Indian Ocean, Island Nations, Maldives

Maldives – Beautiful Banknotes

The Republic of Maldives brings to us Beauty.  Enjoy!

Maldives banknote, front, 5 Rufiyaa

Cowrie Shells

Cowrie shells, illustrated left, were used as an early currency in Maldives.  An article on the use of Cowrie shells as money can be found here.


Cocoanut Palms are the national tree on the Maldives.  They grow in abundance throughout the islands.  A strange tale of their history is told here.





The ship, the Kalhu’oh’fummi, was used by three brothers, Muhanmed Thakurufaanu and Ali and Hassan, in the liberation of the Maldives in the 16th century.

In 1558 the Portuguese established a small garrison in the Maldives and tried to impose Christianity on the locals.

The Portuguese rule was cruel, described in an Arabic chronicle as ‘‘a time when intolerable enormities were committed by the invading infidels, a time when the sea grew red with Maldivian blood, a time when people were sunk in despair…’’
In 1573, a leader arose, Muhammad Thakurufaanu Al-Azam and his two brothers to organize a revolt.

To bring an end to this, Muhammad Thakurufaanu, left the Maldive Islands for Maliku, an island about 440 miles north of Maldives, and now known as Minicoy.  There the three brothers built their ship and returned to Maldives determined to liberate their people.

It is said that he three brothers landed on a different island every night.  They fought the Portuguese during the darkness and set sail again into the ocean before daybreak. The Portuguese garrison had fixed a day for the forcible conversion of inhabitants to Christianity.  The brothers landed on that island, Male, the night before.  During the night they defeated that garrison and gained independence for their country, ending fifteen years of colonial rule.

The date is celebrated now as National Day.  In 2018, National Day is occurs on November 9.  The date varies with the Islamic calendar.

Maldives banknote, back, 5 Rufiyaa

Fishing scenes illustrate the back of this banknote.  As said by former a President, “Fishing is the lifeblood of our nation, it is inborn. From the soil on which we live, to the sea around us, it remains an integral part of our existence. Fishing, and our country and its people, [are] one and shall remain inseparable forever.”

The traditional fishing vessel is the “Dhivehi Odi”.  It resembles the dhow, a traditional Arabian sailing ship.  It is handcrafted in the islands from coconut timber.


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Haiti – The Slave Who Defeated Napoleon

Haiti banknote, featuring Toussaint Louverture, hero of the Haitian Revolution

Toussaint Louverture is a hero of Haiti’s independence.  He’s been called “the Slave who Defeated Napoleon”, in a fine article here.

Haiti was second state in the Americas to gain independence.  Haiti’s revolution against France began in 1791, just 8 years after the end of its northern neighbor’s war for independence.

The Haitian Revolution was essentially a slave revolt.  It consisted of a series of conflicts, from 1791 through 1804.  It consisted of shifting alliances of Haitian slaves, and conflicts with colonists and French and British troops.  During its course, slavery was abolished; and, in 1804, national independence was secured.   It has been considered the most successful slave revolt in history, and the only one leading to the founding of an independent state.


Haiti’s present day population is, almost entirely, descended from African slaves.  The indigenous population was reduced to about 30,000 souls, within 2 decades following the island’s 1492 sighting by Columbus, due to European diseases, and, the brutal working conditions imposed by the Spaniards in their rapid exploitation of the island’s gold resources.  By the end of the 1500s, during which French pirates began to firmly entrench themselves in the territory, the indigenous peoples had virtually vanished.

As permanent settlements and plantations began to develop on the island, colonial landowners began importing slaves from Africa.  In the mid 1600s, the French West Indies Corporation took control of the area, and in 1697, the region was formally ceded to France from Spain.  As the sugar industry flourished, so did the slave importation industry, or, it should be said, as the slave industry flourished, so did the sugar industry.  There were about 5,000 slaves by the end of the 1600s.  By the end of the 1700s, when the revolution began, there were about 500,000 slaves. 

The colony’s population and economic output grew rapidly during the 1700s.  It became France’s most prosperous New World possession, exporting sugar and smaller amounts of coffee, cacao, indigo, and cotton. By the 1780s nearly two-thirds of France’s foreign investments were based on Saint-Domingue, Franc’s name for the island, and the number of stopovers by oceangoing vessels sometimes exceeded 700 per year.  In 1789, the year the French Revolution began, the Haitian Revolution began two years later.


detail from banknote

Toussaint began as a slave, was partially educated by his godfather, and then self educated in the Greek philosophers, Machiavelli, and especially the writings of the French Enlightenment.  The French Revolution, with its calls for liberty and equality, influenced Toussaint.  He was a renowned horseman and became a leader in the Haitian battles.  By 1793, he had adopted the surname Louverture, from the French word meaning “opening” or “the one who opened the way”.  A standard explanation is that it refers to his ability to create openings in battle, and it is sometimes attributed to French commissioner Polverel’s exclamation: “That man makes an opening everywhere”.

On 29 August 1793 he made his famous declaration of Camp Turel to the blacks of St Domingue:
Brothers and friends, I am Toussaint Louverture; perhaps my name has made itself known to you. I have undertaken vengeance. I want Liberty and Equality to reign in St Domingue. I am working to make that happen. Unite yourselves to us, brothers and fight with us for the same cause.

Motto: In Union is Strength, detail from back of banknote

Your very humble and obedient servant, Toussaint Louverture,


detail from back of banknote, Phrygian Cap – symbol of liberty, mounted above a Royal Palm.

He gave nominal allegiance to France while pursuing his own political and military designs, initially seeking better lives for slaves, but soon afterwards seeking full abolition and independence.  As the French revolution raged on, slavery was abolished by French decree, but was resisted by the French island colonists.  Continuing revolts were led by Tourissant and, in May 1801, he had had become “governor-general for life.” With the conclusion of the French Revolution, Napoléon Bonaparte came to power and attempted to regain control over the colony including the reinstitution of slavery.   Toussaint continued the resistance, and, by 1803, Napoleon, preoccupied with Europe, was ready to surrender Haiti.  Napoleon and Toussaint agreed to terms of peace; Napoleon agreeing to recognize Haitian independence and Toussaint agreeing to retire from public life.  But Napoleon betrayed him, captured him and had him executed in exile in 1803.  Others continued the struggle, and Haiti achieved independence the following year, 1804.


From Wikipedia, more here:

“On August 29, 1954, the Haitian ambassador to France, Léon Thébaud, inaugurated a stone cross memorial for Toussaint Louverture at the foot of the fort. Years afterward, the French government ceremoniously presented a shovelful of soil from the grounds of Fort-de-Joux to the Haitian government as a symbolic transfer of Toussaint Louverture’s remains. An inscription in his memory, installed in 1998, can be found on the wall of the Panthéon in Paris, inscribed with the following description:

Combattant de la liberté, artisan de l’abolition de l’esclavage, héros haïtien mort déporté au Fort-de-Joux en 1803.
(Combatant for liberty, artisan of the abolition of slavery, Haitian hero died in deportation at Fort-de-Joux in 1803.)

Toussaint Louverture influenced John Brown to invade Harpers Ferry. John Brown and his band captured citizens, and for a small time the federal armory and arsenal. Brown’s goal was that the local slave population would join the raid. But things did not go as planned. He was eventually captured and put on trial, and was hanged on December 2, 1859. Brown and his band of brothers shows the devotion to the violent tactics of the Haitian Revolution. During the 19th century African Americans used Toussaint Louverture as an example of how to reach freedom.”

A interesting graphic, illustrating the magnitude of the slavery of the era, can be found illustrated here, an interactive designed and built by Andrew Kahn, and published in Slate Magazine.


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Mainland Southeast Asia - Indochina, Southeast Asia, Vietnam

Vietnam – The Ghost of Ho Chi Minh

“…we request of the United States as guardians and champions of World Justice to take a decisive step in support of our independence…. our goal is full independence and full cooperation with the UNITED STATES. We will do our best to make this independence and cooperation profitable to the whole world.”  So closed Ho Chi Minh’s letter to U.S. President Harry S. Truman upon the conclusion of WWII.  It was not his first respectful correspondence with a US president.

Ho Chi Minh, detail from front of 1988 banknote, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh’s father traveled throughout the countryside as a teacher in the late 1800s when his homeland, Vietnam, was a colony of France.  He saw the poor and the very poor, and the contrasting comfortable lives of the French elite infuriated him.  He began to question the right of France to rule Vietnam and became a passionate nationalist.  By the time his son, Ho, born in 1890, was a teenager, he too was adopting his father’s view that Vietnam had a right to independently govern itself.

As the 19th century gave way to the 20th century, much of the colonial world was enamored with the marvelous rise of the United States.  For much of the 19th century, the United States had been isolationist in its foreign policy and protectionist in its economic policy.  Anti-colonialists easily associated Europe with imperialism, without education in the writings of Lenin and others of the time.  As stated by Raymond Aron, French philosopher, political scientist, and journalist, the daily experience of colonies consisted of “the exploitation of raw materials without any attempt to create local industry; the destruction of native crafts and the stunted growth of industrial development that resulted from the influx of European goods; high interest rates on loans; ownership of major businesses by foreign capitalists’.  But America was different. Here was a nation that had been a colony like themselves but had gained independence.  Here was a nation that was enjoying fantastic growth among the world of nations!  Here was a nation that was anti-imperial, the opposite of the colonializing countries of Europe!  Why cannot this be the same for us?

Ho became educated and well-traveled, visiting The United States and Europe and socializing with other anti-colonials.  All the while he nurtured his desire for an independent Vietnam.


Woodrow Wilson, an academic who had served but 2 years in politics, as Governor of New York, was elected President of the United States in 1912.  World War I commenced in Europe in 1914 while he was in office, and he pursued a strict policy of neutrality while nevertheless preparing America for the possibility of war, instituting the draft, and building up the US war making machinery.  His 2nd presidential campaign in 1916, on the slogan “He kept us out of war”, was successful by a slim majority.  The first year of his second term as President, he brought the United States into the war with the slogan “to make the world safe for democracy”.

Wilson closed his address to Congress seeking the declaration of war, “Our object…is to vindicate the principles of peace and justice in the life of the world as against selfish and autocratic power….We are glad…to fight…for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its peoples, the German peoples included: for the right of nations great and small and the privilege of men everywhere to choose their way of life and of obedience. The world must be made safe for democracy….We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make.”

So reluctant was America for war, so unentangled was America in the politics of Europe and its colonizing history, so remarkable was America’s rise to prominence after its own colonial past, America became the beacon to all the world of colonies as to what could be.  Wilson increased and refined his rhetorical annunciations, towards the rights of self-determination for all peoples, during, and through the end of the war.  And by the time of the Paris Peace Conference, for which he proposed “A League of Nations”, passions were inflamed for independence worldwide.  Woodrow Wilson had become the rock star of the era, an icon to independence minded peoples worldwide.


Ho Chi Minh was in Paris at the time of the Peace accords.  Colonials everywhere were aflame with passion for liberation from the colonizers.  On behalf of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh crafted an appeal for support for independence, to president Wilson.  The story is told that he rented a new suit and prepared assiduously for an audience with recitations from the American declaration of independence.  In what has been termed by historians as a lost “Wilsonian Moment”, Ho Chi Minh was ignored, and so was his country.  His frail appearance and demeanor may have led many to mis-appreciate and underestimate him.

And so were many other petitioners ignored in that conference, which mainly addressed Europe’s problems.  A disillusioned Ho Chi Minh, as well as others, began to seek out relationships with advocates of Leninism.  It is thought by many that such overtures were less out of genuine interest in communism, than in seeking the support of other powerful nations for their own independence movements.  Ho Chi Minh fell in with the communists in France, not because of an attraction to communism, but because of a passion for patriotism. He knew he needed help for his country and he was determined to get it.


Decades later, upon the close of WWII, Ho Chi Minh wrote Vietnam’s Declaration of Independence.  It included many of the ideals in America’s own declaration, one and three-quarter’s centuries before.  Five months after that war, Ho wrote to President Truman the words at the beginning of this post, while France was scrambling to reassert their colonial domination over Vietnam.

Ho’s entreaty was, once again, ignored by a US president.  France began to fight the Vietnamese in earnest to reassert their control over that little land on the other side of the globe.  The Vietnamese Army fought the French.  Mostly armed with machetes and muskets against France’s WW2 armaments, smoking out French positions with straw bundled with chili pepper, and using suicide weapons against French artillery, they waged war their for independence.

Ho Chi Minh, detail from front of 1988 banknote, Vietnam

After fighting the French for several years, Ho decided to negotiate a truce. According to journalist Bernard Fall, the meeting with French negotiators took place at a mud hut with a thatched roof.  No doubt, Ho Chi Minh conducted the meeting in perfect French.  As reported in Wikipedia here, “Inside they found a long table with chairs and were surprised to discover in one corner of the room a silver ice bucket containing ice and a bottle of good Champagne which should have indicated that Ho expected the negotiations to succeed. One demand by the French was the return to French custody of a number of Japanese military officers (who had been helping the Vietnamese armed forces by training them in the use of weapons of Japanese origin), in order for them to stand trial for war crimes committed during World War II. Ho replied that the Japanese officers were allies and friends whom he could not betray. Then he walked out, to seven more years of war.”

A few years later, the US took over the war against Vietnam.  Following the Joe McCarthy era, but still propelled by fear of communism, and supported a tidy “domino theory”, the US sent hundreds of thousands of troops into that war, losing more than fifty thousand dead, before retreating in defeat in the 1970s.


Ho Chi Minh died in 1969.  As the North Vietnamese marched south in 1975, uniting Vietnam, the spirit of Ho Chi Minh marched with them.  He was free from the shackles of this mortal body, and his people were free from the shackles of colonialism.


Front, 1988, 500 dong, Vietnam, featuring Ho Chi Minh
Back, 1988, 500 dong, featuring scenes from Port Haiphong.

This 1988 banknote features Ho Chi Minh.  Indeed all Vietnamese banknotes, through at least the 2003 issue, feature Ho Chi Minh, the father of Vietnamese independence.




The text of Vietnam’s Declaration of Independence can be read here, and will be seen to closely follow that by America 150 years earlier. Read September 2, 1945 in the square in Hanoi, it announced to the world Vietnam’s independence.

The February 16, 1946 letter to president Truman can be read here and the follow up urgent telegram to Harry Truman on February 28 1946 can be seen here.


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Central America, Guatemala

Guatemala – The Republic of Central America 1821-1840

Back side of 20 quetzals banknote from Guatemala, featuring “The Signing of The Declaration of Independence”.
Front of 20 quetzals banknote of Guatemala, featuring Mariano Galvez, chief of state for the State of Guatemala.

The images on the front and back of this Guatemalan banknote constitute “bookends” for the short-lived, two decade, Republic of Central America, 1821 to 1840.  The images also symbolize the elements of its early demise.  Numerous attempts to reconstitute the union have been attempted ever since, but none have succeeded since that first, promising, optimistic moment….


Detail from back of 20 quetzals banknote of Guatemala.

The signing of “The Act of Independence of Central America” is memorialized in the painting to the left.  With this document, independence was proclaimed for the Captaincy General of Guatemala, as it was called under the Spanish Empire for three centuries.  The date was September 15, 1821.  The constituting States were Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

For two years they aligned with newly independent Mexico, and then on July 1, 1823 the Congress of Central America declared absolute independence from Spain, Mexico, and any other foreign nation, and established a republican system of government.

The next fifteen years were marked by strife between competing conservative and liberal elements within the union, including civil war.  The union dissolved when Nicaragua first seceded in 1838, followed by Honduras and Costa Rica, and finally El Salvador in 1841.


Enlarged detail from back of 20 quetzals banknote of Guatemala.

Mariano de Aycinena y Piñol, seated in the image on the left, was a conservative politician.  He served as Governor of Guatemala during the first decade of Central American unity.  As an influential Guatemalan merchant, Mariano was a leader of the Guatemalan independence movement from Spain, and one of the signers of The Act.  The meeting was chaired by Gabino Gaínza.  The text of the Act itself was written by Honduran intellectual and politician José Cecilio del Valle and signed by representatives of the various Central American provinces. The meeting was held at the National Palace in Guatemala City, the site of which is now Centennial Park.

Mariano’s family held a commercial monopoly in Central American during the Spanish colonial era; and Mariano had lobbied heavily for the annexation of Central America to the Mexican Empire, an arrangement which would preserve the family’s economic position and privileges following independence. Allied with the conservative movement, he served as governor of the State of Guatemala within the Central American Federation from 1 March 1827 to 12 April 1829. He was expelled in 1829 after being defeated by Francisco Morazán, a liberal politician and a long-time champion of the Federating movement.  Following exile in the United States, and then Mexico, he returned to Guatemala after the conservatives had returned to power under general Rafael Carrera, but then he retired from public life.



Detail from front of 20 quetzals banknote of Guatemala, featuring “Doctor Mariano Galvez”, chief of state for the State of Guatemala.

Mariano Galvez, picture to the left, was a liberal politician.  He served as the chief of state of Guatemala, during the final decade of the Republic of Central America, having been appointed by Francisco Morazán when Morazán became president of the Republic.

Born in the 1790s, Gálvez was left as an infant in a basket on a doorstep, and subsequently adopted by the wealthy Galvez family. He was well educated, and received a doctor of law at the Royal and Pontifical University of San Carlos Borromeo on December 16, 1819.

In the civil war of 1826, Gálvez joined the Federalists and led a revolutionary movement against the Unitarian government, which hastened the invasion of Guatemala by federalist Francisco Morazán. Gálvez joined Morazán’s forces in Ahuachapán.

After independence from Spain, he sought further liberation of Guatemala from the remaining heavy influences of the catholic church and the aristocracy. In 1829, he was appointed, by Francisco Morazán, as Governor of Guatemala in 1831. He promulgated major innovations in all aspects of the administration.  He promoted public education independent of the church, and established civil marriages and divorce.  He fostered the sciences and the arts, and founded the national library and the national museum.  He promoted citizens rights and the rule of law, guaranteeing freedom of the press, freedom of thought and freedom of assembly.

In February 1835 Galvez was reelected far a second term, during which the Asiatic cholera afflicted the country. The secular clergy persuaded the uneducated people of the interior, many of whom were becoming anxious by the rapidity of reforms under Galvez, that the disease was caused by the poisoning of the springs, by order of the government, and turned the complaints against Galvez into a religious war. Peasant revolts began in 1837, and under chants of “Hurray for the true religion!” and “Down with the heretics!” started growing and spreading. One time friends, including Colonel Manuel Montúfar and Juan de Dios Mayorga. José Francisco Barrundia and Pedro Molina, came to oppose him in the later years of his government after he violently tried to repress the peasant revolt using a scorched earth approach against rural communities.

In February 1838, revolutionary forces, under the conservative Rafael Carrera, entered Guatemala City asking for the Cathedral to be opened to restore order in the catholic communities.  Mariano Gálvez was forced to relinquish power. By 1840, the Republic of Central America was gone.

Gálvez died on March 29, 1862 in Mexico and was buried in the Cemetery of San Fernando. In 1925 his remains were repatriated and today they rest in the old School of Law in Guatemala City.
Universidad Mariano Gálvez de Guatemala, founded in 1966 in Guatemala City, is named after him.



The following is from an article by Christopher Minster:

“Beset on all sides, the Republic of Central America fell apart. The first to officially secede was Nicaragua, on November 5, 1838. Honduras and Costa Rica followed shortly thereafter. In Guatemala, Carrera set himself up as dictator and ruled until his death in 1865. Morazán fled to exile in Colombia in 1840 and the collapse of the republic was complete.

“It is unfortunate for the people of Central America that Morazán and his dream were so soundly defeated by smaller thinkers such as Carrera. Since the republic fractured, the five nations have been repeatedly victimized by foreign powers such as the United States and England who have used force to advance their own economic interests in the region.
“Weak and isolated, the nations of Central America have had little choice but to allow these larger, more powerful nations to bully them around: one example is Great Britain’s meddling in British Honduras (now Belize) and the Mosquito Coast of Nicaragua.
“Although much of the blame must rest with these imperialistic foreign powers, we must not forget that Central America has traditionally been its own worst enemy. The small nations have a long and bloody history of bickering, warring, skirmishing and interfering in one another’s business, occasionally even in the name of “reunification.”
“The history of the region has been marked by violence, repression, injustice, racism and terror. Granted, larger nations such as Colombia have also suffered from the same ills, but they have been particularly acute in Central America. Of the five, only Costa Rica has managed to distance itself somewhat from the “Banana Republic” image of a violent backwater.”

Since the demise of the Union, numerous attempts have been made to reunite the various states of Central America.  Enyclopedia Britannica states “about 25 abortive attempts were made to restore the union.” I’ve seen numbers as high as 65 by other authors.


“Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?”

Joni Mitchell

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Central America, Nicaragua

Nicaraugua – the Battle of San Jacinto (1856)


10 cordobas, Nicaragua, featuring Hacienda San Jacinto, series A 2007 banknote, back.







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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.



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The Battle of Hacienda San Jacinto 1856, by Luis Vergara Ahumada
10 cordobas, Nicaragua, series E 1979 banknote, front, featuring Andres Castro from Battle of San Jacinto (1856)







Southern Africa, Zambia

Zambia – the Chain Breaking Man

Zambia, 50 kwacha, reverse













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.

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