Rei Amador, an inspiring symbol of freedom and self-determination, is named and featured on our 2013 banknote. In 1595 Rei Amador led the slave rebellion, known as the Maafa Revolt, on San Tome against the Portuguese. On July 9, 1595, boldly, in the face of the Portuguese invaders, he raised a flag and proclaimed himself as king of Sao Tome and Principe. Half of the enslaved population rallied to him and fought against the Portuguese, but the superior weaponry of the Portuguese overmastered the rebellion. Rei Amador is considered the forerunner of all of the African Abolitionists; the predecessor of Toussaint Louverture of Haiti, Nzumbi of Brazil, Samory Toure of Guinea and Francois Makandal of Saint-Domingue.
The beautiful papa figo bird adorns the same side of our banknote.
The national coat of arms is represented on the front of our banknote.
The central shield is upheld by a falcon on the left and a parrot on the right.
A star rests above the shield.
The banner below the shield displays the motto of the nation: Unity, Discipline, Work.
Bai Bureh, the great Warrior of Sierra Leone, is named and featured on our 2013 banknote of Sierra Leone.
To me, his image on our banknote is quite striking, more so than the images of most any other leader on most any other banknote I have observed. Bai Bureh’s image resembles that of the classic jester of the courts of Europe of the middle ages. Sometimes it was only the jester that could be sufficiently daring to point out the folly of the ruler; and Bai Bureh, perhaps more than anyone in Africa, caused their overlords, the British to turn in circles. At the end of this post, the reader will find the only known photograph of Bai Bureh, taken in 1898 as he sits peacefully, under arrest, with his unmistakable impish grin. One can sense that his guard adores him. He is revered to this day in Sierra Leone.
In his youth, his father sent him to a nearby small village for training in the craft of warriors. His training elders recognized in young Bai superior innate abilities. They named him Kebalai, the Warrior who never tires of War. Not long after his return to his village he was named ruler of the village. In succeeding years he defeated this and that territory and led his followers to victory over invaders and afterwards restoring the territory to the rightful inhabitants. The people recognized in Bar Bureh a true leader and rallied around him and crowned him leader of Northern Sierra Leone in 1886. He was 46 years of age.
As the British extended their power and during the Scramble for Africa, Bar Bureh continually resisted and evaded them. He refused to acknowledge their treaties and he refused to pay their taxes. Bar Bureh wanted the British to go home to Britain and let the Sierra Leone’s manage their own affairs. Soon the British sent the military after him, but his superior knowledge of the terrain and innate brilliant skill allowed him to evade the British time and time again.
His humor delighted his followers and appears to have charmed his enemies. Upon the British governor’s offer of 100 pounds for information leading to the capture of Bai Bureh, Bureh issued an offer of 500 pounds for the capture of the British governor.
The story is told that upon his capture, the British treated him as a political prisoner, rather than a military captive. Subsequently, rather than executing in the manner routine in that era, he was sent into exile in a neighboring country, some historians suggesting that all of this treatment indicated the respect of Mr. Bai Bureh by the British army.
Today, Bai Bureh is considered by many military historians as the pioneer of modern guerilla warfare methods.
The photo at left is the only known photo of Mr. Bai Bureh, the Great Hero of Sierra Leone. A remarkable and delightful article on the recent discovery and authentication of this sole photograph is online here, and I certainly urge the reader to read that article.
The photo at left if from wikipedia and attributed as follows:
By Lieutenant Arthur Greer – http://www.sierraexpressmedia.com/archives/57097, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28429122
The front of our year 2016 banknote features one time President of Liberia, Samuel K. Doe. 1, the first native Head of State in the history of Liberia. 2 The story of President Doe incarnates the dichotomy of Liberia. Samuel K. Doe, born in 1950, become Head of State in 1980 at age 30, died by assassination in 1990 at age 40, and honored on our banknote twenty-six years after that.
For 133 years previous, the government of Liberia was dominated by the pioneering founders of the country and their descendants. In 1980, that all changed.
The generations-long brew of resentment among indigenous inhabitants of Liberia and the descendants of American transplants informed the thinking of young Samuel Doe. Having joined the army at age 18, and having displayed talent, in 1980, at age 30 he led the squadron which took the palace and killed the President. Naming himself general, Samuel Doe became Head of State at age 30, the first native Head of State in the history of Liberia.
The flag is modeled after that of the United States of America. Liberia’s 11 stripes represent the 11 signers of the Lberian Declaration of Independence. The single star symbolizes African unity.
The Coat of Arms for Liberia contains numerous symbols of the country’s founding and aspirations.
The sailing ship represents the arrival of freed slaves from the United States. The plow and the shovel represent dignity and labor. The palm tree represents royalty; and the rising sun, the birth of the country. The white dove symbolizes the breath of peace. The motto of the nation is bannered across the top of the shield, The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here.3
The colonial era began with the voyage of Christopher Columbus across the Atlantic ocean in 1492. What has become known as the Atlantic slave trade, commenced almost simultaneously, and grew with the growth of colonialism. In 1494, the Pope blessed the Treaty of Tordesillas which effectively divided the New World, outside of Europe, between Spain and Portugal, an indicator of just who were the dominating world powers at that time. For the next one and one third centuries, the colonial era was largely the story of the Spanish and the Portuguese; and so was the story of the Atlantic slave trade.
Within 10 years of Columbus’ first voyage of 1492, the first African slave arrived in the new Spanish colony. The year was 1501. The place was Hispaniola, now known as The Dominican Republic. The Portuguese began to colonize Brazil in 1532. Although the Portuguese initiated their slave operations in the new world later than Spain, it wasn’t long before they exceeded Spain in the slave trade. In fact, by the time of the final abolition of the African Slave Trade, the Portuguese had imported more African slaves into Brazil than any other country did into any other colony. An estimate has 4 million slaves from Africa arriving in Brazil, 40% of the total number of slaves from Africa in the New World.4 Another million arrived in Spanish colonies.
With the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, ‘the image of Spain’s invulnerability in the Atlantic’5 was also overthrown. Soon other European nations embarked on colonization programs and, building upon the established economic model, expanded the Atlantic Slave Trade. These nations included Great Britain, France, Holland and Denmark. The Dutch transported their first slaves to colonies in 1637 and the British in 1641. And then the British were among the first nations to abolish slavery in1808, followed soon by Holland in 1814.6Spain abolished slavery in 1818 and Portugal in 1858. Approximately 4% of the total Atlantic slave trade arrived in the territories now under the governance of the United States.
Slaves were transported to the United States territory, both before and after the founding of the country. Modern estimates from various sources often range around 400,000 souls in total789., with about 25% arriving following the ratification of the Constitution, and 99% of that latter number to the southern states of the country.10
The spreading views of The Enlightenment combined with Christian sentiments to fuel political movements against slavery in the early history and prehistory of the United States. These views rang out in the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson in 177611 and the 2nd Inaugural address of Abraham Lincoln12 almost 100 years later.
In the early years after the founding of the United States of America, a movement developed out of concern for the slavery dilemma. By this time, slavery as an institution was well established, particularly in the agricultural oriented states of the South. And, in the natural evolution of things, there were people who defended slavery, people who attacked slavery, people who were slaves, and people who were free men now and formerly slaves. What to do? What is to be Done? Liberia was an early answer to this question. Liberia. The very name means Liberty. Liberia.
An early movement was known as American Colonization Society led directly to the founding of our nation Liberia. In 1822 the ACS formed a colony on the West coast of Africa with the intent to found a nation for free African Americans. The concept was that freedom there would be better than emancipation within the United States. The concept had supporters and detractors across the spectrum, but the colony was established and in 1847 declared independence as the country of Liberia, about a decade and a half before the American Emancipation Proclamation and Civil War. By 1867, just after the end of the American Civil War, 13,000 people had emigrated to Liberia from the United States..
The map below is from the website database www.slavevoyages.org. Select tab “Assessing the Slave Trade”, and, from the drop down menu, select “Introductory Maps“, and got to Map 9: Volume and direction of the trans-Atlantic slave trade from all African to all American regions
I would sincerely welcome your suggestions for improvement to this article. Thank you.
Rose Lomathinda Chibambo, featured on our banknote, has been heralded as “One of the Founders of Malawi” by a local news outlet upon her 2016 passing. More of this talented and courageous woman’s story is told below.
From Wikipedia: Rose Chibambo organised Malawian women in their political fight against the British as a political force to be reckoned with alongside their menfolk in the push for independence. She was arrested on 23 March 1959, two days after giving birth to a girl, and taken to Zomba prison. Her fellow freedom fighters, including Hastings Banda were arrested earlier, on the morning of 3 March when governor Robert Armitage declared a state of emergency. After Malawi gained independence in 1964, Rose Chibambo was the first woman minister in the new cabinet. When she fell out with Dr. Hastings Banda she was forced into exile for thirty years, returning after the restoration of democracy.
Featured on the back side of our banknote is the Independence Arch of Malawi, which also featured significantly in the independence celebrations of 2017, chronicled in the local media here.
John Chilembwe, a minister and educator, was against the colonial movement in the days of Nyasaland, the early 20th century.
The following is from a Wikipedia article here: The Chilembwe uprising was a rebellion against British colonial rule in Nyasaland (modern-day Malawi) in January 1915, led by John Chilembwe, an American-educated Baptist minister, whose radical evangelical views of racial injustice may also have been influenced by millenarian Christians. Based around his church in the village of Mbombwe in the south-east of the country, the revolt was centered on the black middle class and encouraged by grievances against the colonial system, including forced labour, discrimination and the new demands on the indigenous population caused by the outbreak of World War I. The revolt broke out in the evening of the 23rd January 1915, when rebels, incited by Chilembwe, attacked the A. L. Bruce plantation’s headquarters at Magomero and killed three white colonists; and a largely unsuccessful attack on a weapons store in Blantyre followed during the night. By the morning of the 24th January the colonial authorities had mobilised the white settler militia and redeployed regular military forces south. After a failed attack on Mbombwe by troops of the King’s African Rifles (KAR) on the 25th January, a group of rebels attacked a Christian mission at Nguludi and burned it down. The KAR and militia took Mbombwe without encountering resistance on the 26th January after many of the rebels, including Chilembwe, fled, hoping to reach safety in neighbouring Portuguese East Africa (modern Mozambique). About 40 rebels were executed in the revolt’s aftermath, and 300 were imprisoned; Chilembwe was shot dead by a police patrol near the border on the 3rd February. Although the rebellion did not itself achieve lasting success, it is commonly cited as a watershed moment in Nyasaland history. The rebellion had lasting effects on the British system of administration in Nyasaland and some reform was enacted in its aftermath. After World War II, the growing Malawian nationalist movement reignited interest in the Chilembwe revolt, and after the independence of Malawi in 1964 it became celebrated as a key moment in the nation’s history. Chilembwe’s memory, which remains prominent in the collective national consciousness, has often been invoked in symbolism and rhetoric by Malawian politicians. Today, the uprising is celebrated annually and Chilembwe himself is considered a national hero.
1993 was a year of new beginnings for the great people of Kyrgyzstan.
The banknotes here were issued May 10, 1993 by the National Bank of Kyrgyzstan. The values are “t y i y n”, one hundred of which constitute a single “s o m”. The som is the basic monetary unit of currency in Kyrgyzstan, divisible into 100 tiyins, just as the American dollar is divisible into 100 cents.
The word som means pure, and implies pure gold. Apparently the meaning of tyiyn is squirrel skin which at one time was used as currency. Coins for circulation were not introduced in Kyrgyzstan until January 2008. Only Belarus, of the former Soviet states, delayed the introduction of coinage later.
These banknotes were issued May 10, 1993. May 5 1993, the first post-Soviet era constitution of Kyrgyzstan was ratified.
Norodom Sihanouk, the artist politician, lived an extraordinary life at the center of power through much of the tumultuous 20th century. Major events include French colonization, WW2 domination by the Japanese, reassertion of French authority following WW2, independence from France, Vietnam War, Khmer Rouge, and then, the 21st century. He left us in 2012 at the age of 90 years old. In Cambodia he is known as Samdech Euv, “Father Prince”
The ancient kingdom of Cambodia had become a French colony by the time Norodom Sihanouk was born, grandson to the contemporary king, in 1922. In WW2 1941, the Japanese took control of Cambodia and, bypassing his father, installed 19 year old Norodom Sihanouk, as king, upon his grandfather’s death. Following WW2, the French sought to reassert their colonial authority in Cambodia and much of Indochina, while Sihanouk sought independence. Independence was achieved in 1953, and in 1955 Sihanouk abdicated the throne and formed a political party. His father ascended to the throne. Upon his father’s death in 1960, Norodom was appointed head of sate, which post he held until the military coup of 1970, during the Vietnam War, which ushered in the US backer Khmer republic.
The 1975 Cambodian civil war brought Pol Pot to power, Norodom back from exile, initially as a supporter. But a year later, in 1976, he resigned and was placed under house arrest until 1979. This was the period of the infamous “killing fields”. When the Vietnamese overthrew the Pol Pot regime in 1979, Norodom went again into exile; and, in 1981, formed a resistance party.
In 1991, peace accords were signed and in 1993 Norodom Sihanouk was reinstated as head of state and king of Cambodia, which he retained until abdication if favor of his son in 2004.
It is said that from 1966 to 2006 he produced at least 50 films, a number of which he also acted in.
The “naga”, the multi-headed serpent which is often the beneficent protagonist in Hindu Mythology; its mortal enemy being the “guardas”, the semidivine birdlike deity.
Nagas are multiheaded. The even number headed naga is said to symbolize the female, physicality, mortality, temporality and the earth; whereas the odd number headed nagas represent the male, infinity, timelessness and immortality.
Portuguese Guinea was a West African colony of Portugal from the late 15th century until 1973 when it declared independence from Portugal as Guinea-Bissau. The Glorification of Triumph is celebrated in this beautiful banknote.
The beautiful artwork on the back of this banknote is the allegory named “Apoteose ao Triunfo”, which translates from the Portuguese as, the “Glorification of Triumph”. In the foreground are men and women and children bringing forth in celebration the bounty of the land. And in the background, as if illustrating what is in their minds as they celebrate, are universal images of triumph and glory. In the foreground, the man standing on the right is holding an arade, a classic farming instrument of the region. Everywhere there is bounty. In the lower right there is a chicken and a goat. In the center foreground there are baskets abounding with the tropical fruits of the land. Standing on the right, a woman is holding a basket of fish, while seated on the left, one is pouring a cup of nectar. All the while, musical instruments are being played.
From 1975 to 1997, the peso was the currency of Guinea-Bissau from 1975 to 1997. In 1997 Guinea-Bissau switched to the West African CFA franc.
Her husband was the Corregidor of the town of Queretero, a position of some political power. She became La Corregidora of Mexico, a position enshrined in the heart of a grateful nation.
“She”, as reported by a historian to BBC Mundo, “lit the fuse that started the Independence of Mexico.”
“She” is Doña Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez, who, living in early 1800s colonial Mexico, grew to despise the way the indigenous peoples were treated by their colonizers. While mothering 14 children as wife to a local politician, she began to attend literary meetings in her town home in which the literature of The Enlightenment was frequently discussed. After a time, she began to host these meetings in her home. And in due time the discussions, attended by educated figures such as Miguel Hidalgo and others, turned towards ideas of independence, and then a movement, and then, finally, plans for a independence.
With an upheaval in the Spanish monarchy, the possibilities of independence seemed more real than ever. The meetings in her home became the center of the developing insurgency. Plans were made and weapons began to become accumulated and cached in the houses of supporters. Plans were set for an uprising on December 10, 1810.
On September 13, it was learned that weapons were being stockpiled. The chief magistrate, the Corregidor, Doña Josefa Ortiz’ husband, was immediately informed and ordered to raid the houses, seize the weapons, and jail the participants. Worried for his wife, he told her of his orders; and, determined to protect her, locked her in a room to prevent her from arrest with the others.
The story is told here, that while locked up, she composed a letter of warning to Father Hidalgo, making it untraceable by pasting together individual letters from newspaper clippings. And then, while still locked in that room, she repeatedly stomped so hard on the floor with her heel, that one came to the door, one to whom she could entrust her letter to Hidalgo.
Hidalgo, receiving this intelligence, moved up the date of the insurgency to the morning of September 16, 1810. Early that morning Father Hidalgo rang the church bell summoning all the common peoples to Mass. There he delivered the impassioned sermon, now known in history as, The Cry of Dolores, in which he urged a rebellion against Spain so that Mexico could be governed by Mexicans.
From here: “There is no scholarly consensus on the exact words Miguel Hidalgo said at the time. The book The Course of Mexican History says “the exact words of this most famous of all Mexican speeches are not known, or, rather, they are reproduced in almost as many variations as there are historians to reproduce them”.
The same book also argues that:
“ …the essential spirit of the message is… ‘My children: a new dispensation comes to us today. Will you receive it? Will you free yourselves? Will you recover the lands stolen three hundred years ago from your forefathers by the hated Spaniards? We must act at once… Will you defend your religion and your rights as true patriots? Long live Our Lady of Guadalupe! Death to bad government! Death to the Gachupines!’
The date, September 16, 1810, the date of “The Cry of Dolores”, is celebrated in Mexico as Independence Day. It is considered to be the day the independence movement began.
And “that day” was possible, because of La Corregidora.
This image from the back of our banknote is very significant in the story of Mexico.
It has evolved over the centuries; and is reproduced in the nation’s coat of arms, great seal and flag. The coat of arms in 1821, at the first proclamation of independence of Mexico, showed the eagle on the cactus and wearing a crown. Two years later, while our heroine La Corregidora was still with us, the coat of arms was revised. The crown was removed, but the cactus remained; and the eagle now grasped the snake.
The image is reminiscent of the founding story of Mexico City, then named Tenochtitlan. The people of Aztlan, then residing north of contemporary Mexico, were directed to travel southward to find a new land. They were to look for an eagle perched upon a cactus and clutching a snake. This would indicate the place for the founding of a powerful empire. After years of traveling, place to place, during which they learned from other cultures, they arrived at Lake Texcoco. In the distance, in the middle of the lake, they saw an eagle, perched upon a cactus, devouring a snake. They had arrived. The Aztec empire flourished from that location.
Lifting the flag of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front.
The image has become a national symbol, and is now included on Eritrean currency. An interview with the photographer can be found here.
The EPLF has been noted for its egalitarian approach. 30% of its constituent fighters were women, which significantly affected the traditionally conservative paternalistic outlook of the nation.
The EPLF captured numerous Ethiopian soldiers in battle. But in contrast to the way the Ethiopians treated their captured, the EPLF did not mistreat them. The taught them the principles of the EPLF. They instructed them in world politics. They trained many of them in crafts and trades.
Eritrea consists of nine nationalities. Tigre, Tigrigna, Saho, Afar, Kunama, Nara, Bilin, Hidarb, and Rashaida. More information on this can be found on the Eritrean website here.
These nationalities are depicted in the banknotes in a series of tryptich portraits, that is, three-paneled illustrations such as in many of the classics. The artist who designed these banknotes is Mr. Clarence Holbert, the first African American to design an African banknote. He passed away January 9, 2018. His memorial was reverently attended by representatives of Eritrea, and can be read about here.
The reverse of the currencies reflect scenes from Eritrean life. As recalled by Mr. Holbert, the currency “features the everyday people of Eritrea because Eritrean President Isaias had given specific instructions that money not feature cabinet or government officials or their relatives.”
The Nakfa region, inhabited since ancient times, came under Italian control in 1890. Italy lost control during WW2, and Eritrea was “awarded” to Ethiopia as a part of a federation in 1952. In the 1960s, Ethiopia annexed Eritrea as a province. This instigated the independence movement. In 1977, the Eritrea Liberation Front laid siege to Nakfa, and, took it in their first major victory. Eight subsequent attempts at recapture failed, during which much of the above-ground town was destroyed, and during which also, the Eritreans developed an significant underground facilities. Independence was secured in 1991.
“Nakfa” is now the name of Eritrea’s currency. It is taken from the town which had become the main base of the Eritrean independence movement. Nakfa is famous for its extensive underground entrenchments developed in the time of the resistance. Included are hospitals, printing presses, a radio station, college and factories, in addition to rings of trenches and minefields.
The following paragraph is from this blog post with this photo of the Nakfa territory. A special test for tourists is also the sites of the liberation struggle situated in bleak mountains of the Sahel, northern angle of Eritrea. Hence one must be willing to enjoy the arduous journey across the rough terrain mountains to visit these miraculous EPLF defenses, trenches, bunkers of Nakfa, Himbol and the Roras Plateaus, and the Denden terrains.
Three thousand years ago, a people, known as the Lenca, traveled from the great continent known as South America northward, along the narrow isthmus between the two great oceans, through the rainforests of Central America, and settled finally in the highlands of the region we now call Honduras. When the Spaniards sought conquest in the 1500s, a leader rose up among them, to defend them, and to preserve their culture. His presence, 500 years ago, resonates to this day. He is remembered in Honduras on this banknote, in the stories told among the Lenca, and in this post.
Spaniards first landed on the Yucatan in 1517. So novel was their appearance, their ships and their horses, the news of their arrival would travel swiftly the 300 miles to the Honduran homeland of the Lenca. Lempira was a young man when this news arrived, perhaps 18 or 20 years old. No longer associating with the children of the community, he would travel with the men, but listen as a young man, to the wisdom of his elders. The first reports were that the visitors were very few in number and they were respectful, bringing strange gifts. The elders were curious, but unconcerned. Four years later, in the Summer of 1521, like an arrow shot, the news would travel that the capital city of the mighty Aztecs, had fallen to the newcomers. The elders, perhaps, looked at one another in silence, with deepening lines of concern on their faces, while the young men watched and listened in silence. Lempira would be in his early to middle 20s, and restless.
With creeping slowness, due in part to a confused administration, the conquistadors presence grew in central America. Like an advance messenger of doom, European diseases would reach through the jungle to a tribe, weakening them; and then sometime later, horsed and armored conquistadors would arrive, and defeat would inevitably follow. In 1533, a Spanish conquistador received royal decree to enter the region of Honduras. Lempira would be about 33 years old. He’d be sitting with the elders.
It is likely that, around this time, the great meeting was held with the leaders of 200 villages. Some say it was called by Lempira; perhaps, but it was certainly concluded by Lempira. He stood up before the 200 with a question, a promise and an offer. He first asked how it was possible that so many bold men could be subdued by so few foreigners in their own land. During the murmuring of obvious dangers, he spoke a second time. He promised them that he, Lempira, would face the greatest dangers. With this, the unspoken question before the 200 shifted. It was no longer what should they do, but whether or not they would join Lempira, because it was obvious that he was going to fight. Lempira spoke one more time. He offered to lead as many of them as were willing to fight, because he, Lempira, certainly intended to fight. If he was not a leader going into this meeting, he was the leader coming out of it. The 200 villages united behind him and an army of 30,000 joined him.
For a decade, Lempira had been watching and listening, learning the ways of the Spaniards. Though their numbers were few, with their muskets, their armor and their horses, they were undefeatable in open battle. Lempira would change the terms of the battle. He would let the strength of the land fight for the Lenca. He would have the knowledge of his people fight for them. He designated five rocky hill tops, surrounded by forests, as key defensive positions for the nation; Cerquin Rock, Congolon Peak, Coyocutena hill, El Broquel, and Gualasapa hill. He extended these high places with terraces and retaining walls, and built storerooms with defensible accesses. When he had filled the strongholds with ample supplies and gathered his warriors, he would be ready. In the mid 1530s, the Spaniards began to pass back and forth through Lencan territory, but Lempira left them alone, and they began to think Honduras was conquered.
It is said, that Lempira had said, that the killing of three Spaniards would be the sign. In 1537, three Spaniards passing near the Peñol de Cerquín were attacked and killed. This attack greatly disturbed the Spanish Governor at the time, Montejo, for he had begun to consider the area pacified. He therefore sent an attack force to the region. And Lempira declared war.
The following is selected from Wikipedia:
Lempira sent messages to the native auxiliaries of the Spanish, exhorting them to abandon their foreign overlords and join his forces, but they refused. It was only with the declaration of war that the Spanish became aware of the threat presented by Lempira and his alliance. Although the immediate threat was limited to the region close to the Peñol de Cerquín, the Spanish realised that the rebellion at such a strong fortress was a powerful symbol of native independence throughout Higueras. Montejo immediately dispatched Cáceres against Lempira with 80 well-armed Spanish soldiers, accompanied by Mexican and Guatemalan Indian auxiliaries. Montejo sent messengers requesting assistance from Santiago de Guatemala and San Salvador.
Siege at the Peñol de Cerquín
On 1 November 1537, Cáceres arrived at the Peñol de Cerquín. He immediately sent envoys to Lempira, requesting his submission; Lempira executed the envoys and declared his defiance. In response, Cáceres launched a direct assault against the fortress but found it impregnable. No roads climbed the mountain, and sheer wall prevented attempts to climb it. Well-engineered defences manned by large numbers of gathered warriors prevented the Spanish from storming the approaches, and horses were useless on the steep terrain. Cáceres had no choice except to lay close siege to the Peñol. He divided his men equally amongst the eight approaches to the fortress, and fierce fighting ensued, in which five Spaniards were killed and many were injured, including Cáceres. The siege held firm, but was unable to gain any ground.
While Cáceres was engaged in what would evidently be a lengthy siege, Montejo sent a column of Spanish soldiers into the area around Gracias a Dios; he sent a second column, with 20 Spaniards accompanied by native auxiliaries, south to the Valley of Xocorro. Montejo led a third column in person, taking 23 Spanish soldiers to Comayagua. He also sent a message ahead, for Santa María de Comayagua to send support to Cáceres at the Peñol, and fourteen soldiers marched from there to join the siege. The Xocorro column was forced to return to Santa María de Comayagua after falling afoul of the Spanish authorities in San Miguel, who claimed they were infringing upon their jurisdiction.
About two months into the siege of the Peñol de Cerquín, the majority of Spanish soldiers in Honduras were concentrated around the fortress. Small groups were scattered elsewhere, and both Gracias a Dios and Santa María de Comayagua were dangerously vulnerable, with almost no soldiers left there. Seeing the vulnerability of the Spanish positions across the greater province, Lempira declared a general uprising. The whole region south of the Peñol rose up, as well as neighbouring parts of El Salvador around San Salvador and San Miguel, where they caused serious damage to the Spanish. The Comayagaua Valley joined the revolt, as did the mountain regions around San Pedro, and outlying areas around Trujillo.
The column of sixteen Spaniards retreating from Xocorro were ambushed at Guaxeregui and killed to a man. The only survivor of the expedition was a seriously wounded African slave. The reinforcements sent from Comayagua to the Peñol were also attacked in Cares, and had to fight their way through to join the Spanish at the Peñol, suffering considerable hardship. The citizens of Santa María de Comayagua appealed to Montejo for help, and he sent a dozen mixed cavalry and infantry, who managed to break through the hostile natives encircling the settlement, and reinforce the town, where they were cut off from further Spanish assistance. Montejo was left with only eleven soldiers, and returned to Gracias a Dios to protect the colonists there, who included women and children. The Indians killed isolated Spaniards wherever they could find them. The natives, seeing the success of their fortress at Cerquín, started construction of a similar fortress near Gracias a Dios, and gathered a great quantity of supplies in storehouses there. Montejo urgently needed to halt their progress, but was unable to attack directly. Instead, he sent an African servant who managed to set the storehouses ablaze. The dismayed Indians of that district then sued for peace. A local Indian ruler called Mota plotted to attack Gracias a Dios, but the plan was betrayed to Monetejo. In a lighning raid, Mota was seized and taken back to Gracias as a prisoner, only to escape and resume his plans for an assault. Montejo eventually discovered his hiding place and launched another rapid raid, and kept him hostage in Gracias under close guard as guarantor of his people, thus defusing the immediate threat against Gracias a Dios.
The natives launched a furious mass assault against Santa María de Comayagua. The depleted garrison fought its way out under cover of night and set out on a desperate march to Gracias a Dios, leaving the town to be sacked – not even the livestock were spared. All across the province the Spanish were short of soldiers, arms and supplies, except at the Peñol de Cerquín, which remained the focus of Spanish attention. In a very short period of time, Spanish control had collapsed across Honduras; only two small Spanish pockets remained – at Gracias and San Pedro. Montejo sent Gonzalo de Alvarado to San Salvador to seek assistance, which was readily supplied in the form of 100 Indian auxiliaries, 1000 Indian carriers, livestock, arquebuses, crossbows, gunpowder, ammunition, shields, spears, armour and iron. Further supplies were forthcoming from San Miguel, but similar requests sent to Guatemala were largely rebuffed, as a response to Montejo’s policies which were perceived as undermining the rights of Guatemalan colonists.
Death of Lempira and the fall of the Peñol de Cerquín, 1538
The siege at the Peñol de Cerquín dragged on for months, with constant fighting. The Spanish there numbered about a hundred, plus auxiliaries, but were unable to maintain supply lines through the surrounding hostile territory, and were often short of food. The seasonal rains that arrived in spring 1538 only added to their hardship. The supplies from El Salvador finally arrived, and Cáceres slowly gained territory around the Peñol. After six months, Cáceres invited Lempira to a parley. Lempira arrived, dressed in full regalia, cotton armour, and plumed headdress, accompanied by a retinue of nobles. Cáceres sent a mounted soldier to request his surrender, and when Lempira refused, a carefully hidden arquebusier shot him through the head. This was a signal for an all-out surprise attack by the Spanish. The Indians responded with complete panic at the death of their leader, and the Spanish onslaught swiftly took the fortress without any Spanish loss of life, although some were wounded. A portion of the indigenous garrison retreated to nearby mountains, but most of the Indians surrendered without further resistance, including a great many women, children and elderly. Cáceres followed Montejo’s instructions in dealing with the defeated natives with moderation. He followed native custom and sent gifts of textiles and fowls to the native leaders, as a symbol of peace, accompanied by a spear as a promise of war should they refuse to submit. After a council, the Indian leaders accepted peace, and the region passed immediately under Spanish control. Cáceres released all his prisoners to return to their villages, a move that surprised the natives, who had expected harsh punitive measures. The fall of Lempira’s stronghold was followed by the speedy capitulation of a wide area of Honduras, and came at a critical juncture for the Spanish, when they had been at the point of losing the province.
Today, the Spanish are not remembered well, but the Lenca culture continues. The people live as the largest indigenous community in Honduras, maintaining, in many details, their pre-Columbus way of life; and Lempira is revered among them. Every hour of every day, Hondurans exchange value for value in commerece, labor for products, products for labor, and the medium of exchange is the Lempira. His name means, in the Lenca tongue, the lord of the high places.
As said by Honduran historian Mario Felipe Martinez Castillo, Virtually in the main square of every town or city Honduran we find a statue in his honor. In this case, in the main square of the town of Gracias, Lempira Department. This photo and further information about Lempira by Mr. Castillo is from this website.
And, we might add, on every banknote we find this might man honored. All of these banknotes, with all of these famous people, events and scenes from Honduras, have this in common; Everyone’s value is based upon Lempira.
For more stories from Central America on this website, click here.
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The Republic of Maldives brings to us Beauty. Enjoy!
Maldives banknote, front, 5 Rufiyaa
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.
Coconut 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. I was still early in the era of colonialization.
The Portuguese rule was 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.
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.
For stories from other Island Nations on this website, click here.
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.
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.
Your very humble and obedient servant, Toussaint Louverture,
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.
“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.
For stories from other Island Nations on this website, click here.
“…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’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.
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.
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.
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….
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Zanco Mpundu Mutembo was arrested and handcuffed with chains which he broke in the presence of 18 soldiers armed with guns.
Mr. Mutembo was ORDERED TO BREAK FREE FROM THE CHAINS OR BE INSTANTLY SHOT DEAD.
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.