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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lake Kivu, one of the African Great Lakes, covers approximately 1000 square miles.
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.
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.
For story tags, see bottom of this page.
Eastern Gorillas and canoes on lake Kivu are illustrated on the reverse of this 1988 1000 franc Rwandan banknote.