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.
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.
For tags to other stories in this website, see the bottom of this page.
The Cossacks in Ukrainian history are remembered in the two Ukrainian banknotes on this page.
The Ukrainian steppes were dominated by two countries in 16th through 19th century European History. But between these two, for a hundred years, the Cossacks stood up and made a bid for independence.
The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, spanning from the Baltic Sea in the North, to the Black Sea in the South, was one of the largest countries of 16th and 17th century Europe. It controlled over 400, 000 square miles, and almost all of the territory of present day Ukraine.
The 18th and 19th century Russian Empire grew to be the third largest empire in history. It also controlled essentially all the territory of modern Ukraine.
The 17th century declaration of an independent state on Ukrainian territory by the Cossacks, marked the beginning of the end of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. And the 17th century signing of the Pereiaslav Treaty of 1654 marked the end of Ukrainian independence, and the beginning of the subsummation of Ukrainian territory under the growing empire of Russia.
But, for a hundred years, the Cossacks formed Ukrainian history. This is celebrated in the banknotes on this page.
Bohdan Khmelnytsky owned a modest estate in Subotiv, and lived there with his wife and children. A powerful local magnate tried to seize his estate and Khmelnytsky resisted, writing numerous letters to various representatives of the Polish crown, who could, or would do nothing. The magnate invaded his estate twice causing significant property damage, and, badly beating his son. Finally Bohdan Khmelnytsky was evicted from his own land.
Although the crown showed little interest, Bohdan Khmelnytsky found great interest among his fellow Cossacks. Traveling from one Cossack regiment to another, he found simmering unrest and great support. They had been restless for years, and Bohdan was to prove to be a gifted leader.
In a short time, unrest led to uprising, and uprising led to battles, and battles led to victories, and victories led to a decree of independence from the Polish crown.
“Before I was fighting for the insults and injustice caused to me, now I will fight for our Orthodox faith. And all people will help me in that all the way to Lublin and Krakow, and I won’t back off from the people as they are our right hand.” – Khmelnytsky
“At Christmas in 1648, Khmelnytsky made a triumphant entry into Kiev, where he was hailed as “the Moses, saviour, redeemer, and liberator of the people from Polish captivity… the illustrious ruler of Rus.”  The Patriarch of Jerusalem Paiseus, who was visiting Kiev at this time, referred to Khmelnytsky as the Prince of Rus, the head of an independent Ukrainian state, according to contemporaries….
“After the period of initial military successes, the state-building process began. His leadership was demonstrated in all areas of state-building: military, administration, finance, economics and culture. Khmelnytsky made the Zaporozhian (Cossack) Host the supreme power in the new Ukrainian state and unified all the spheres of Ukrainian society under his authority. Khmelnytsky built a new government system and developed military and civilian administration.”
But he feared that the new state’s military strength was not enough to secure their position. Seeking an ally, Khmelnytsky reached out to the Ottoman’s unsuccessfully, and then, reluctantly, to the growing Russian state. The subsequent treaty with the Tsar in 1654 would be much disputed ever after. The Treaty of Pereyaslav would subsequently be interpreted by many as a military alliance, but by Russia, as a suzerainty, a complete incorporation of Ukraine into the Empire of Russia.
Left Bank, Right Bank Ukraine, and “The Ruin”
Khmelnytsky, charismatic and influential leader though he was, established no rules of succession. Upon his death the region fell into civil strife which lasted for thirty years until the rise of Ivan Mazepa. This time period is called “The Ruin” in Ukrainian history. It was during this time that Ukraine became to be known as Left Bank Ukraine and Right Bank Ukraine, in reference the Dnieper River as one looked downstream towards the Black Sea.
Ivan Mazepa, a Zaporozhian Cossack, arose to lead the Cossacks thirty years after the death of Khmelnytsky. During the intervening period, known as “The Ruin”, many of the advances under Khmelnytsky were dismantled. Mazepa, one of Europe’s largest landowners, Built churches throughout Ukraine, founded printing houses and schools, and expanded the primary educational institution of Ukraine to nourish 2000 students, the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.
In the later years of his rule, Russia increasing sent the Cossacks to far off fields of battle, leaving their Ukrainian homeland unprotected. Mazepa considered this a breach in the treaty with Russia. When the Tsar of Russia refused to send defensive support when the Polish king threatened to attack the Cossacks homeland, Mazepa made his fateful decision. Mazepa effectively switch sides and allied with the Poles who were marching with the Swedes towards Ukraine. He was hoping to bring Ukraine under control of Sweden, which, in a separate treaty, had promised independence to Ukraine. Russia won the battle against Poland and Swededn the following year effectively destroying Mazepa’s hopes. Ukraine was under the control of Russia.
Bohdan Khmelnytsky changed his world, and altered the course of history; and much controversy surrounds his memory.
In much of Ukraine he is celebrated is a national hero. His statue is in Kiev and a city and a region are named after him. But he is also criticized for the treaty with Russia which some consider disastrous for the history of Ukraine.
Khmelnytsky is a celebrated as a hero in Russia, as he was in the Soviet Union. Russian history stress their interpretation of the treaty as expressing Khmelnytsky’s desire to reunify Ukraine with Russia. Poland views Bohdan Khmelnytsky in a very poor light, as his rebellion proved to mark the end of their golden age.
The Khmelnytsky uprising is viewd by Israel as one of the most traumatic events in Jewish history. History has it that he used Jews as scapegoats and sought to eradicate Jews from the Ukraine. Khmelnytsky’s rebels associated with him murdered tens of thousands of Jews between 1648 and 1656.
Ivan Mazepa is regarded as a traitor in Soviet and Russian history. Among Ukrainian’s the remembrance is mixed. During Perestroika, many documents came to light that portrayed Mazepa differently. Since Ukraine’s recent 1991 independence, Mazepa has been proclaimed a national hero. He is considered the first Cossack leader to take a stand against the Tsar who had failed to abide by the Treaty of Pereyaslav. This view however is disputed by pro-Russian Ukrainians; and Ukraine has been repeatedly condemned by Russia Ukraine for its celebration of Ivan Mazepa.