It is said that Don Quixote has been translated into more languages that any other work, except the Bible. And the author’s influence was so great that the Spanish Language is commonly known as the language of Cervantes. In an interesting coincidence, he and someone known as William Shakespeare, passed on the same date.
Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez is featured on our banknote, his painting on the back and his likeness on the front. One of the greatest painters of the Spanish Golden Age, numerous artists have paid him homage in their own work including Manet, Dali and Picasso.
June 3, 1941 is the date on our French West African banknote, colonies of France.
June 3, 1941, is just about one year after Germany began to effectively “colonize” France in 1940 with its invasion at the commencement of WW2. And it’s just about 3 years before June 6, 1944, D-Day, when the Allied invasion in French Normandy commenced, leading to the Independence of France from its colonizers.
Our banknote is a glimpse into French West Africa, during the time that its colonizer was being colonized.
The back of our banknote illustrates a weaver at his trade in French West Africa, There is a glorious tradition to the craft worldwide, and Africa is prominent.1
Our banknote is a relic of the sins of the past. It is testament to changing sensibilities that the story of this banknote would stun many in our modern word. But, none the less, that same story, represented by this banknote, haunts a billion people to this day.
French West Africa, or, in the French language of our banknote, Afrique Occidentale, is the name of the late 19th century and early 20th century administrative grouping of African states under French colonial rule.2 A common currency was utilized through much of this period.
European political and economic rivalries led to what has come to be known as The Scramble for Africa 3 in the concluding decades of the 1800s. With the advances in the Age of Industrialization, the formerly challenging logistics of transportation and communication and resource development became simpler, and consequently, more far reaching. Nations vied with one another for resources and safe trade routes and secure lines of communication. Military bases were sought to secure those routes, such as Britain’s to its colony in India. In addition to such hard assets, politicians coveted colonial possessions for prestige on the world stage and as negotiating chips in the world game. To avoid war over territories, Bismarck of Germany, prompted by the Portuguese and supported by the British, called a meeting of interested nations to resolve differences and competing interests. This became known as the Berlin Conference of 1884. 4
The Berlin Conference delineated procedures by which nations could claim territory in Africa as their own colony. In addition to recognizing several historic colonial claims, the Principle of Effective Occupation 5 was promulgated which was to have rapid impact and lasting effect on the continent. Essentially, it would be henceforth considered insufficient to simply place one’s flag on the coast and claim an entire continent for the King as had been done by nations in the 15th and 16th centuries. Under this Principle, it was necessary to have established some form of administration, treaties with inhabitants, policing force and other elements of occupation.
With the establishment of the Principle of Effective Occupation, the Conquest of Africa having already accelerated in the previous decade, now intensified into the Scramble for Africa. Expeditions were launched into the interior, treaties were established and often coerced from the natural inhabitants, and settlements were established. Within a short time essentially all of Africa was subdivided into colonial territories under European control. 6 New boundary lines, enforced by European politics, crisscrossed the continent. These new lines had no connection to history, traditional hunting grounds, migration routes, sacred burial grounds.
European colonialism of Africa collapsed following WW2, but the colonial boundaries remain. The generation of leaders in Africa arising with the post war independence movements, generally adhered to the established stated boundaries in hopes of avoiding new conflicts among the peoples. The boundaries, though, have no regard for traditional separations or commerce of the local ethnicities of the natural inhabitants of the land. This is one significant reason for separatist movements in Africa. 7
The region formerly known as French West Africa, is today occupied by the following countries: Ivory Coast, Benin, Mali, Guinea, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Togo and Nigeria.
Where the number on a banknote (after all, a piece of paper) is a Million, you can bet there is hyperinflation. The banknotes on this page are from the WW2 era, 1944. War may clarify a few things such as who one’s true friends are, but it distorts most other things, including money.
From Wikipedia article on Hyperinflation in Greece under the German-Italian occupation, (Reference and links in footnotes below):
With the German invasion in April 1941, there was an abrupt increase in prices. This was due to psychological factors related to the fear of shortages and to the hoarding of goods. During the German and Italian Axis occupation of Greece (1941-1944), the agricultural, mineral, industrial etc. production of Greece were used to sustain the occupation forces, but also to secure provisions for the Afrika Korps. One part of these “sales” of provisions was settled with bilateral clearing through the German DEGRIGES and the Italian Sagic companies at very low prices. As the value of Greek exports in drachmas fell, the demand for drachmas followed suit and so did its forex rate. While shortages started due to naval blockades and hoarding, the prices of commodities soared. The other part of the “purchases” was settled with drachmas secured from the Bank of Greece and printed for this purpose by private printing presses. As prices soared, the Germans and Italians started requesting more and more drachmas from the Bank of Greece to offset price increases; each time prices increased, the note circulation followed suit soon afterwards. For the year November 1943 – November 1944, the inflation rate was 2.5 × 1010%, the circulation was 6.28 × 1018 drachmae and one gold sovereign cost 43,167 billion drachmas. The hyperinflation started subsiding immediately after the departure of the German occupation forces, but inflation rates took several years before they fell below 50%.
Start and End Date: Jun. 1941 – Jan. 1946
Peak Month and Rate of Inflation: Dec. 1944, 3.0 × 1010%. 1
The Million drachma banknote features the head a bronze statue recovered from the Sea bottom in 1900, off the island of Antikythera, Greece. This small island, a little less than 8 square miles, is important to ornithologists. It is an important resting place for regional migratory birds and is also the largest breeding ground for a certain species of falcon known as Eleonora’s falcon. 2
But the tiny island is important to historians too. In 1900, sponge divers spotted the shipwreck off the island. In addition to many treasures and artifacts were two items of tremendous significance. One is a full size bronze statue of remarkable beauty and grace. The head of the Antikythera Ephebe is featured on our 1,000,000 drachma banknote. The beauty of the artwork startled the artworld, revised art history and was featured prominently on our 1944 banknote.3
But it wasn’t until years later that the greatest, perhaps, treasure of all was recognized in the recovered sea-soaked artifacts. A small wooden box containing bronze items, corroding for two millenia beneath the sea, attracted little attention in the fifty years following its discovery. Then in 1951 a Yale University professor and science historian began to study it. It has been intensely studied since, and has become known as the Antikythera mechanism. It is considered by many to be the earliest analogue computer in the world. The technological skill and craftsmanship demonstrated in the mechanism became lost to history for reasons unknown. It wasn’t until the 14th century that anything comparable began to be produced. 4
Temple of Poseidon
On the reverse of our 1,000,000 drachma banknote, is featured the Temple of Poseidon. 5 Poseidon was the god of the Sea. This temple is constructed on the bluff at the end of a peninsula, surrounded on three sides by water, with a commanding view of the Sea, the dominion of Poseidon. 6
The Half Million drachma banknote in this post features Zeus on the front. One must hand it to the Greeks, whereas other nations feature renowned politicians and other leaders on their banknotes, the Greeks feature God Himself. This is Zeus, the god of Thunder, known by others as Jupiter, the greatest of the planets. He resides on Mount Olympus as the King of the gods.7
It is 1979 in Laos; and our featured banknote is published.
The national emblem on the banknote below, circular on the left, displays the hammer and sickle in the midst of traditional Laotian scenes. An artillery tank and a river gunboat flank a column of infantry marching towards the viewer.
750 years of monarchy ended with the Laotian civil war in 1975; and out banknote was issued just four years later. A new regime was in power, and their ideology adhered to communism’s ideals. Their banknote announces a readiness to defend themselves.
It was a bitter time in was a confusing era. Laos had transitioned from colonialism to independence in perhaps the worst way possible; they had become a pawn in a proxy war of new Cold War superpowers.
The ancient peoples of Laos became a colony to France in the late 19th century. French control continued into WW2 until Japanese power overran most of the Indochinese peninsula. With Japan’s defeat imminent, Laos proclaimed independence in 1945. But defeated France, rejuvenated through the allied victory in WW2 in 1945, moved to reassert its power and reestablish its colonial rule in Laos and the surrounding regions. Laos resisted but it was not until nine years later, in 1954, when France abandoned all claims to Laos.
That 9 year period saw the empowering of communist Soviet Union through their detonation of an atomic bomb in 1949 and the victory of the communist party in China under Mao in 1949.
The United States thought appropriate to take a stand against communism in Laos’ neighbor, Vietnam, about this time. US foreign policy became known as “containment”. In 1958, North Vietnam invaded Laos to establish the Ho Chi Minh trail, the logistical supply route between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. With the escalation of the Vietnam War, this supply route became the subject of intense military fighting, and this region of Laos became the subject of possibly the most intense bombing in history.
To much of the world, Laos was an unknown nation. Centered in the middle of the Indochinese peninsula, Burma and Thailand on its left, Vietnam on its right, Cambodia below and China above, to much of the world, Laos remained lost in the monsoon nourished jungles, without access to the Sea, unknown to the modern world.
The other side of our banknote highlights ambitions in the textile industry. Massive rolls of cloth are being manufactured by modern machinery in this tribute to a growing manufacturing base.
From this industry post: Growth in the Lao textile and garment industry has been impressive from a base of only two companies in 1990 to 116 in 2006 employing 30,000 workers. Laos became a market-oriented economy in the mid-1980s, meaning it had a short learning curve to pick up the basics about the industry.
From a WTO report (approximately year 2004): The textile and garment industry is of great importance to the Lao economy. Currently, the industry comprises ninety-six factories and employs more than 25,000 workers. In 2003, garment exports, valued at US$115 million, accounted for approximately a third of total exports, second to electricity. Laos exports ready-made garments to forty-two countries.