos banknote, front, Bolivia, featuring portrait of Juana Azurduy de Padilla

Honoring Juana Azurduy, a 52 foot high statue, a gift from Bolivia, has been installed in Argentina, replacing an older and smaller statue of Christopher Columbus. It is the largest statue in Argentina.

Who is Juana Azurduy?

closeup detail from Bolivia 1000 Bolivianos Banknote front, featuring portrait of  Juana Azurduy de Padilla
Juana Azurduy in military uniform, detail from front of 1000 bolivianos banknote, Bolivia

Juana Azurduy, the “flower of alto Peru”, the “terror of the Spanish”, knew exactly what she wanted when, at 24 years of age, she wed Manuel de Padilla. Padilla, just 4 years her senior already had a well-developed disdain for the rule of the Spanish, a love of the people, and experience in the army and law. With him she would enter the military and with him she would liberate her people from Spanish rule. She trained and excelled in swordsmanship and marksmanship and horsemanship. When independence was declared 4 years into their marriage, they were ready. Bringing her children with her, and putting her hair up under her hat and wearing the traditional male uniform, Juana went to war.

What was the source of her passion and when was her inner fire kindled? The details of her childhood are limited, but enough that perhaps we can see the outlines … the origin of her fire. She was born mestiza, one parent Spanish and the other indigenous. Which was which we don’t seem to know, but we are told her father was killed by the Spanish without repercussion or justice, when she was very young. Not long after her mother died of causes unknown and young Juana was sent to live with an aunt. Was her aunt on her mother’s side and Spanish, we do not know, but we do know that her aunt sent young Juana, perhaps 12 years old, to live in a convent. The convent no doubt was catholic and run by the Spanish. We next learn that teenaged Juana was clandestinely organizing students to study together the lives of revolutionaries against the domination of the Spaniards, most notably Tupac Amaru, and she was expelled from the convent at age 17.

One can imagine young Juana ruminating over the killing of her papa by the unaccountable Spanish invaders. One can see her mourning the loss of her mother when she needed her the most. One can imagine her anger at her aunt, perhaps Spanish too, for thinking her too much trouble and sending her to the convent. And one can understand her rebelling against the strictures of convent life. Juana flowered into adulthood loving her people and bitter against the Spanish, determined to see things change. And so, it was in 1810, on the very day that independence from Spain was declared, Juana Adzurduy and her husband Manuel de Padilla joined the revolutionary army.

The initial 1810 revolutionary group was halted by the Spanish royalists; and the Padillas joined the army of the north to continue the fight. In 1811, they suffered a defeat in battle and the Padilla’s 4 children were captured, their property overrun, and their harvest and profits were confiscated. But Manuel rescued the children and returned to the battle.

closeup detail from Bolivia 1000 Bolivianos Banknote front, featuring coat of arms
Coat of Arms, Bolivia, detail from front of 1000 bolvianos banknote. Cerro Richo, the silver mountain which Juana Azurduy captured. Inti in the form of the sun is rising. The llama, in the bottom left is the national animal, and carried silver from the mines of Cerro Richo.

In 1812 the Padillas joined the newly reconstituted army of the north and Manuel was made a military commander. By 1816 Juana was leading troops into battle. In March, she captured the region which was the prime source of Spanish Silver. During the battle she personally led a Calvary charge which captured the enemy standard. After this battle, she was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and was personally, honored by General Manuel Belgrano, who gifted her with his own sword.

Later that year, her children were captured, the 2 sons killed outright and the 2 daughters held as hostage. Azurduy and Padilla mounted a ferocious raid to rescue them but the children were killed and Juana was injured in the attempt. Later that same year Manuel Padilla was captured and killed. Juana Azurduy swore over her husband’s corpse to continue to fight and continued as one of the most violent warriors on the field, earning the moniker “the Terror of the Spanish”.

In 1818, she was forced to withdraw with her forces to northern Argentina where she continued the fight under the command of General Guermes. She was appointed commander of the patriotic northern Army of the Revolutionary Government of the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata. With the army she was able to force the withdrawal of the Spanish forces from the region.

closeup detail from Bolivia 1000 Bolivianos Banknote front, featuring portrait of  Juana Azurduy de Padilla
Juana Azurduy, “The Flower of Alto Peru”, “The Terror of the Spanish”, detail from front of 1000 bolivianos banknote, Bolivia

The estimated strength of her army at its maximum was about 6,000 men under her command. She was so determined for the cause that she actually fought while she was pregnant, at one point, giving birth to her daughter, then returning to the fight soon after. Following the war, she returned to Sucre and there was reduced to poverty.

In 1825 Simón Bolívar, known as the Liberator visited her. Seeing her impoverished conditions, he was embarrassed, and promoted her to the rank of Colonel and provided her with a pension. Following the visit, he remarked to Marshal Antonio José de Sucre: “This country should not be named Bolivia in my honor, but Padilla or Azurduy, because it was they who made it free.”

In 2009, Juana Azurduy was named General (posthumously) of the Argentine Army.

closeup detail from Bolivia 1000 Bolivianos Banknote front, featuring Casa De La Libertad
Casa De La Libertad where in 1825 the Republic of Bolivia was created with the signing of The Declaration of Independence. detail from back of 1000 bolivianos banknote, Bolivia

A movie has been filmed about her. see here.

Songs are sung about here.  See here for the English translation of the words with some explanatory notes.  See here for a classical performance and here for a dance performance.

The monument can be seen here and below, showing Juana with sword uplifted with one hand, a child on her back and he other hand stretched back protecting her child.

architectural detail of balcony at Casa de Libertad, Sucre, Bolivia
architectural detail of balcony at Casa de Libertad, Sucre, Bolivia

Juana Azurduy de Padilla International Airport in Sucre is honorably so named.

A blogger I recently read, (and I am sorry I cannot find who it is), asked the question: “Why has my country, Bolivia, been given a woman’s name? Could it be because of the founding influences?” It seems the answer is YES.

photograph of bolivia casa de la libertad
Casa De La Libertad, Sucre, Bolivia

Libertad now houses a museum of History of Bolivia!  Follow them on facebook here.  The tours are highly regarded.

photograph of statue of Juana Azurduy, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Juana Azurduy, Buenos Aires, Argentina

The Monument to Juana Azurduy is being relocated a short distance in a renovation project in Buenos Aires.  See a description and map showing the old and new locations here, and confirm before you travel.

photograph of statue of Juana Azurduy, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Monument, Juana Azurduy
Bolivia 1000 Bolivianos Banknote  back
1000 bolivianos banknote, back, Bolivia
Bolivia 1000 Bolivianos Banknote front, featuring portrait of Juana Azurduy de padilla
1000 bolivianos banknote, front, Bolivia, featuring portrait of Juana Azurduy de Padilla

As always, if you have something to add to this story, or a recommended landmark for visiting, I welcome your comments!

Guatemala Half Quetzal 1998 banknote front (2), featuring quetzal bird in flight

Guatemala – The Glorious Quetzal Bird

Guatemala 50 Centavos Banknote – Face and Back
closeup detail of Guatemala 50 Centavos Banknote, featuring quetzal bird in flight
detail of quetzal bird in flight, Guatemala 0.50 quetzal banknote, front, 50 centavos, one half quetzal
picture of guatemala quetzal in flight

His tail feathers may be 3 feet long, and colored blue green. His head is golden green with a rounded crest. His back is blue, tinged with gold.  His belly is crimson red. He is glorious in flight.

To the Mayans, he symbolized the movement of creation and the will of the Creator to come to earth. Kings and priests wore ceremonial garments decorated by their iridescent feathers. They saw the combination of the quetzal and the serpent in their god Qetzal Coatl, “the plumed serpent”, the Animator of all creation. He is glorious in flight.

 Guatemala 50 Centavos Banknote, front
Front, 50 centavos , one half quetzal, Guatemala
closeup detail of Guatemala 50 Centavos Banknote froint, featuring statue of Tecun Uman
Tecun Uman, heroe national, detail from front of half quetzal banknote, Guatemala

Tecun Uman was the great leader of the Maya in the age of the Spanish conquest.

The Spanish cavalry charge shocked the Mayans who had never seen horses.  Tecun Uman, clothed in quetzal feathers and accompanied by his animal spirit guide, the quetzal bird, stood up to meet the horse mounted leader of the Spanish army, Alvarado, face to face.  Thinking the mounted man and horse were one single being, he attacked and slew the horse.  Turning round and seeing the still armed Alvarado dismounted, he realized his mistake, attacked again and died on Alvarado’s spear.  His quetzal spirit guide was so grieved, he landed on Tecun Uman’s fallen chest, his breast feathers mixing with the hero’s blood, and died.

Forever after, the quetzal’s breast was red and his song not heard.  And if a quetzal was ever placed in captivity, it died, making it a symbol of liberty.

Guatemala 50 Centavos Banknote back
one half quetzal bank note, back, Guatemala
closeup detail of Guatemala 50 Centavos Banknote back, featuring Tikal Temple I
Tikal Temple I, detail from back of one half quetzal banknote, Guatemala

Buried deep in the rainforest, these temple grounds appear to have escaped the notice of the Spanish conquistadors.

This fabulous pyramid standing as tall as a 10 story building was lost in the jungle until its rediscovery in the 19th century by Alfred P. Maudslay.

In his own words: “I was naturally anxious and expectant on this my first visit to a Central American ruin, but it seemed as though my curiosity would be ill satisfied, for all I could see on arrival was what appeared to be three moss-grown stumps of dead trees covered over with a tangle of creepers and parasitic plants . . We soon pulled off the creepers, and . . . set to work to clear away the coating of moss. As the curious outlines of the carved ornament gathered shape it began to dawn upon me how much more important were these monuments, upon which I had stumbled almost by chance, than any account I had heard of them had led me to expect. This day’s work induced me to take a permanent interest in Central American Archaeology, and a journey which was undertaken merely to escape the rigours of an English winter has been followed by seven expeditions from England for the pur­pose of further exploration and archaeo­logical research.”1

The archaeological record of Tikal dates from around 1000 BC.  It was a thriving city from around 300 BC until its decline between 700 AD and 900 AD.2

For more stories from Central America on this website, click here.

closeup detail of Guatemala 50 Centavos Banknote front, featuring creator god, Itzamna
creator god, Itzamna, detail from front of One-Half Quetzal banknote, Guatemala
closeup detail of Guatemala 10 cordobes series E front , featuring Adres Castro and his stones

Nicaragua – The Battle of San Jacinto (1856)

Nicaragua 10 Cordobas Banknote, Year 2007 – Face and Back
Nicaragua 10 Cordobas Banknote, Year 2007 back, featuring Hacienda San Jacinto
10 cordobas, Nicaragua, featuring Hacienda San Jacinto, series A 2007 banknote, back.
closeup detail of Nicaragua 10 Cordobas Banknote, Year 2007 back, featuring  “Hacienda San Jacinto”
detail from 10 cordobas 2007 banknote, Nicaragua, inscription “Hacienda San Jacinto”

The Hacienda may look small on the outside, but it is big on the inside, and looms bigger still in history, for here a giant was stopped.

In what is historians widely consider the turning point in Nicaragua’s wars for liberty, a small band won the day against a much larger force. They did it with the combination of grit, guts and guile, which is the stuff of every memorable battle.

On a September morning in 1856, three hundred well armed troops under William Walker marched on a small farmhouse known as Hacienda San Jacinto. Walker, a mercenary from California, had organized this private military expedition with the goal of establishing a private colony in Central America under his personal control. Colonel Jose Dolores Estrada was at the farm with his men, numbering about one hundred, to prevent Walker from seizing the livestock.  The Matagalpa, a local indigenous tribe of Nicaragua, responded to Estrada’s call for help, and sent sixty archers to reinforce the position, bringing the total number of defenders to about one hundred and sixty.

closeup detail of painting
detail from painting. The defenders sandaled and the filibusters booted and uniformed,

Walker’s men, known as “filibusters” which was the name given to such mercenaries in those days, were armed with revolvers and repeating rifles. Estrada’s defenders were armed with bows and arrows and single shot flintlock muskets. Walker’s men were uniformed and booted. Estrada’s men were ragtag and sandaled. Walker’s men were cocky and fighting for wealth. Estrada’s men were desperate and fighting for their country.

A morning lookout spotted Walker’s army at 2000 yards and approaching from the South. Estrada divided his men into three defensive positions, a stone corral on his right, the house in the middle and a wooden corral on his left. Orders were given not to fire until fired upon, or until the enemy was within 50 to 75 yards, as that was the maximum effective range of their old muskets. Walker’s men divided into three columns of 100 men each and continued their march toward the defended positions.  At 7 am the first shots rang out.

closeup detail of painting showing hand to hand combat
detail from painting, the combat grew close, hand to hand

The invaders attempted to climb the barricades with impunity but they were met with war by the defenders. Furious battles erupted at each of the three defended positions. Arrows flew, gunshots rang and swords clanged. Then the attackers withdrew, reorganized, rearmed and reattacked.  Three times over the first two hours they attacked, and three times the defended positions held.  But the defense of the wood corral on the left was beginning to break.  Frustrated by their inability to take the stone corral on their left or the house in the middle, they combined their forces into a single mass and renewed the attack on the wooden corral on their right.

closeup detail of painting showing stone thropw of Andres castro against british soldier who drops his gun
detail from painting, Andres Castro defending with stones

At 9 am, the defense of the wooden corral broke. The fighting was furious, and hand to hand, and the defenders’ ammunition was running low, when Andres Castro stood up. His gun having failed, he leapt forward picking up two stones. The first, about the size of a billiard ball, he hurled mightily with his right. The filibuster took the stone on his head, stopped, stood for an instant, dropped his gun and then, leaning backward, staggered over the fence, fell and died on the spot. The defenders witnessing this sight, rallied with mighty enthusiasm; and screaming, and shouting “Viva Nicaragua!”, picked up stones and fired them on the filibusters like a hail of bullets.

closeup detail of painting showing stone throw of Andres castro
detail from painting, the porch was contested

But the attackers, having abundance of arms and ammunition, kept advancing until some of them were at the house and some were even on the porch. It was a terrible state. Estrada, seeing the situation was dire, shouted to the officers between the corral and the house, ordering them to defend to the death, “Firm to the last drop!”

Estrada next ordered others to attack the enemy’s flank. Then sprinted 17 men to a small forested hill 100 yards behind the house, and circling around unseen, faced the flank of the invaders. Fixing bayonets and shouting mightily “Viva Nicaragua”, they attacked with such ferocity that about 30 horses corralled nearby were startled and stampeded. The enemy facing such fury forward and now on their flank, and now hearing with alarm the sound of approaching hoofbeats, thought them to be mounted Nicaraguan reinforcements descending upon them. The filibusters, hesitated in alarm, began to retreat from the house and corral, and then fled the battle field for their lives.

Twelve miles they fled, all the way to Hacienda San Ildefonso, and for many of those miles they were chased by the victorious patriots.

closeup detail of Guatemala 10 cordobes series E front , featuring Adres Castro and his stones
detail from 10 Cordobas 1979 banknote, Nicaragua, inscription “Andres Castro”

So stunning was the defeat, that Walker soon left off his project and departed from Central America.  The French sage, Elisee, upon hearing the tale of the battle, called it the Marathon of the Americas, after the battle in which the outnumbered Greeks turned back the Persians so many centuries before.   The image of Castro hurling the stone has fixed the image of  “David versus Goliath” into the national imagination.  The painting below by Luis Vergara Ahumada immortalizes the battle and is found in very many public buildings and private homes throughout Nicaragua.

For more stories from Central America on this website, click here.

The Battle of Hacienda San Jacinto 1856, by Luis Vergara Ahumada
The Battle of Hacienda San Jacinto 1856, by Luis Vergara Ahumada
Guatemala 10 cordobes series E front, featuring Andres Castro
10 cordobas, Nicaragua, series E 1979 banknote, front, featuring Andres Castro from Battle of San Jacinto (1856)
El Salvador 10 Colon 1998 banknote back - 2 (2), featuring Volcano de Izalco

El Salvador – Volcano Izalco – The Lighthouse of the Pacific (10 Colones)

El Salvador 10 Colones – Face and Back
El Salvador 10 Colones back, featuring volcano
El Salvador, 10 colones banknote, back, Volcan de Izalco
closeup detail of El Salvador 10 Colones back, featuring volcano
detail showing Volcan de Izalco, back of 10 colones banknote, El Salvador

Izalco was little more than a curious hole in the ground in a cornfield.  The farm was on the southern slopes of the old Santa Ana volcano, and the hole, or “vent”, was at 1300 meters above sea level.  Wisps of black sulfuric smoke would occasionally arise but not seem out of the ordinary on the slopes of a volcano.  And then one day in 1770, Izalco was born.

Fiery spurts and flowing mounds of lava issued from the side of that old mountain, and El Salvador’s youngest volcano began to build its own mountain.  Lava flowed down the slope up to 7 kilometers and hardened.  More lava flowed and hardened on top of the previous flow.  More lava and more lava flowed, and layer upon layer hardened, and the young volcanic cone began to rise.  One hundred meters, two hundred meters, three hundred meters, the new mountain rose from the slopes of the old.  Its eruptions were almost continuous.  As its elevation grew its incandescent night time displays of fire became visible from further and further out at sea.  Izalco became a reliable night time  guide for seagoing vessels to the port of Acajutla in El Salvador.  “Faro de Pacifico”, the Lighthouse of the Pacific, it was christened.

Five hundred meters, six hundred meters, our volcano continued to grow.  Eruptions were almost continuous with just brief interruptions for two hundred years.  So many people wanted to see the volcano that a hotel with a vantage point was planned and construction began.  Six hundred twenty meters, six hundred thirty meters, six hundred forty meters and hotel construction neared its conclusion.   Six hundred fifty meters and the hotel was finished.  And so was Izalco.  It is a curious feature of history that the volcano which erupted almost continuously should stop just when the hotel was completed.  But so it was.  Izalco has not erupted since 1966.  But it is still visited and climbed by many intrepid travelers.

closeup detail of El Salvador 10 Colones back
detail from El Salvador banknote

Detail of the forests at the foot of the volcano.  Izalco is El Salvador’s youngest volcano.  The cone rises without vegetation from the forest below.

closeup detail of El Salvador 10 Colones back, featuring coat of arms with 5 volcanoes
detail from back of 10 colones banknote, El Salvador, National Coat of Arms, featuring five volcanoes

The national coat of arms features 5 volcanoes.  These five symbolize the five member states of the United Provinces of Central America, formed July 1, 1823.

Projected on a staff above the volcanoes is a Phrygian cap, an ancient symbol of liberty.  The five flags are upheld with indigenous wooden war spears with obsidian points.

The motto below is “Dios, Union, Libertad”.

closeup detail of El Salvador 10 Colones back, featuring map
detail from front of 10 colones banknote, El Salvador

The old worlds and new worlds are depicted on the front of the 10 colones banknote.

closeup detail of El Salvador 10 Colones front , featuring sailing ships
detail from front of 10 colones banknote, El Salvador

The Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, the three sailing ships that constituted the expedition of Christopher Columbus, are depicted sailing to the new world from the old world.

For mores stories from Central America on this website, click here.

El Salvador 10 Colones  front, featuring portrait of Christopher Columbus and his ships
El Salvador, 10 colones banknote, front, featuring Christopher Columbus sailing to the New World from the Old World.
Yemen 10 Rial banknote front (2), featuring the Great Dam of Ma’rib

Yemen – The Great Dam of Ma’rib (10 Rial Banknote)

Yemen 10 & 100 Rial Banknote – Face and Back
Yemen 10 Rial Banknote back, featuring the great dam of Ma’rib
Yemen 10 rials banknote, back, featuring the great dam of Ma’rib

The Great Dam of Ma’rib was built almost three thousand years ago and is considered one of the great engineering projects of the ancient world.

closeup detail of Yemen 10 Rial Banknote back, featuring The great Dam of Ma’rib
The great Dam of Ma’rib. detail from back of 10 rial banknote. Yemen

The medieval Arab geographer Yāqūt al-Ḥamawī described the great dam of Ma’rib: “It is between three mountains, and the flood waters all flow to the one location, and because of that the water only discharges in one direction; and the ancients blocked that place with hard rocks and lead. The water from springs gathers there as well as floodwater, collecting behind the dam like a sea. Whenever they wanted to they could irrigate their crops from it, by just letting out however much water they needed from sluice gates; once they had used enough they would close the gates again as they pleased.” reference.

closeup detail of Yemen 100 Rial Banknote back, featuring ancient culvert
Ancient culvert and the Shaharah bridge. Detail from back of 100 rial banknote, Yemen

According to Arab tradition, the city Ma’rib was founded by Shem, son of Noah, a thousand years previous. With 1000 miles of coastline on the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea, it flourished as a center of trade reaching from the Mediterranean to India. Agriculture flourished in large part due to its amazing irrigation systems consisting of water tunnels in mountains, and dams. Yemen’ spices, frankincense and myrrh, were traded throughout the world. Modern scholarship says the renowned Queen of Sheba came from the kingdom of Saba, centered around the oasis of Ma’rib.

closeup detail of Yemen 10 Rial Banknote front, featuring arabian coffee berry branch
Arabian Coffee berries on a branch, detail from back of 10 rial banknote, Yemen
Yemen 10 Rial Banknote back
Yemen, 10 rial banknote, front. Qubbat Al-Bakiliyah Mosque (Al-Bakiriya, Al-Baqiliyah, al-Bakiriyya) in Sana’a.
Yemen 50 Rial banknote front (2), featuring 500 year old city scape

Yemen – Shibham, The Oldest Skyscraper City in the World

Yemen 5, 50 & 100 Rials Banknotes – Face and Back
Yemen 50 Rials Banknote front featuring Buildings in Shibam
Buildings in Shibam, 50 rials, back, Yemen

Towering buildings, 500 years old, rise from the desert in this oldest example of vertical urban planning in the world.  Shibam lies deep in the desert of Yemen, and is famous for its mud brick high rise buildings, being frequently called the “Oldest Skyscraper City in the World.”

closeup detail of Yemen 50 Rials Banknote front, featuring Buildings in Shibam
detail of Buildings in Shibam, 50 rials, back, Yemen. Some buildings are ten or eleven stories tall.

Bedouin nomads of old, traversed desert sands from oasis to oasis, carrying news and conducting trade.  The little settlement, Shibam, by the wadiis, was ripe for less than honorable Bedouin marauders.

The settlers did not wish to move, for this was home.  The life as nomads had lost its appeal.  Perhaps it was the 14th century when the idea was born; or perhaps it was the 15th or 16th century when the concept was planned; but we know by the 1600s great towers in the desert had begun to rise.

Using the materials at hand, driven by the necessity born of frequent attacks, and guided by some original ingenuity, they began to build.  Creating bricks, made from soil and hay and stone, baked in the desert sun, brick by brick they built they built their sturdy houses.

closeup detail of Yemen 50 Rials Banknote front, featuring Buildings in Shibam
detail of Buildings in Shibam, 50 rials, back, Yemen. Some buildings are over 100 feet tall.

Story upon story they rose.  The bottom stories they made windowless and harbored their livestock and grain, safer from marauders than open corrals.  Five stories, six stories, seven stories they built with windowed living quarters above their live stock and provisions.   Eight stories, nine stories high, they built their towers providing shade from the desert sun on the narrow streets between them.  Ten stories and eleven stories tall, they built their towers, with bridges intersecting from one to another, providing easy escape when needed, and convenient corridors for socializing.

Shibam of Yemen is the earliest known example of vertical urban planning in the world.  A British explorer in the 1930s, happening upon Shibram, called it the “Manhattan of the Desert”.  The “Oldest Skyscraper City in the world”, it is frequently called today.

Yemen 100 Rials Banknote back
Sina’a, 100 rials banknote, back, Yemen
closeup detail of Yemen 100 Rials Banknote back, featuring buildings of Sina'a
detail of buildings of Sina’a, 100 rials banknote, back, Yemen

Sana’a has been inhabited for more than two and a half centuries.  It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.

closeup detail of Yemen 100 Rials Banknote back, featuring buildings of Sina'a
detail of buildings of Sina’a, 100 rials banknote, back, Yemen

The beauty of the city is enhanced by the high density of buildings constructed from rammed earth and the frequent burnt brick towers.

Yemen 5 Rials Banknote back, featuring Fortress Qal’at
Fortress Qal’at, 5 rial banknote, back, Yemen
closeup detail of Yemen 5 Rials Banknote back, featuring Fortress Qal’at al Qahit, on hill in Ta’izz
detail of Fortress Qal’at al Qahit, on hill in Ta’izz, 5 rial banknote, back, Yemen
Yemen 5 Rials Banknote back
closeup detail of Yemen 5 Rials Banknote back, featuring building
closeup detail of Yemen 1 Rials Banknote back, featuring temple buildings

Bedouin nomads of old, traversed desert sands from oasis to oasis, carrying news and conducting trade.  The little settlement, Shibam, by the wadiis, was ripe for less than honorable Bedouin marauders.

The settlers did not wish to move, for this was home.  The life as nomads had lost its appeal.  Perhaps it was the 14th century when the idea was born; or perhaps it was the 15th or 16th century when the concept was planned; but we know by the 1600s great towers in the desert had begun to rise.  Using the materials at hand, driven by the necessity born of frequent attacks, and guided by some original ingenuity, they began to build.  Creating bricks, made from soil and hay and stone, baked in the desert sun, brick by brick they built they built their sturdy houses.  Story upon story they rose.  The bottom stories they made windowless and harbored their livestock and grain, safer from marauders than open corrals.  Five stories, six stories, seven stories they built with windowed living quarters above their live stock and provisions.   Eight stories, nine stories high, they built their towers providing shade from the desert sun on the narrow streets between them.  Ten stories and eleven stories tall, they built their towers, with bridges intersecting from one to another, providing easy escape when needed, and convenient corridors for socializing.

Shibam of Yemen is the earliest known example of vertical urban planning in the world.  A British explorer in the 1930s, happening upon Shibram, called it the “Manhattan of the Desert”.  The “Oldest Skyscraper City in the world”, it is frequently called today.

Taiwan 500 Dollar 2005 banknote front (2), featuring the celebrating World Series winning baseball team

Taiwan – Jubilation

Taiwan 500 Yuan Banknote – Face and Back
closeup detail from Taiwan 500 Yuan Banknote front, featuring winning little leage member of baseball team celebrating
detail from front of Taiwan 500 yuan banknote


Glee filled youth hurling baseball cap into the air in celebration of another triumph.

Dedication hard work and teamwork bring joy to the people and pride to all of Taiwan.

closeup detail from Taiwan 500 Yuan Banknote front, featuring winning little leage baseball team celebrating
Baseball team celebrating World Series victory. detail from front of Taiwan’s 500 yuan banknote.

The Little League Baseball Team was the Toast of Taiwan.

In the thirteen year period between 1969 and 1981, the team brought 10 world series championships from Williamsport Pennsylvania.

The afternoon 2:00 pm game start in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, the home of Little League Baseball world series, would be an early morning 3:00 game time in Taiwan half a world away. Avid fans would be awake and watching.  Up and down the streets in those early morning hours, Cheers and shouts could be heard emanating from windows lit by flickering television screens. Little league baseball is credited with transforming Taiwan’s breakfast habits as the celebrating fans went out hungry for breakfast.  A fun article on this phenomenon can be found here.

That amazing run of world series championships commencing in 1969 coincided in a decades long erosion of international support for Taiwan’s claim to be the rightful representative of all China.  In 1971, Taiwan lost its UN seat to mainland China, the Peoples Republic of China.  Baseball helped buoy the spirit of the people and by the 1980s Taiwan was enjoying dramatic economic growth.

Taiwan 500 Yuan Banknote front, featuring winning little leage baseball team celebrating
Taiwan, 500 yuan, front
closeup detail from Taiwan 500 Yuan Banknote back, featuring formosan sika deer
detail from back of Taiwan 500 yuan banknote

The Formosan Sika deer is unique to Taiwan.

closeup detail from Taiwan 500 Yuan Banknote back, featuring formosan sika deer
detail from back of Taiwan 500 yuan banknote
Nicaragua 20 Cordoba 1978 banknote front (2)

Nicaragua – Rafaela Herrera Defeats the British

Nicaragua 20 & 50 Cordobas Banknote – Face and Back
Nicaragua 20 Cordobas Banknote front, featuring Rafaela Herrera lighting a canon
Nicaragua, 20 cordobas, front

Rafaela was 19 years old when she shot the commander of the British fleet with a cannon.

Nicaragua 50 Cordobas Banknote front, featuring El Castillo de la Immaculada Concpcion, Rio San Juan.
El Castillo de la Immaculada Concpcion, Rio San Juan. Detail from back of 50 cordobas banknote, Nicaragua. The Fortress overlooks the San Juan River.

Standing on the rampart of the Fortress of the Immaculate Conception, which commanded a bend in the San Juan river, Rafaela Herrera looked out upon the British fleet.

Nicaragua had attracted Great Britain’s interest because of its geography. Its lakes and rivers represented a potential connecting route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans which would revolutionize world trade. And Britain had sent an expeditionary force up the San Juan river, raiding and destroying undefended Nicaraguan settlements as they progressed. Jinotega and Acoyapa fell to the British force; and then Loviguisca and San Pedro de Lovago were overrun. The mission of Apompua near Juigalpa and the town of Muy Muy were captured. Villages were burned and looted; and many prisoners were taken.

Nicaragua 10 Cordobas Banknote front, featuring  Fortress of the Immaculate Conception on the San Jose River
The Fortress of the Immaculate Conception on the San Jose River, Nicaragua, depicted on the front of the (2008) 10 cordobas banknote of Nicaragua

It was 1762, and Britain was a mighty world power. Her navy sailed the seven seas and kept distant colonies under control worldwide. Nicaragua was small and young and alone.

The British expeditionary force consisted of 50 ships and 2000 men. The Fortress of the Immaculate Conception held about one hundred soldiers. At 4 am on July 26, 1762, as the fleet approached the fortress, a British landing party took a Nicaraguan observation post and captured its defenders. That same morning, a few hours later, the fleet anchored before the fortress, and the British commander sent an envoy ashore to negotiate a surrender.  The terms were, in exchange for cessation of hostilities, unconditional surrender of the fortress,

Inside the fortress there was anxious turmoil, as their commander had just died a few days before. The second in command, a sergeant, was planning to surrender when Rafaela spoke forth: “Have you forgotten the duties imposed by military honor? Are you going to allow the enemy to steal this fortress, which is the safeguard of the Province of Nicaragua, and of your families?” Rafaela, you see, was the daughter, the only offspring, of the commander of the fortress, Lieutenant Don Jose de Herrera, who had just died.

closeup detail from Nicaragua 20 Cordobas Banknote front, featuring Rafaela Herrera firing the cannon
Rafaela Herrera firing the cannon. The Battle for Rio San Juan de Nicaragua. Fortress of the Immaculate Conception. detail from front of 20 cordobas banknote, Nicaragua

The men were stunned and not knowing what to do. Rafaela Herrera ordered the gates of the fortress to be locked, took the keys and placed sentries. The enemy envoy returned to the fleet which promptly arrayed itself for battle, thinking to intimidate the defenders. Hererra, whose grandfather was a military engineer, and whose father had trained her in military honor, and the handling of weapons, aimed one of the cannons. Boom! and a volley sailed across the waters. Boom! a second volley; and then, in case they were mistaken as to her intentions, Boom! a third cannon shot sailed forth. On the third volley, the commander of the British fleet was killed.

The British were enraged and commenced an all out assault. Those one hundred rallied mightily, and, inspired by Rafaela’s heroism, responded with ferocious defense. Deep in the night, Rafaela soaked clothes in alcohol and set them afire and adrift on floating branches in the river. The flotilla of flame descending upon the anchored fleet forced them to readjust to defensive positions.

The battle continued at daybreak, and then day after day for six days. Rafaela Herrera commanded the cannons and Lieutenant Juan de Aguilar led the defenders. On August 3, 1762, the British lifted their siege, retreated, and sailed back downstream to the mouth of the San Jose river, never to return.

On November 11, 1781, King Charles III of Spain, issued a royal decree granting Herrera a pension for life as a reward for her heroic actions during the Battle for the Río San Juan de Nicaragua.

For other stories from Nicaragua on this website, click here.

For more stories from Central America on this website, click here.

Nicaragua 20 Cordobas Banknote back, featuring the Abbrogation of the Chamorro – Bryan Treaty
20 cordobas, Nicaragua
closeup detail from Nicaragua 20 Cordobas Banknote back, featuring The Abbrogation of the Chamorro – Bryan Treaty
Abrogacion Del Tratado Chamorro Bryan, detail from front of 20 cordobas banknote, Nicaragua. The Abbrogation of the Chamorro – Bryan Treaty
Nicaragua 50 Cordobas Banknote  back
Nicaragua 50 cordobas, back
Nicaragua 50 Cordobas Banknote front
Nicaragua, 50 Cordobas front
Myanmar 15 Kyat banknote back (2)

Myanmar – The Not Home of the Rohingya

Myanmar Kyats Banknote Series – Face and Back
Myanmar 75 Kyats Banknote back
75 kyats, Myanmar, issued November 10, 1986, for his 75th birthday. The 50 kyat and 100 kyat banknotes were demonetized November 3rd without warning and many people lost their savings.

Ne Win, political leader of Myanmar, must have been thinking, “It’s good to have power”, when, for the fun of it, he destroyed the life savings of millions and wrecked the economy of a country.

This is where the Rohingya live.

Myanmar 90 Kyats Banknote  front
90 kyats, Myanmar, issued November 22, 1987, because his favorite number was 9. Two and a half weeks earlier, the 75 kyat banknote and others were demonetized without warning. 75% of the nation’s currency was thus rendered worthless.
Myanmar 45 Kyats Banknote front
45 kyats, Myanmar, issued together with the 90 kyat banknote, because 9 was his favorite number. The nation’s economy was thrown into chaos.

As captioned beneath the photos above, Ne Win wrecked life savings and ruined the economy for his birthday, and because of his numerological fascination with the number 9. Imagine the difficulty of daily transactions at the marketplace with denominations such as these, together with banknotes for 15 kyats and 25 kyats and 35 kyats. How do you count out change? But, when you’re a dictator, it’s easy.

The Earth holds us with gravity, a power so gentle that we hardly notice, and yet a power so great that we cannot escape. The Sun holds our Earth by the same power. We ourselves are here by nature’s power of life, a power so gentle that we cannot even remember our own birth. And we cannot go back. And we cannot leave our Earth. This is our home; and who can say it is not? The Infinite Power of the Universe has placed us here.

closeup detail from Myanmar 90 Kyats Banknote  back, featuring farmer working in fields with oxen team
detail from back of 90 kyat banknote. working in the fields.

“Rohingyas have lived in Arakan from time immemorial”. Arakan is the coastal region on the right hand side, the eastern shore, of the great Bay of Bengal, opposite to India. It is now known as Rakhine state in Myanmar. Islam came to the region a thousand years ago. The Rohingya are Muslims in a country with over 125 ethnicities, and a population 90% Buddhist and 4% Muslim. Their history has been traced back to the 8th century.

Families are natural and tribes are normal, and have been for thousands upon thousands of years. And then one day just a few hundred years ago, as tribes grew and fought over things, someone invented states. And states were cool. And they invented powers for the states. So then states multiplied and grew and some of them had colonies.

myanmar map old
The Indian Empire in the days of British rule encompasses Burma and Arakan on the eastern coast of the Bay of Bengal.

Great Britain’s empire expanded to include India and Arakan and Burma and the surrounding regions in the 19th and 20th centuries. This region became known as “the Crown Jewel of the Empire”. Times were prosperous, and labor routinely migrated back and forth across and around the Bay of Bengal to work the rice paddies of Arakan. As the entire area was under British dominion, these movements of peoples, including the Rohingya, were administrated as internal affairs. But the migrations were viewed negatively by many of the native populations.

And some of the tribes that were colonies, and didn’t like that the states had powers and the colonies didn’t, said, We want to be a state too. Let us have states too. States are fun. States are cool. States have powers. We want to have a state too. And so they did.

closeup detail from Myanmar 90 Kyats Banknote , featuring workers in rice paddies
detail from bank of 90 kyat banknote showing workers in the rice paddies.

Early in WWII, Aung San, then the political leader of Burma (soon to be called Myanmar), sided with the Japanese against the British, in hopes of Burmese independence. Towards the end of the war, realizing that Japan’s overlordship was worse than Britain’s, Aung San switched allegiances back to Great Britain and its allies. This movement of shifting alliances became typical for what came to be known as the non-aligned states during the subsequent cold war.

And so states multiplied, like new tiles on an old earthen floor, being laid end to end and wall to wall, until all the earth was covered with new tiles, and you couldn’t see the earth anymore.

closeup detail from Myanmar 45 Kyats Banknote back, featuring oil dericks
Industry in Burma. Detail from back of Myanmar’s 45 kyat banknote.

Following the war, in 1948, Burma gained independence from Britain, rejecting Britain’s proposal of Dominion status, and its boundaries were drawn around a region very ethnically diverse with more than 135 distinct ethnic groups. Almost immediately, civil war broke out in Burma, pitting the central authorities against various ethno-religious minorities. The 1962 coup d’etat brought the military into dictatorial power. In 1982, the state created a strict new law of citizenship which left many Rohingya out.  They became a people without citizenship.

And then one day, a state said to a tribe, who are you? You do not belong here. And the tribe said, What do you mean? We are a tribe and we have been here for thousands upon thousands of years, with all of the other tribes. And the state said, We don’t recognize you, and they used their powers to make the tribe leave. And the tribe moved a little distance away, and there was another state there. And that state said to the tribe, Who are you? We don’t recognize you. You don’t belong here, and they used their powers to make the tribe move again. And the same thing happened with a third state and a fourth.

The Rohingya are in Bangladesh and India and Sri Lanka, and find themselves unwelcome there.

And the tribe cried out to the world of states, Where are we to go, for the whole earth is covered end to end and wall to wall with these new states! How can you say that we have no home? But the world of states didn’t listen because they were too busy playing with their powers.

The Rohingya have been variously described as “amongst the world’s least wanted” and “one of the world’s most persecuted minorities”. The conflict in Mynamar, starting shortly after the close of WWII is considered the second longest ongoing conflict in the world, after Kashmir, by just a few months.

But the earth heard, and was sad, and told the sun. And the sun heard, and sighed, and told the universe. And the universe heard, and wept.

And what do you think the universe will do?

closeup detail from Syria 50 Pounds Banknote, Year 2010 back featuring the Elba tablets

Syria – The Elba Tablets

Syria 50 Pounds Banknote, Year 2010 – Face and Back
Syria 50 Pounds Banknote, Year 2010 back, featuring the Al-Assad National Public Library in Damascus
Syria, series 2010, 50 pond banknote, front, featuring the Al-Assad National Public Library in Damascus

The Syrian national library in Damascus is a treasure chest of world history.

Damascus is one of the ancient great cities of the world, and considered the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.  A 10th century geographer, Al-Maqaddasi, said Damascus ranked among the four earthly paradise.

Mark Twain, upon his visit to the city in 1867, remarked, “To Damascus, years are only moments, decades are only flitting trifles of time. She measures time not by days and months and years, but by the empires she has seen rise and prosper and crumble to ruin. She is a type of immortality.”  A burgeoning art movement had been developing in Damascus since the 1980s or so until the present civil wars era.  Artists from around the word as well as Syria exhibited regularly in the proliferating galleries throughout the city, as the arts were sponsored by, although also censored to some extent, by the state.

Syria 50 Pounds Banknote, Year 2010 front, featuring elba tablets
Ebla tablets, back side of Syria 50 pound banknote 2010 series

Known as the Elba tablets, these clay scripts include over 1500 complete tablets and 4500 fragments, written in both Sumerian and an ancient, as yet not assuredly identified, language.  They date from 2500 BC until the destruction of the city of Elba in 2250 BC.

They were discovered in 1975, in situ, on collapsed shelves, just as they were left 4000 years ago.  The palace library containing the tablets was destroyed and burned.  The fire baked the tablets in place, helping to preserve them.

closeup detail from Syria 50 Pounds Banknote, Year 2010 back featuring the Elba tablets
detail of the Elba tablets

They provide the first known references to Lebanon and the Canaanites.  “Damaski” is noted in the tablets, which many understand to be referencing the city Damascus.  The tablets are held today in Syrian museums in Damascus, Aleppo and Idlib.

closeup detail from Syria 50 Pounds Banknote, Year 2010 front, featuring statue of Hafez Al-Assad
statue of Hafez Al-Assad, detail from front of 2010 series, 50 pounds, Syria banknote

Hafez Al-Assad (1930-2000), father of current president Bashar Al-Assad, was president of Syria from 1971 until his death in 2000.

kazakhstan 1993 1 back (6)

Kazakhstan – The Great Al-Farabi, The Second Master

Kazakhstan 1 Tenge Banknote, Year 1993 – Face and Back
Kazakhstan 1 Tenge Banknote, Year 1993 front, featuring portrait of Al-Farabi
1 tenge banknote, Kazakhstan (1993), featuring Al-Farabi

Al-Farabi shines in world history as one of the brightest stars in the firmament. He commands unqualified respect across religions and political cultures worldwide.

His contributions illuminate our world to this day in Music and Mathematics, Geometry and Logic, Psychology, Politics and Philosophy.

closeup detail of Kazakhstan 1 Tenge Banknote, Year 1993 front, featuring portrait of Al-Farabi
Al-Farabi. detail from front of 1 tenge banknote, Kazakhstan (1993)

Writing in the early 10th century, Al-Farabi found philosophy dead. He revived the Greek philosophers through extensive translation, commentaries and contributions. Considering Reason to be superior to Revelation, he solved many challenges of the day advancing Islam to a sounder polity.

A worthy summation of his career might be that given by Maimonides, perhaps the greatest of all Jewish philosophers. Writing two hundred years later, Maimonides said of Al-Farabi: “If Aristotle is the first master, the second one is undoubtedly Farabi”. As an indicator of the world-wide respect Maimonides as well as for Al-Farabi, the moniker stuck. Al-Farabi is widely known today as “The Second Master”.

closeup detail of Kazakhstan 1 Tenge Banknote, Year 1993 front, featuring architectural detail
Architectural detail by Al-Farabi. 1 tenge banknote, Kazakhstan (1993)

His massive tome, The Book of Music, Kitâb al-musiqâ al-kabîr, is considered the single most important medieval manuscript in the Islamic world.

While classifying music under mathematics, he asserts that music must be performed and that the ear is the final judge. The hearing may usurp some fine mathematical principles. He wrote extensively on the therapeutic effects of music upon the soul.

Kazakhstan 1 Tenge Banknote, Year 1993 back
Geometric constructions by Al-Farabi. Back of 1 tenge banknote, Kazakhstan (1993).

Islamic architecture and craftsmanship has long been characterized by elaborate geometric patterns.

The artisans of that era had design tools consisting of little more than a straight edge and a compass. The craftsman’s task was to construct, with these simple tools, architectures and patterns and designs that surprise the mind and uplift the spirit.

closeup detail of Kazakhstan 1 Tenge Banknote, Year 1993 back, featuring mathmatical formulae
mathematical formulae. detail from back of 1 tenge banknote, Kazakhstan (1993)
closeup detail of Kazakhstan 1 Tenge Banknote, Year 1993 back, featuring geometrical construct
Geometric construct by Al-Farabi. Detail from back of 1 tenge banknote, Kazakhstan

Al-Farabi’s text book entitled, “A Book of Spiritual Crafts and Natural Secrets in the Details of Geometrical Figures” advanced the craft considerably.  In it are numerous original geometrical constructs with designs and proofs.

closeup detail of Kazakhstan 1 Tenge Banknote, Year 1993 back, featuring geometrical constructs
Geometric construct by Al-Farabi. Detail from back of 1 tenge banknote, Kazakhstan,
Zimbabwe 100 Trillion Dollar banknote 2008 front (2), featuring balanced stones

Zimbabwe – The Signpost of the Balancing Rocks

Zimbabwe 100 Trillion Dollar Banknote, Year 2008 – Face and Back
Balancing Rocks of Zimbabwe featured on Zimbabwe 100 Trillion Dollar banknote 2008
Balancing Rocks of Zimbabwe featured on Zimbabwe 100 Trillion Dollar banknote 2008 front

This stacked configuration of rocks is a common trail marker for hikers in North America, and, I’d guess, the rest of the world.  Two stones stacked might be a coincidence.  But three stones stacked, or more, isn’t considered natural.  Such stacking is an evidence of intent, and therefore, a signal, or signpost.  And so, such hand stacked stones are commonly used for trail markers in the wilderness.

But these rocks in Zimbabwe are massive. They weigh tons.  For a sense of scale, note in the image, the treetops surrounding the stones.

What giants stacked such stones?

And what sign did they wish to leave for us?  What trail did they intend to mark?

They are signposts of the constructing powers nature.  These stones congealed from molten lavas, as plutonic granites, within massive volcanic flows, just beneath the surface of the earth.  As subsequent ages of erosion by wind and water lowered the surface of the land, and scoured the soils between the stones, these giants of the past were left, revealed.

The travel brochures tell us that the stones symbolize a need for balance between development and ecological preservation.  That’s nice sentiment, and I am sure it is true.  But it’s a sentiment that feels somehow imposed, rather than derived; and more contrived to sell postcards rather than to communicate a wisdom learned.

 Zimbabwe 100 Trillion Dollar banknote 2008 front , featuring balancing stones

Especially considering this simple 3 stone signpost of nature appears beside the number One Hundred Trillion on a Zimbabwe banknote.  “Trillion” is a word that was almost never heard a decade ago.  It was used for measurements in science but almost never for money.  A trillion is a thousand, thousand, thousand, thousand.  It’s a number that we really cannot imagine.  A thousand, thousand, thousand, thousand dollar bills, stacked on top of each other, would reach over 60 miles high.  That number on a banknote indicates something seriously out of balance.

In the 1990s, president Robert Mugabe used monetary policy to rebalance the country’s culture after the serious racial imbalance of the past.  The adjustments created serious imbalances in other ways. and the national economy was impoverished.   The relation between a day’s labor, and the money received, became entirely out of balance. An imbalance of money was printed to offset the other imbalances; and the self-perpetuating cycle of hyperinflation took off, until the dollar was meaningless.  This 100 trillion dollar banknote, in just a short time, became equal to zero.

zimbabwe leagal scales in gold

Imagine placing 100 trillion dollars on one side of a balance scale and nothing on the other side, and the scale showing a perfect balance.

But those three stacked stones remain, balanced, an eternal signpost.

Zimbabwe 100 Trillion Dollar banknote 2008 back
Zimbabwe 100 Trillion Dollar banknote 2008 back

For more stories from Southern Africa in this website, click here.

Romania 2000 Leu 2000 banknote front (2), featuring rendering of the solar system

Romania – Marked by the Sun for the New Millenium

Romania 2000 Lei Banknote – Face and Back

The 2000 Lei banknote was designated by Romania to be redesigned in honor of the approaching year 2000, the dawn of the new millennium.  The theme selected was astronomical in view of the happy circumstance of a total eclipse traversing the country in 1999.

closeup detail from Romania 2000 Lei Banknote  front, featuring solar system
Solar systems as depicted on front of 2000 lei banknote, Romania

Our solar system is depicted on the front of Romania’s 2000 Lei banknote.

One can count 8 planets in this artist’s rendition of the solar system.  It was a bold move.

In 1930, Pluto was discovered and considered the solar system’s ninth planet.  In 1992, it was first suggested that this ninth “planet”, Pluto, might be reclassified, no longer as a planet, but, as a dwarf planet.  This suggestion was met with great debate and outcry.

In 1998 our artist prepared this 8 planet mural of our solar system for Romania’s eternal commemoration of the solar eclipse to sweep the country at the dawn of the new millennium.

In 2005, an object 25% more massive than Pluto was discovered orbiting our sun in the Kuiper belt, and Pluto’s fate was sealed.  Both Pluto, and the newly discovered Eris, were classified as “dwarf planets”, and the term “planet” redefined to exclude these smaller bodies.  Therefore, as of 2006, at the beginning of the new millennium, our solar system is considered to consist of just 8 planets.

But Romania depicted it thus in the old millennium!  Rather forward thinking of Romania, don’t you think?

The other side of the banknote features a silhouette map of Romania together with the trail of the sun’s shadow across the country.

closeup detail from Romania 2000 Lei Banknote back, featuring map of romania
detail from Romania 2000 lei banknote.

The colors blue and yellow and red are the colors of the national flag, and color the map of Romania depicted on the banknote.

As the earth rotates eastward towards the sun, our moon, speeding also eastward overhead, but at approximately twice the speed of the land below, moves briefly into that region where it blocks the sun’s rays to the earth.  The track of the shadow cast by the moon, as it eclipses the sun, moves eastward across our earth.  On this day in 1999, it is shown passing through Romania, commencing in the western extremity of the country, and passing through its southeastern regions.

It is a magnificent reminder of the immense movements of this world we inhabit.

closeup detail from Romania 2000 Lei Banknote back, featuring track of a solar eclipse
detail showing track of total solar eclipse in western Romania

The northernmost and southernmost extent of totality ar indicated by the outside pair of lines.  The middle line indicates the center of the shadow track where totality lasts the longest, approximately 2 minutes and 23 seconds.  The adjacent two lines on either side of the centerline indicate where totality lasts 2 minutes.  The next pair of lines indicate 1 minute 30 seconds of shadow, and the next pair of lines indicate 1 minute of shadow.

Major western Romanian cities in the path of totality are shown on the map.

closeup detail from Romania 2000 Lei Banknote back, featuring romanian cities in path of total solar eclipse

Major central and southeastern Romanian cities in the path of totality are shown in this portion of the map of Romania.

Bucuresti is the capital of Romania, and one of the great cities of Europe.  The history of Bucharest dates from at least the 15th century, and was the one time home of Vlad III, or Vlad the Impaler, or otherwise known as Vlad Dracula; yes, you read that correctly, Dracula.  His name had its origin in the name given to his father, Vlad Dracul, or, Vlad the Dragon, upon becoming a member of the order of the dragon, or dracul.  Dracula is the genitive form of dracul, and means essentially, son of the dragon.  Vlad appears to have been born in 1429 after his father settled in Transylvania, a historic region in central Romania.  The order of the dragon was dedicated to fighting the Ottoman advance into Europe.

A similar map with additional detail, provided by NASA, is included below.

For more stories from the Balkan Peninsula, click here.

map of romania eclipse 1999
NASA map showing details of solar eclipse across Romania in 1999
Romania 2000 Lei Banknote  front, featuring path of solar eclipse
Romania 2000 Lei Banknote  front, featuring solar system
Poland 50 Zloty 1982 banknote back (2)

Poland’s Copernicus – The Revolutionary of Revolutions

Poland 1000 Zloty Banknote, Year 1982 – Face and Back
Poland 1000 Zloty Banknote front, featuring portrait of Nikolai Kopernik
detail from front of 1000 zloty banknote, Poland, Nikolai Kopernik

Copernicus wrote the book when he was around 40 years old. But because he anticipated that his ideas would be controversial, he delayed publication until just before his passing about 30 years later.

He didn’t seek to be controversial but merely sought a more elegant explanation for the truth of the observed universe. He sought Beauty. He built upon the ideas of predecessors, many of them out of the mainstream of contemporary thought.

His book is considered now to mark the beginning of the Scientific Revolution which has completely transformed our understanding of the world.

Poland 1000 Zloty Banknote back, featuring revolution of the planets
detail showing the insight of Copernicus: Revolutions of Planets around Sun, back side of 1000 zloty banknote, Poland

The Sun at center surrounded by 6 circles for the orbits of the 6 planets. (Copernicus assumed orbits were circular as did his predecessors. Later, the true ellipse shape of orbits was uncovered.)

Our Earth is shown in the third orbit at its 4 prime astronomical locations, Spring equinox, Summer solstice, Autumn equinox and Winter Solstice.

closeup detail of Poland 1000 Zloty Banknote, year 1982  back, featuring positions of Mercury and Venus
detail from back of 1000 zloty banknote, Poland, showing positions of Mercury and Venus

The two nearest planets, Mercury and Venus.

☿ Mercury occupies the innermost orbit.


 Venus occupies the second orbit from the Sun.

Our Earth occupies the third orbit from the Sun. It’s four prime orbital positions are illustrated on our banknote.

closeup detail of Poland 1000 Zloty Banknote, year 1982  back, featuring position of Mars
detail from back of 1000 zloty banknote, Poland, showing position of Mars

 Mars occupies the fourth orbit from the Sun.

Two of the four prime orbital positions of Earth are shown in the third orbit in this detail.

closeup detail of Poland 1000 Zloty Banknote, year 1982  back, featuring orbits of jupiter and saturn
detail from back of 1000 zloty banknote, Poland, showing orbits of Jupiter and Saturn

♃ Jupiter occupies the fifth orbit from the Sun.

♄ Saturn occupies the sixth orbit from the Sun.

 Poland 1000 Zloty Banknote, year 1982  back
Poland, 1000 zloty banknote, back
Poland 50 Zloty 1982 banknote front
Poland, 1000 zloty banknote, front

Nicolai, you’re awesome.

For more stories from Central Europe on this website, click here.

For story tags, see bottom of this page.

Belize 2 Dollars 2014 banknote back featuring scene Maya ruins of Belize, Xunantunich archaeological site

Belize – The Maya

Belize 2 Dollar Banknote – Face and Back
Belize 2 Dollar Banknote front, featuring portrait of queen elizabeth
Belize 2 Dollar Banknote back, featuring Mayan ruins

This banknote from Belize celebrates the long Mayan heritage of the region.

Originating in the Yucatan around 2600 B.C., the Maya rose to prominence around A.D. 250 in present-day southern Mexico, Guatemala, western Honduras, El Salvador, and northern Belize.  The civilization continued in its strongest form until about 900 AD, when it began to rapidly diminish for reasons yet not understood by anthropologists.

closeup detail from Belize 2 Dollar Banknote front,
detail from front of 2 dollar banknote, Belize
closeup detail from Belize 2 Dollar Banknote front
detail from the front of Belize banknote.

The history of Belize evolved significantly different from that of other central American countries since the appearance of Columbus. Spanish conquistadors explored the region and declared it a Spanish colony; but did little to settle or develop it as a colony due to its lack of resources, especially silver and gold, and due to its brisk defense by the indigenous inhabitants of the Yucatán.  Thus Belize was not included under the Spanish Captaincy General of Guatemala (1524-1821), nor in the Empire of Mexico (1821-1867), nor as part of the short-lived republic of central America (1821-1841).  The first British settlers arrived in the early 17th century, but not until two centuries later (1862), did the British formally claim the region as a British Crown Colony, which they named British Honduras.  Thus the culture and politics of the region evolved substantially on its own, diverging significantly from nearby Mexico and the other Central American nations.  The ancient Mayan heritage persists in much of the region and, perhaps most strongly, in present day Belize.  The current population of Belize includes three distinct Mayan groups, the Mopan who are indigenous to the area and returned from Guatemala in the 19th century after evading slavery), the Yucatec (who came from Mexico to escape the Caste War) and the Q’eqchi (who fled from slavery in Guatemala).

closeup detail of Belize 2 Dollar Banknote back, featuring Maya ruins
Detail from back of 2 Dollar banknote of Belize, Maya ruins

Recent discoveries and expanded analyses have led many archeologists and cultural anthropologists to conclude that the center of Maya civilization was, in fact, Belize.  As such, Belize is a treasure trove of ancient Mayan temples, towns and cities.  It is anticipated that many remains have yet to be discovered and explore.The Mayans inhabited Belize for many centuries.  The massive structures combined with extensive residential remains indicate a vast and energetic civilization.

closeup detail of Belize 2 Dollar Banknote back, featuring Mayan pyramid
Detail from back of 2 Dollar banknote of Belize, Maya temple at Altun Ha

Altun Ha derives its name from the Yucatec Mayan words haltun, meaning stone water deposit or cistern, and ha, meaning water. According to the Belize Institute of Archaeology it means “Rockstone Water,” and is a Yucatec Mayan approximation of the name of the nearby village of Rockstone Pond. Altun Ha lies on the north-central coastal plain of Belize, in a dry tropical zone. The site was very swampy during its pre-Columbian occupation, with very few recognizable water sources. Currently, the only recognizable natural water source is a creek at some distance.

The structure, illustrated, is about 48 meters high, about the height of a five story building, and is located in the central precinct of Altun Ha.  It dates from the era of the height of the Mayan civilization, around 600 AD.  It has been called the temple of the sun god and the temple of the masonry altars; but these names are generally assigned be archaeologists while the Mayan names remain unknown.

closeup detail of Belize 2 Dollar Banknote back,  featuring Maya city Lubaantun
Detail from back of 2 Dollar banknote of Belize, Maya city Lubaantun

Lubaantun is a modern Maya name meaning “place of fallen stones”.  The ancient name remains unknown.  It is located in southern Belize about 2 miles from the village of San Pedro Columbia.  The site is located on a large artificially raised platform between two small rivers.

detail of mortarless construction typical of Lubaantun
detail of mortarless construction typical of Lubaantun

Lubaantun’s structures are built mostly of large black slate stone blocks rather than the more common limestone in the region.  The stones were laid with no mortar as illustrated in the adjacent photograph. The city dates from the Maya Classic era, flourishing from the AD 730s to the 890s, and seems to have been completely abandoned soon after. The architecture is somewhat unusual from typical Classical central lowlands Maya sites.

closeup detail of Belize 2 Dollar Banknote back, featuring Mayan ruins
Detail from back of 2 Dollar banknote of Belize, Maya ruins

“Xunantunich” is from Mayan words for noble lady and stone for sculpture.  It is a modern name, the original name remaining, as yet, unknown. The “Stone Woman” refers to the ghost of a woman claimed by several people to inhabit the site, beginning in 1892. She is dressed completely in white, and has fire-red glowing eyes. She generally appears in front of “El Castillo”, ascends the stone stairs, and disappears into a stone wall.

Xunantunich is located in western Belize on top of a ridge beside the Mopan river.    It is thought to have served as a Maya civic ceremonial center, farms having been spread out widely surrounding Xunantunich.


The Maya developed astronomy, mathematics, sophisticate calendrical systems and the first writing system, hieroglyphic, in the Americas.

The Maya were fantastic Builders.  They developed elaborate and highly decorated architecture, including temple-pyramids, palaces and observatories.  These were all constructed without metal tools, and, amazingly, without the “discovery” of the mechanical use of the wheel.  They cleared routes through jungles and swamps to foster extensive trade networks with distant peoples.

The Maya were skilled agriculturalists, figuring out how to grow corn, beans, squash and cassava.  The developed agriculture methods in difficult places, clearing large sections of tropical rain forest and, where groundwater was scarce, constructing sizeable underground reservoirs for the storage of rainwater.

The Maya were equally skilled as weavers and potters.  They built complicated looms for weaving cloth.  They devised a rainbow of glittery paints made from mica, a mineral that still has technological uses today.

Until recently, people believed that vulcanization–combining rubber with other materials to make it more durable–was discovered by the American, Charles Goodyear, in the 19th century. However, historians now think that the Maya were producing rubber products for about 3,000 years, having combined the rubber tree and the morning-glory plant, producing water-resistant cloths, glue, bindings for books, figurines and the large rubber balls used in the ritual game known as pokatok.

For more stories from Central America on this website, click here.

bahamas 1 other front (3)

Bahamas – The Beautiful

The Bahamas 1 Dollar Quincentennial Banknote, Year 1992 – Face and Back
closeup detail of The Bahamas 1 Dollar Quincentennial Banknote, Year 1992 front
detail from front of 1 dollar (1992) commemorative banknote, The Bahamas.
The Bahamas 1 Dollar Quincentennial Banknote, Year 1992 front
front of 1 dollar (1992) commemorative banknote, The Bahamas.

The Bahamas issued a beautiful banknote commemorating the 500th anniversary of Columbus setting foot in the New World, which happened to be, The Bahamas.

closeup detail of The Bahamas 1 Dollar Quincentennial Banknote, Year 1992 front, featuring ships approaching shoreline
detail from back of 1 dollar (1992) commemorative banknote, The Bahamas.
The Bahamas 1 Dollar Quincentennial Banknote, Year 1992 front
back of of 1 dollar (1992) commemorative banknote, The Bahamas.

In this map of The Bahamas on the left, the island group is shown, and the individual island, San Salvador, is labeled. San Salvador is the island accepted by preponderance of scholarship as the island upon which Columbus first set foot October 12, 1994.

closeup detail of The Bahamas 1 Dollar Quincentennial Banknote, Year 1992 back, featuring ships of Christopher columbus approaching shoreline
detail from back of 1 dollar (1992) commemorative banknote, The Bahamas.
closeup detail of The Bahamas 1 Dollar Quincentennial Banknote, Year 1992 back, featuring parrots
detail from back of 1 dollar (1992) commemorative banknote, The Bahamas.

To be sure, the Bahamas are very beautiful islands.   Columbus reports seeing only parrots on his first venture.  And these parrots are beautiful as illustrated here on our banknote.

These parrots live in there island nations of the Caribbean Sea; the Bahamas and Cuba and the Cayman Islands.  Leucocephala Bahamensis are also known as the Cuban Parrot and the Rose Throated Parrot.

These beautiful birds gather in gorgeous flocks during the Winter, and then disperse into mating pairs from March to September.

closeup detail of The Bahamas 1 Dollar Quincentennial Banknote, Year 1992 back, featuring flamingos
detail from back of 1 dollar (1992) commemorative banknote, The Bahamas.

Phoenicopterus Ruber, or, the American Flamingo, is also known as the Caribbean flamingo, although it lives also in the Galapagos islands in the Pacific ocean. It is the only species of flamingo native to North America.

This beautiful bird grows to 4 feet or 5 feet tall and lives for 40 years, one of the longest life spans in the kingdom of fliers.

closeup detail of The Bahamas 1 Dollar Quincentennial Banknote, Year 1992 back, featuring Cylura Rileyi, or San Salvador Rock Iquana
detail from back of 1 dollar (1992) commemorative banknote, The Bahamas.

Our Cylura Rileyi, or San Salvador Rock Iquana lives on three island groups in The Bahamas.  Our iguana grows to about 15 inches long and can be very colorful with colors varying from subspecies to subspecies and among individuals in a subspecies.

closeup detail of The Bahamas 1 Dollar Quincentennial Banknote, Year 1992 back, featuring coat of arms with dolphin and flamingo
detail from back of 1 dollar (1992) commemorative banknote, The Bahamas.

The Coat of Arms of The Bahamas has a shield at center with the shining sun over the Santa Maria , the sailing ship of Columbus.  Overhead is a conch shell brimmed with five palm fronds.  To the left is a marlin and to the right is a flamingo, the national wildlife of the Bahamas illustrating its island nature.

The following is the record of October 11 and 12, 1492, from the Journals of Christopher Columbus:

closeup detail of The Bahamas 1 Dollar Quincentennial Banknote, Year 1992 front, featuring portrait of Christopher Columbus
detail from front of 1 dollar (1992) commemorative banknote, The Bahamas.

Thursday, 11 October. Steered west-southwest; and encountered a heavier sea than they had met with before in the whole voyage. Saw pardelas and a green rush near the vessel. The crew of the Pinta saw a cane and a log; they also picked up a stick which appeared to have been carved with an iron tool, a piece of cane, a plant which grows on land, and a board. The crew of the Nina saw other signs of land, and a stalk loaded with rose berries. These signs encouraged them, and they all grew cheerful. Sailed this day till sunset, twenty-seven leagues.

After sunset steered their original course west and sailed twelve miles an hour till two hours after midnight, going ninety miles, which are twenty-two leagues and a half; and as the Pinta was the swiftest sailer, and kept ahead of the Admiral, she discovered land and made the signals which had been ordered. The land was first seen by a sailor called Rodrigo de Triana, although the Admiral at ten o’clock that evening standing on the quarter-deck saw a light, but so small a body that he could not affirm it to be land; calling to Pero Gutierrez, groom of the King’s wardrobe, he told him he saw a light, and bid him look that way, which he did and saw it; he did the same to Rodrigo Sanchez of Segovia, whom the King and Queen had sent with the squadron as comptroller, but he was unable to see it from his situation. The Admiral again perceived it once or twice, appearing like the light of a wax candle moving up and down, which some thought an indication of land. But the Admiral held it for certain that land was near; for which reason, after they had said the Salve which the seamen are accustomed to repeat and chant after their fashion, the Admiral directed them to keep a strict watch upon the forecastle and look out diligently for land, and to him who should first discover it he promised a silken jacket, besides the reward which the King and Queen had offered, which was an annuity of ten thousand maravedis.

At two o’clock in the morning the land was discovered, at two leagues’ distance; they took in sail and remained under the square-sail lying to till day, which was Friday, when they found themselves near a small island, one of the Lucayos, called in the Indian language Guanahani.

Presently they descried people, naked, and the Admiral landed in the boat, which was armed, along with Martin Alonzo Pinzon, and Vincent Yanez his brother, captain of the Nina. The Admiral bore the royal standard, and the two captains each a banner of the Green Cross, which all the ships had carried; this contained the initials of the names of the King and Queen each side of the cross, and a crown over each letter Arrived on shore, they saw trees very green many streams of water, and diverse sorts of fruits.

The Admiral called upon the two Captains, and the rest of the crew who landed, as also to Rodrigo de Escovedo notary of the fleet, and Rodrigo Sanchez, of Segovia, to bear witness that he before all others took possession (as in fact he did) of that island for the King and Queen his sovereigns, making the requisite declarations, which are more at large set down here in writing.

Numbers of the people of the island straightway collected together. Here follow the precise words of the Admiral: “As I saw that they were very friendly to us, and perceived that they could be much more easily converted to our holy faith by gentle means than by force, I presented them with some red caps, and strings of beads to wear upon the neck, and many other trifles of small value, wherewith they were much delighted, and became wonderfully attached to us.

Afterwards they came swimming to the boats, bringing parrots, balls of cotton thread, javelins, and many other things which they exchanged for articles we gave them, such as glass beads, and hawk’s bells; which trade was carried on with the utmost good will. But they seemed on the whole to me, to be a very poor people. They all go completely naked, even the women, though I saw but one girl. All whom I saw were young, not above thirty years of age, well made, with fine shapes and faces; their hair short, and coarse like that of a horse’s tail, combed toward the forehead, except a small portion which they suffer to hang down behind, and never cut. Some paint themselves with black, which makes them appear like those of the Canaries, neither black nor white; others with white, others with red, and others with such colors as they can find. Some paint the face, and some the whole body; others only the eyes, and others the nose. Weapons they have none, nor are acquainted with them, for I showed them swords which they grasped by the blades, and cut themselves through ignorance. They have no iron, their javelins being without it, and nothing more than sticks, though some have fish-bones or other things at the ends. They are all of a good size and stature, and handsomely formed. I saw some with scars of wounds upon their bodies, and demanded by signs the of them; they answered me in the same way, that there came people from the other islands in the neighborhood who endeavored to make prisoners of them, and they defended themselves. I thought then, and still believe, that these were from the continent. It appears to me, that the people are ingenious, and would be good servants and I am of opinion that they would very readily become Christians, as they appear to have no religion. They very quickly learn such words as are spoken to them. If it please our Lord, I intend at my return to carry home six of them to your Highnesses, that they may learn our language. I saw no beasts in the island, nor any sort of animals except parrots.” These are the words of the Admiral.

For stories from other Island Nations on this website, click here.

For story tags, see bottom of this page.

closeup detail of venezuela 100000 back 2017 (5), featuring 2 birds

Venezuela – Look Alikes, Hyperinflation and Unconcerned Birds

Venezuela 100 Bolivares Banknote, Year 2013 – Face and Back
Venezuela 100 Bolivares Banknote, Year 2013 front
October 29, 2013 100 Bolivares banknote, front, Venezuela
December 7, 2017 100 Thousand Bolivares banknote, front, Venezuela

The banknote on the above top was issued in late 2013. The banknote above bottom was issued in late 2017.  The denominations, bolivares, are the same.

Venezuela 100 Bolivares Banknote, Year 2013 , back featuring birds
Venezuela 100 thousand Bolivares Banknote, Year 2017 , back, featuring birds

The front and back images are the same.  The top banknote is more beige in color and the bottom banknote is more yellow in color.

closeup detail of Venezuela 100 Bolivares Banknote, Year 2013 , back
closeup detail of Venezuela 100 thousand Bolivares Banknote, Year 2017 , back

Both banknotes have the numeral 100 displayed prominently.  The banknote on the right, however, adds the word “mil”, thousand, after the word “cien”, hundred.  The banknote on the left is 100 Bolivares.  The banknote on the right is 100,000 Bolivares.

At the time of issuance of the 100 bolivares banknote in 2013, it was equivalent to approximately 10 US dollars.  So that means that, at that time, 100,000 bolivares would buy pretty much the same thing as would 10,000 US dollars.

At the time of issuance of the 100,000 bolivares banknote in 2017, it was equivalent to about 1 US dollar.

That means that, in December 2017, it takes ten times 100,000 bolivares, or 1 million bolivares, to buy what could be bought for 100 bolivares just 4 years ago, in 2013.  Another way of saying this that the value of the bolivares has been divided by 10,000; or, yet another way of saying this, is that, the price of things to buy in Venezuela have gone up by a factor of 10,000, in 4 years.  Life today is ten thousand times more expensive then it was 4 years ago.  And, think of this, Venezuela has the largest known oil reserves in the world.  Why then, is it not among the richest nations of the world?

closeup detail of venezuela 100000 back 2017 (5), featuring 2 birds
detail from back of 100 bolivares banknote, Venezuela (2013)

Said a man of old: “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?”  This is natural Law.  Hyperinflation occurs when men make a mess of things.

venezuela cardenalito (2)

The birds illustrated on the back of our banknotes are Cardenalitos.  They are native to Venezuela in Parque Nacional El Avila and found also in verly limited surrounding areas.

North Korea 10 Won 1947 banknote front (2)

Korea – Like Two Brothers Separated at Birth

Korea North and South in Banknotes

As of January 18, 2018, North Koreans and South Koreans will be marching under one banner, together, in the 2018 Olympics.  I was asked if I was surprised.  “No”, I said.  It seemed to me to be entirely likely, for, you see, it seems to me that the Korean problem is a family problem.

North Korea 50 chron (1947) back
Korea (1947), front, 50 chon.
North Korea 5000 chron (1947) front
Korea (1947), back, 50 chon. 1 Korean won is divisible into 100 chon.

For five hundred years preceding the 20th century, Korea was one nation, united and independent.  Amid the rampant colonialization movements of the 18th and 19th centuries, Korea moved towards a policy of isolationism.  For a time, it refused to even trade with western nations, endeavoring to preserve its inherited culture.

But the advancing industrialization of nations left Korea increasingly behind. In the late 1800s Korea shifted to a policy called “eastern ethics, western technology”, to preserve its culture while modernizing.  But this policy was resisted by many Koreans, and political unrest ensued.  The Emporer sought outside aid from both Japan and from China, which consequently increased their influence within Korea.  And then, upon Japan’s defeat of China at the close of the century, Japanese influence began to dominate Korea. In 1910, Japan annexed Korea.  By the time of the beginning of WW2, the Korean peninsula was considered a part of the Japanese empire.

North Korea 20 chon (1947) back
Korea (1947), front, 20 chon.
North Korea 20 chon banknote (1947) front

Korea (1947), back, 20 chon. 1 Korean won is divisible into 100 chon.

The Japanese occupation began badly, and grew worse with time.  Japan sought to make the Korean territory into an efficient food supplier for a growing Japanese empire.  While building and modernizing Korean infrastructure, they were also destroying them as a people.

In the initial decade following the 1910 annexation, tens of thousands of Koreans were arrested for political reasons; and many were executed. Koreans call this decade “amhukki”, ‘the dark period’. In 1919, a peaceful independence protest was held.  The “March 1st Movement” as it became known, was inspired by the publication of Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points following WW1. Two million people marched in fifteen hundred demonstrations. Thousands were massacred by the alarmed Japanese, and many more thousands wounded, and tens of thousands arrested. In the 1930s, the Japanese urged Koreans to adopt Japanese names. By 1938, children were prohibited from speaking Korean, and all school classes were taught in Japanese. During WW2, Korean men were drafted into the armed services, and Korean women were drafted as “comfort slaves” for Japanese soldiers. Koreans were even urged to adopt the religion of Japan, Shintosim, but without much success. The flourishing of Christianity during this period, appears to be, in part, a rebellion against Japan.

North Korea 15 chon banknote (1947) back
Korea, (1947), front, 15 chon.
North Korea 15 chon banknote (1947) front

As WW2 drew to a close, and Japan’s defeat anticipated, hopes of independence revived among Koreans.  The UN plan was for a brief trusteeship of the Korean territory, administrated by the victorious “Allies”, leading to full independence in five years or less.  Looking at a map the night before Japan’s surrender, two young army staffers proposed the 38th latitude as the arbitrary line of demarcation between a Soviet occupation and an American occupation. It was a hasty and convenient selection, although it “made no sense economically or geographically”.

Many Koreans wanted independence immediately; but others, most notably the Korean Communist Party, supported the idea of trusteeship.  The Korean Communist Party was founded in the second decade of, and in resistance to, the Japanese occupation.  Many were exiled to China, where, allying with a growing Chinese Communist Party, they performed many guerrilla operations against the Japanese during occupation.  The Soviet Union, having rapidly occupied the northern peninsula at the close of the war, began to rely extensively upon returning communist exiles, and emigres from the large Korean population in the USSR.  By the close of 1945, the North Korea Bureau of the Communist Party of Korea was established and led by Kim Il-sung.   Over the next five years, as the relationship between the major powers deteriorated, and the Cold War set in, the negotiations for unified Korean independence stalled.  In 1946, Winston Churchill gave his “Iron Curtain” speech, and in 1949, USSR detonated its first atomic bomb.  The Korean brothers were separated.

North Korea 10 won banknote (1947) front
North Korea 10 won banknote (1947) back, featuring mountain

“The South hit first”, says the North; “The North hit first”, says the South.  Whatever the truth, in 1950 the Koreans began to fight.

The Soviet Union had been arming the North for several years. The UN was preoccupied with the security of Japan, and considered a non-communist Korea on its border to be important to that security. China, having just concluded the Chinese Communist Revolution in 1949, had border issues too; and was uncomfortable with a non-communist “allied” presence on its Korean border. It was a war which was never “declared”; out of this conflict the term “police action” entered the international lexicon; and it became known as the Korean War.

The North, with Soviet arms, rapidly overran the South, until just a small corner of the peninsula remained unoccupied. Then US backed UN forces entered the fray; and the South overran the North almost to the Chinese border. Then China sent troops across the northern border, and pushed back to south of the 38th; and then the South pushed back again.  The war front moved up and down the peninsula, Seoul changing hands four times, until it ended. The Korean War began and ended with pretty much the same boundary, the 38th parallel.  The brothers’ hope for united independence was gone; and the world had five million less people.

North Korea 5 won banknote (1947) back, featuring mountain
Korea, (1947), front, 5 won. The won became the currency of North Korea on December 6, 1947.
North Korea 5 won banknote  (1947) front

The next generation grew up separated, northerners from southerners, and with the memory of war.  The North, substantially sponsored by the Soviet Union, grew and prospered. The South, largely on its own in the world, languished and became impoverished. Both bore the memory of the recent war between them.  And then the subsequent generation came alone, and the brother’s fortunes began to switch, dramatically.