The Bank Notes of Guinea-Bissau

Peter Symes

First published in the

International Bank Note Society Journal

Volume 39, No.1, 2000

This edition has been updated.

Lying nestled between Senegal and Guinea, on the west coast of Africa, is the small country of Guinea-Bissau. With an area of just over 36,000 square kilometres and a population of just over one million, it is one of the smaller countries in the world. With few natural resources and a mixture of ethnic groups, Guinea-Bissau has struggled in recent years to maintain political and economic stability. While many of its problems are of its own making, its tortured birth from a Portuguese colony to an independent nation has not helped in its struggle to achieve the aims of its early leaders.

            Independent since 1973, Guinea-Bissau was formerly the colony of ‘Portuguese Guinea’. The history of Portugal’s colonies in Africa is well documented, as is the criticism of their administration and exploitation of these colonies. Having established themselves in Africa in the days of the slave-trade, the Portuguese were unwilling to universally advance the cause of the indigenous peoples; and colonies, such as Portuguese Guinea, were continually exploited. In the modern era, education given to people within Portuguese Guinea was deficient to the degree that the Portuguese generally employed non-Guineans, i.e. mostly Cape Verdeans, in the colonial administration. It was largely from an amalgam of the few Guineans with vocational training and Cape Verdean civil servants that the movement for independence sprang.

            The independence movement for Portuguese Guinea began in earnest with the foundation of the Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (PAIGC) in 1956 by Amilcar Cabral and fellow nationalists. As Cape Verde was a Portuguese colony within close proximity to Portuguese Guinea, and because many Cape Verdeans had come to live and work in the mainland colony, the aims of the PAIGC included the liberation of Cape Verde. The leaders of the PAIGC realized that they needed to obtain the support of the people of Portuguese Guinea before they could successfully challenge the Portuguese. So, over a number of years they worked amongst the local population, offering assistance whilst educating them about their ideals. After many years of slow but effective work, the war against the Portuguese was launched at the end of 1962. In what became one of the longest struggles for independence in any African nation, victory was finally claimed on 24 September 1973 and, following a change in government in Portugal, acknowledged by the Portuguese on 10 September 1974.

The Banco Nacional Ultramarino

Under the Portuguese administration the Banco Nacional Ultramarino was the only bank operating in the colony, undertaking commercial banking as well as currency issue. Notes issued by the bank denominated in ‘escudos’ circulated throughout the territory. Following the recognition of Guinea-Bissau by Portugal, numerous arrangements were entered into by the two governments. One of these arrangements was reported to be the retention of the escudo for a three year period, after which the ‘Guinean peso’ would be introduced.

            However, it appears that the financial arrangements initially entered into by the two governments became unpalatable for the newly independent country. In December 1974 Luis Cabral, Guinea-Bissau’s president, announced that the Banco Nacional Ultramarino would be nationalized in early 1975, as his government had decided that Guinea-Bissau should control its currency issuing authority. In order to proceed with the declared initiative, the Banco Nacional da Guiné-Bissau was founded on 20 February 1975, with the intention that it should become the bank of issue.

            The threats to nationalize the Banco Nacional Ultramarino were viewed with some concern by the Portuguese, who were attempting to establish an improved relationship with their former colony. Should the Banco Nacional Ultramarino be nationalized, there would be a loss suffered by the Portuguese government and financiers, so the Portuguese government threatened Guinea-Bissau with financial sanctions should they continue with their plans to nationalize the Bank.

            There followed numerous discussions between the governments of Portugal and Guinea-Bissau on the future of the economy and the finances of the new country, but there remained various points of contention that could not be resolved. The main sticking points were loans granted to Guinea-Bissau by Portugal (whose repayment was in doubt), agreements concerning funds held by Portugal for the payment of civil service pensions by government employees in Guinea-Bissau (obligations incurred during the Portuguese administration), and the ownership of an estimated US$70 million national debt incurred by Portuguese Guinea. The government of Portugal also held the reserves of foreign exchange belonging to Guinea-Bissau, which strengthened the bargaining position of the Portuguese.

            Because these matters could not be resolved, the Banco Nacional da Guiné-Bissau did not commence operations and the notes of the Banco Nacional Ultramarino continued to circulate. The last series of notes prepared by the colonial bank consisted of three denominations – 50, 100 and 500 escudos – and were first issued in 1971. The 50- and 100-escudo notes carried a portrait of Nuno Tristao, while the 500-escudo note bore the image of Honorio Pereira Barreto. (Information on each person depicted on the bank notes appears at the end of this article.) These notes continued to serve the new nation of Guinea-Bissau until 1976 and, while they were not the first notes issued by Guinea-Bissau, they were the earliest currency to circulate in the independent country.

The First Issue

On 28 February 1976 the ‘Council of State’ of Guinea-Bissau halted all activities of the Banco Nacional Ultramarino and transferred the exclusive right of commercial banking and the responsibility for currency issue to the Banco Nacional da Guiné-Bissau. The government of Guinea-Bissau took the unilateral decision to halt the activities of the Banco Nacional Ultramarino in Guinea-Bissau because the Portuguese government continued to insist on maintaining the privilege of issuing currency. The government of Guinea-Bissau defended its action by observing that the right to issue currency was the prerogative of the nation and that this right was transferred de jure to Guinea-Bissau when Portugal recognized the independence of its former colony.

            Simultaneous to the notification of the cessation of activities of the Banco Nacional Ultramarino, which was delivered to its manager in Bissau (the capital city of Guinea-Bissau) at 1100 hours on 28 February, a letter was delivered to the Banco Nacional Ultramarino in Lisbon. In addition, a separate demand was made on the Governor of the Bank of Portugal to provide a liquidator to deal with the finances of the Banco Nacional Ultramarino and apportion the reserves accumulated since 24 September 1974.

            In recognition of the new issuing authority, a fresh series of bank notes was introduced. It has been reported that these notes were printed in Algeria. While it has not been possible to confirm this report, the close ties that the PAIGC had with that country, and the appearance of the notes, suggest some truth to the report. The new notes were issued in an operation of exchange that replaced the escudos of the Banco Nacional Ultramarino with the new pesos of the Banco Nacional da Guiné-Bissau. The exchange commenced at 0800 hours on 2 March and was due for completion at 1800 hours on 4 March; with the new notes being exchanged at various places throughout the country, which had been established specifically for this operation. The new Guinean peso was exchanged at par with the escudo. At the time of the exchange it was estimated that there were 340 million escudos circulating in Guinea-Bissau, of which more than 300 million were in bank notes. The coins remained unchanged and continued to be legal tender.

            Although issued in 1976, the date on the new bank notes is 24 September 1975, this being the second anniversary of Guinea-Bissau’s declaration of independence. The date on the notes also suggests that there may have been plans to force the nationalization of the Banco Nacional Ultramarino, and introduce the peso in September 1975, some months before the action was finally taken. This probability is supported by the knowledge that Luis Cabral had called for the introduction of Guinea-Bissau’s own currency more than twelve months earlier and by a report, in October 1974, that Dr. Vitor Freire Monteiro had been appointed Governor of Guinea-Bissau’s central bank. The bank notes introduced by the Banco Nacional da Guiné-Bissau consisted of the denominations 50, 100 and 500 pesos, replacing the Portuguese issue of 50, 100 and 500 escudos. The new notes, while not greatly attractive, are nevertheless distinct. The colours of the notes have a washed appearance, and each note is dominated by a portrait of a hero and martyr of the independence movement.

            The 50-peso note (No. 1) is predominantly blue and carries a portrait of Pansau Na Isna. (The number following each note refers to its catalogue reference in the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money.) The back of the note shows two farmers, with each man wielding an agricultural instrument that is called a kebinde in the Balanta language. In Guinean Creole it is most commonly referred to as an arade, but it is also known variously as an arade balanta, radi, po di labra or dab. These instruments are used by the Balanta, Djola and Papel peoples to prepare the soil for planting crops – usually rice. While used by a number of the peoples in Guinea-Bissau, use of the arade is an art perfected over many years by the Balanta people who deservedly hold a reputation as expert farmers. Along with intricate irrigation systems that mix salt and fresh water, they manage to maintain the nutrients in the soil and achieve excellent yields. Also depicted on the back of the 50-peso note is a man in the costume worn by young Balanta men during the ‘fanado’ or male circumcision ceremony. Part of the costume is a tortoise shell that is hollowed out and worn on the back. The costume is also worn during the ‘kussundé’ celebrations, which are festivities held by the Balanta people after the harvest, where non-initiated men compete in dances.

            Predominantly brown, the 100-peso note (No. 2) celebrates the soldiers who took part in the war. A portrait of Domingos Ramos accompanies an illustration of soldiers attending one of the many education camps established by the PAIGC – camps where they learnt of the aspirations of the PAIGC, as well as learning to fight. The back of the note shows scenes and symbols of the Bijago people, who live in the Bijago archipelago off the coast of Guinea-Bissau. The canoe in the foreground, with the bull’s head and decorations of sea-life, represents a sculpture by the artists of the island of Formosa. The canoes built by the Bijago could hold up to forty men and were often used, in days gone by, to launch attacks on the coastal villages of the mainland. Representations of the bull’s head are used in other areas of Bijago culture, notably as a mask in the initiation dance of the Bijago girls. The decorations of sea-life on the canoe are also used in traditional wall paintings. The hut in the centre of the illustration on the back of this note is typical of those found in the archipelago.

            The 500-peso note (No. 3) carries a portrait of Amilcar Cabral in battle dress, alongside an illustration of soldiers in the field. The back of this note carries a picture of a blind student reading a Braille document, a teacher writing on a blackboard and bird-like statuette. The bird-like figurine is an ‘iran’ or representation of an ancestral spirit. Called the ‘Ninte-Camachole’ or ‘Machol’, the statuette is used in the ‘fanado’ or initiation rites of young men. The Machol looks over the initiation ceremony and binds all those who fall in its perspective (i.e. the initiates) as brothers, thus compelling a kinship of all initiates of a generation. The Machol depicted on the 500-peso note belongs to the Nalu people who live in Tombali, a southern region of Guinea-Bissau.

            Each note carries a solid security thread to the right of centre and a watermark of Amilcar Cabral repeated along the right-hand margin. The watermark is based on Cabral’s portrait on the 500-peso note. Each note carries three signatures, with the title and identity of each signatory being:

                        Commissario Principal (Prime Minister) – Francisco Mendes

Commissario de Estado de Economia e Finanças (Minister of Economy and Finance) – Dr. Vasco Cabral

                        Governador (Governor of the National Bank) – Dr. Vitor Freire Monteiro

            Specimen notes for this issue can be identified by special serial numbers and an overprint. The serial numbers consist of an ‘O’ for the prefix letter and zeroes for all numerals. The red overprint is written vertically along the edge of the note over the watermark and consists of the word ‘SPECIMEN’ in a serif font followed by a number expressed with six digits. An example is: SPECIMEN No. 000809.

The Second Issue

The first note of the second issue was the 1000-peso note (No. 8a) and it was really issued as a supplementary denomination to the first issue. (This note was originally catalogued in the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money as No.4, but was later changed to No.8a following the release of the other notes in this series. This is why there is now no entry for No.4 in the catalogue. ) It is uncertain when this note was issued, but the date on the note is 24 September 1978, this being the fifth anniversary of independence. Produced by lithographic and intaglio printing processes, the note is predominantly green.

            Carrying a portrait of Amilcar Cabral, the 1000-peso note is dramatically different to the notes of the first issue, in size, colour and design. One of the features of this note is the picture of a weaver with a handloom on the front of the note near the watermark. This man is weaving a cloth sash known as a pano de banda, a product of the looms of local groups such as the Pepel and Manjaco. The geometric patterns that appear on this note are derived from patterns traditionally woven into the panos de banda and the stylized head printed in gold above the weaver is probably the image of a woman as woven into a Manjaco cloth. The 1000-peso note is unique in all issues released in Guinea-Bissau, in that it has a caption below the illustration on its back. The illustration is an allegory, celebrating victory in the struggle for liberation, and the caption reads Apoteose ao Triunfo – ‘Glorification of Triumph’. Keen observers will note that the man standing to the right in this illustration is holding an arade.

            This note is without doubt the key note in this series. While it is not known how many of these notes were issued, it is quite a small number. (The later variety of this note has a serial number as low as A/1 812337, so it is reasonable to speculate that there were less than 800,000 of No. 8a printed. The actual number could be far less.)

            The signatories and their titles for this issue remained very similar to the notes of the first issue, but there was a new Minister of Economy and Finance:

                        Commissario Principal (Prime Minister) – Francisco Mendes

Commissario de Estado das Finanças (Minister of Finance) – Carlos Correia

                        Governador (Governor of the National Bank) – Dr. Vitor Freire Monteiro

            In 1983 most of the remaining notes in the second series were introduced, carrying the date 28 February 1983 – this being the seventh anniversary of the Banco Nacional da Guiné-Bissau becoming the single banking authority in Guinea-Bissau. These notes were of the same denominations as the first series and, while redesigned, continued to carry portraits of martyrs of the liberation movement.

            Pansau Na Isna is again illustrated on the front of the 50-peso note (No. 5), with the strong patterns of the panos de banda used as a background. Adjacent to the watermark is a drum called a ‘maiame’ or ‘matimbo’, which is used by the Nalu people during ritual dances – notably during initiation rites and funerals. The back of the 50-peso note carries a scene depicting the preparation of traditional medicine.

            Domingos Ramos appears once more on the front of the 100-peso note (No. 6), but the background patterns derived from the panos de banda are less distinctive than those found on the 50-peso note. There is a small female figurine to the right of the watermark whose origin is unknown. The back of the note displays the headquarters of the Banco Nacional da Guiné-Bissau, which is located on the Avenue Amilcar Cabral in Bissau.

            The 500-peso note (No. 7) carries a portrait of Francisco Mendes. Mendes had been the first Prime Minister of Guinea-Bissau and his signature appears on the first four notes issued. His untimely death led to his image being used on the new issue of the 500-peso note. The background pattern on this note is similar to the 100-peso note, but to the right of the watermark are two statuettes. The figures, with long torsos and large heads, are probably Bijago ‘irans’ (representations of ancestral spirits). The back of the 500-peso note depicts the people of Guinea-Bissau being taken into slavery in times past.

            The signatories on the new notes differ to the earlier issues, with the new signatories being:

                        Primeiro Ministro (Prime Minister) – Vitor Saude Maria

Ministro de Economia e Finanças (Minister of the Economy and Finance) – Dr. Vitor Freire Monteiro

                        Governador (Governor of the National Bank) – Dr. Pedro A. Godinho Gomes

            The 1000-peso note was reissued (No. 8b) around the same time that the three lower denomination notes were introduced, and carried the same signatures that appeared on the 50-, 100- and 500-peso notes. The change in signatories on the 1000-peso note defines the difference between the ‘a’ and ‘b’ varieties of this note. However, there is another subtle difference between the two varieties, this being the imprint of the manufacturer. The first variety of the 1000-peso note carries the imprint ‘Bradbury, Wilkinson & Co Ld New Malden, Surrey, England.’, while the second variety bears the shorter imprint ‘Bradbury Wilkinson’.

            The second series of bank notes was completed with a 5000-peso note (No. 9) that carries the date 12 September 1984. This is almost a commemorative issue, as the date is the sixtieth anniversary of the birth of Amilcar Cabral and the predominantly brown note duly carries a portrait of Amilcar Cabral on its front. Also on the front of the note is a map of Guinea-Bissau and a small (unidentified) sculpture. The back of the note carries an illustration of people harvesting and tilling their crops. The figure in the foreground is a Balanta farmer harvesting rice from a bolanha, as the fields on the flood plain are known locally. In the middle distance a Balanta man is using an arade to turn the soil. One of the reasons that the Balanta people are well represented on the bank notes is that they were the principal supporters of the PAIGC during the war of liberation.

            This note sees a change to one of the signatories and alterations to the titles of all signatories. The signatories are:

                        Chefe do Governo (President) – Joao Bernardo Viera

                        Ministro das Finanças (Minister of Finance) – Dr. Vitor Freire Monteiro

Ministro-Governador (Minister-Governor of the National Bank) – Dr. Pedro A. Godinho Gomes

            It is apparent that the notes of this series were prepared by two different printers, and this can be seen in the design and security features of the different denominations. The 1000- and 50-peso notes both carry imprints of Bradbury Wilkinson and have common design features, notably in the patterns on the front and the back of the notes. In addition, the serial numbers and signatures are printed with fluorescent ink, and on the 50-peso note the date of issue is also printed in fluorescent ink. The 1000-peso note carries a latent image in the green intaglio panel at the bottom of the note, with the image reading ‘BNG’ (for Banco Nacional da Guiné-Bissau).

            The 100-, 500- and 5000-peso notes carry no printer’s imprint and have common design elements that differ to the Bradbury Wilkinson notes. Noticeable is that each portrait carries the name of the person depicted and that a perfect registration device is used on the notes. The device consists of the flame that appears above the Bank’s emblem on the front of the note, being a representation of the flame from the torch within the Bank’s emblem. The emblem of the Banco Nacional da Guiné-Bissau consists of a set of scales, a torch and a five-pointed star (that appears on the national flag) enclosed in a circle. Above the circle are two scrolls – one contains the year the bank was established (1975) and the other the name of the bank. Below the circle is a scroll with the motto of the Bank: Ao Servico do Povo (At the Service of the People). The emblem was first used on the 500-peso note of the first issue, but in that representation the two scrolls above the circle are absent, suggesting they were a later addition.

            It is almost certain that the 100-, 500- and 5000-peso notes were printed by the British security printer Thomas De La Rue and Company, as the peculiarities of their designs are continued in the next series – a series printed by Thomas De La Rue. All notes of the second issue carry a solid security thread, to the left of centre, and a watermark of Amilcar Cabral (although there are slight differences between the watermarks used by the different printers). While the 50-peso note and the first 1000-peso note (No. 8a) have a common font for the serial numbers, it is interesting to note that the second 1000-peso note (No. 8b which continues to be printed by Bradbury Wilkinson) uses the same font as the other denominations (printed by Thomas De La Rue). However, the inks used for the serial numbers on the newer 1000-peso note fluoresce, while those on the other denominations do not.

            Specimen notes of the second series carry different characteristics for each denomination, and to a certain extent reflect the policies of the printers. Specimen notes have not been observed for all varieties, but are expected to exist. Specimen notes recorded in this series are:

50 pesos (No. 5) – The word ‘ESPÉCIME’ is printed in a sans-serif font on the front and back of the notes. Printed in red, it slopes from the bottom left to the top right. The serial numbers are ‘A/1 000000’ and they are printed over a second serial number prefix of ‘A/1’ (which appears partially obliterated between the third and fourth zeroes of the serial number). The characters ‘B/1’ are printed over each signature and a hole is punched to the right of these characters. Finally, a six-digit number appears in the bottom margin below Pansau Na Isna, an example being 000077.

1000 pesos (No. 8a) – The word ‘ESPÉCIME’ is printed in a large serif font across the front and back of the note in red ink. In the bottom margin, to the left, is printed ‘SPECIMEN No. 000’, where ‘000’ is a number. An example numbered 027 has been recorded. The serial numbers are ‘A/1 000000’, and there are six holes punched in the note, one through each signature and one through the title of each signatory.

100, 500 and 5000 pesos (Nos. 6, 7 and 9) – Serial numbers are all ‘A/1 000000’. The word ‘SPECIMEN’ is printed in a sans-serif font on the front and back of the notes, sloping from the lower left to the upper right. ‘SPECIMEN’ is printed in black ink on the 100- and 500-peso notes, but on the 5000-peso note it is printed in red.

Third Issue

In 1989 the Government of Guinea-Bissau decided to reorganize the banking operations in the country. Until this time, the Banco Nacional da Guiné-Bissau was the only bank in the country, conducting commercial banking as well as issuing currency. In the late 1980s, as the economy of Guinea-Bissau showed signs of strain, the government sought assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In providing assistance to Guinea-Bissau, through a Structural Adjustment Facility between 1987 and 1989, the IMF recommended reforms to the banking system. These reforms were subsequently implemented by the Government, resulting in the dissolution of the Banco Nacional da Guiné-Bissau and the creation of three new institutions: a central bank, a commercial bank and a national credit bank.

            Plans for the introduction of the new institutions commenced in 1989, with a number of laws regulating the authorities being prepared in November and December 1989. The new central bank, the Banco Central da Guiné-Bissau, and the new commercial bank, Banco Internacional da Guiné-Bissau, were inaugurated on 28 February 1990, following a conference attended by the central banks of the Portuguese-speaking countries of Africa. As well as representatives from Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and Sao Tomé and Principe, delegates from the Central Bank of the West African States and the African Centre for Monetary Studies also attended the conference which ran from 26 to 28 February.

            The Banco Central da Guiné-Bissau and the Banco Internacional da Guiné-Bissau commenced operations on 1 March 1990. The International Bank was founded as a joint venture between the Government of Guinea-Bissau (26%), private business interests in Guinea-Bissau (25%), and three Portuguese financial institutions (Banco Pinto & Sotto Mayor 17.5%, Crédito Predial Portugues 17.5% and Geofinança 14%). Approval for the foundation of the National Credit Bank was given in July 1990, although it was later dissolved following numerous scandals concerning its loans.

            With the creation of the Banco Central da Guiné-Bissau as the central bank of Guinea-Bissau, the responsibility for Guinea-Bissau’s currency was transferred to the new institution. In recognition of this change in issuing authority, a fresh series of bank notes was prepared and issued in the name of the new bank. The notes of the new series are very similar to the second series, both in design and in denominations issued. However, the new denomination of 10,000 pesos (No. 15a) was added to the existing denominations of 50, 100, 500, 1000 and 5000 pesos (Nos. 10, 11, 12, 13a & 14a). While Pansau Na Isna, Domingos Ramos and Francisco Mendes continued to appear respectively on the 50-, 100- and 500-peso notes, a portrait of Amilcar Cabral was used on the new 10,000-peso note, as well as appearing on the 1000- and 5000-peso notes. It is quite noticeable that the new portrait on the highest denomination note shows a more mature Cabral, than that depicted on the two lower denomination notes.

            Of interest on the 10,000-peso note is the map that appears in the centre of the note. While this map is similar to the one found on the 5000-peso note, the map on the newer note shows the major towns and divides Guinea-Bissau by colour into ethnic groups, with a title at the top of the map reading: Grupos Étnicos. However, there is no key on the note identifying the ethnic groups. The small statue adjacent to the watermark is probably a product of the Bijago people. The skirt of straw on the statue is consistent with the dress of the Bijago women. The back of the 10,000-peso note shows women fishing in a stream, while the backs of the lower denomination notes carry the same illustrations that appeared on their predecessors in the second issue.

            There are several differences in the new issue of notes when compared to the previous issue, and within the series there are two groups of notes. The first group consists of the 50-, 100- and 500-peso notes. These notes have designs very similar to their predecessors, but they are smaller, carry only one serial number and have a watermark that covers the entire paper – repeating the letters ‘BCG’. To the left, on the front of the notes, the denomination of the note is repeated five times in numerals. The second group of notes consists of the 1000-, 5000- and 10,000-peso notes. These notes are also very similar to their predecessors, but have a watermark of Amilcar Cabral, carry two serial numbers and have a latent image of ‘BCG’ in the lower intaglio panel.

            Differing from the previous issue, all notes carry a micro-printed security thread that repeats the initials of the Bank. However, while the higher denomination notes have the letters ‘BCG’ printed in such a manner that they can be read alternately from the front and the back of the notes, the letters on the lower denomination notes can only be read from one side. The micro-printed thread also fluoresces under ultraviolet light, as do the serial numbers on all notes. The signatures on the 50-peso note also fluoresce. The 100- and 500-peso notes use fluorescent inks in the colours on the front of the notes, and the three higher denomination notes have their denomination written in fluorescent ink in the four corners on the front of the notes. The 1000-peso note has ‘MIL’, the 5000-peso note has ‘CINCO MIL’, and the 10,000-peso note ‘DEZ MIL’. Each of the higher denomination notes also use fluorescent inks in the patterns on the notes. (The features printed with fluorescent inks can only be seen by placing the bank notes under ultra-violet light.)

            Each note in this series uses the flame of the torch from the Bank’s emblem as a perfect registration device. This device appears in the bottom right-hand corner on the front of the lower denomination notes, but on the higher denomination notes it appears in the bottom left-hand corner. The Bank’s emblem appears in the bottom right-hand corner of each note, with the emblem now modified to bear the name of the new bank and its year of creation: 1990. The date carried on all denominations in the initial issue is 1 March 1990, which is the date the Banco Central da Guiné-Bissau (and the Banco Internacional da Guiné-Bissau) began to operate.

            One change common to the notes of this issue, when compared to the previous issue, is the use of only two signatories as opposed to the three signatures on all other issues. The signatories are:

Ministro-Governador (Minister-Governor of the Central Bank) – Dr. Pedro A. Godinho Gomes

                        Vice-Governador (Vice-Governor of the Central Bank) – Jose Lima Barber

All notes in this series are printed by ‘Thomas De La Rue and Company Limited’, and their imprint appears on the front of all notes.

            A second release of the 1000-, 5000- and 10,000-peso notes (Nos. 13b, 14b & 15b) was made several years after the first issue. The second varieties carry the date 1 March 1993 (being the third anniversary of the foundation of the Banco Central da Guiné-Bissau) and a new signatory. The signatories on the second variety are:

Governador (Governor of the Central Bank) – Luis Candido Ribeiro

                        Vice-Governador (Vice-Governor of the Central Bank) – Jose Lima Barber

            For the notes of this series, each denomination is assigned a letter of the alphabet as the first letter of the serial number prefix. The letters assigned to each denomination are:

                        A – 50 pesos

                        B – 100 pesos

                        C – 500 pesos

                        D – 1000 pesos

                        E – 5000 pesos

                        F – 10,000 pesos

This series used replacement notes to insert into sequences where notes had been damaged during production or found to be imperfect. The Standard Catalog of World Paper Money indicates that, for the replacement notes of this issue, the second letter of the serial number prefix was ‘Z’. So, the prefix of the replacement notes for the 50-peso denomination is ‘AZ’, for the 100-peso notes it is ‘BZ’, for the 500-peso notes it is ‘CZ’, etcetera. The Standard Catalog of World Paper Money also indicates that the prefixes ‘ZA’ and ‘ZZ’ were used, but it is not understood how these would fit into the sequence.

            Specimen notes of this series have not been observed, but are expected to exist. It is likely that they have the same characteristics as the 100-, 500- and 5000-peso notes of the second series.

The End of the Guinean Peso

Guinea-Bissau’s economy has never been strong and, when the Guinean peso was exchanged at par for the escudo in 1976, the peso was overvalued. However, with a state-controlled economy that relied on few imports and to a great degree on subsistence farming, the weakness of the peso was never greatly evident. It was not until the government allowed the proliferation of private businesses that the weakness of the peso became evident. From 1983 the peso underwent a number of devaluations, including a rather dramatic devaluation in April 1987 where the peso fell from 250 pesos to 650 pesos to the US dollar. The exchange rate continued to fall, sometimes at an alarming rate, until the US dollar was worth more than 23,000 pesos in the late 1990s.

            Because of the failure of the peso to hold its purchasing power, much trade within Guinea-Bissau was undertaken by direct barter. (Although, direct barter was to a large degree the continuation of traditional commerce. There are reports which state that coins and banknotes were not in use in many parts of Guinea-Bissau until quite recently.) In some cases, goods were taken out of Guinea-Bissau to neighbouring Senegal or Guinea, where they were sold for the francs of the Communauté Financiè Africaine (CFA) that were issued by the Banque Centrale des Etats de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (BCEAO) – the issuing authority of l’Union Monetaire Ouest-Africaine (UMOA). Although illegal in Guinea-Bissau, many traders began to do business in the CFA franc. The continued informal reliance on the CFA franc, along with numerous other economic factors, led the government of Guinea-Bissau to seek admission to l’Union Monetaire Ouest-Africaine in November 1987. However, following an agreement with Portugal, under which the Guinean peso was linked to the Portuguese escudo, the application to join the ‘franc zone’ was withdrawn in January 1990 (and Guinea-Bissau undertook the banking reforms described earlier). Three years later, in August 1993, Guinea-Bissau renewed its application to join l’Union Monetaire Ouest-Africaine. Admission was finally granted on 1 January 1997. Following the recapitalization of the Banco Central da Guiné-Bissau, with assistance from its creditors and foreign donors, the Bank was incorporated within the BCEAO.

            The CFA franc became legal tender in Guinea-Bissau on 2 May 1997, at the start of a three-month period when Guinean pesos could be exchanged for CFA francs. The exchange rate was fixed at one CFA franc to 65 Guinean pesos, with the peso remaining legal tender until the end of the period of exchange on 31 July 1997.

            Despite the change of currency, the problems in Guinea-Bissau have not ceased. Currently, the political and economic situations in Guinea-Bissau are very delicate. In 1999 a new government was installed following an armed struggle and it will be interesting to see if the current currency arrangements continue.

People illustrated on the notes of Guinea Bissau

The following six people are depicted on the bank notes described above. The first two gentlemen are Portuguese heroes of Guinea and appeared on the last bank notes issued by the Banco Nacional Ultramarino. The next four are martyrs of the war of liberation, and struggle for independence, of Guinea-Bissau.

Nuno Tristao

Nuno Tristao was credited with discovering the area later claimed as Portuguese Guinea. He was a captain serving the Portuguese king and had travelled down the coast of Africa. However, he was killed on the Gambia river and he never actually reached the area it was claimed he discovered. This slight mistake of history was never widely published and Tristao continued to be hailed as the discover of Portuguese Guinea. The Nunez River, in the Republic of Guinea, and Tristao Island, off the coast near the border of Guinea-Bissau and the Republic of Guinea, are both named after the explorer.

Honorio Pereira Barreto

Honorio Pereira Barreto (1813-1859) was a governor of the Portuguese colony of Guinea (or ‘province’ as it was referred to during the time of his administration). Born in Guinea of a Guinean mother and Cape Verdean father, he maintained Portuguese control of the area and even extended its influence. Prior to the independence of Guinea-Bissau, Barreto was sighted by the Portuguese as the most famous governor and an example of what the local population might achieve. However, Barreto also ran a family business with his mother from the settlement of Cacheu, where the principal products of their mercantile dealings were slaves.

Pansau Na Isna

Pansau Na Isna (or N’Isna) was a Balanta man whose name means ‘the village is dying’. He was a freedom fighter and one of the right-hand men of Amilcar Cabral during the early years of struggle for independence. His most notable achievement was in leading the guerilla forces at the battle of Komo in 1964. This battle was a decisive victory for the PAIGC in its early years. The PAIGC forces survived constant bombing for three and a half months on the island of Komo, before taking control of the area and establishing valuable supply lines for the guerilla forces. The victory was of immense importance to the PAIGC and won great respect and prestige for Pansau Na Isna. He was later killed during a bombing attack at Nhacra.

            Aristides Pereira, the long serving secretary-general of the PAIGC, described him as an exceptional fighter. However, he was also illiterate until educated at the camps run by the PAIGC. One (unconfirmed) recollection of Na Isna is that he was often eccentrically dressed, wearing bright clothes and a pink ribbon in his hair. This attire was supposedly worn into battle and ultimately cost him his life, as he was an easy target.

Domingos Ramos

The son of a senior bureaucrat in the Portuguese administration of Guinea-Bissau, Domingos Ramos was a member of the pioneers who commenced the initial phase of guerilla activity under the leadership of Amilcar Cabral in the early 1960s. In 1964 Ramos established the first military centre of the PAIGC in the eastern region of Guinea-Bissau. Responsible for creating and organizing many of the early fighting units, Ramos was one of the more important of the early military leaders of the PAIGC. He was killed in action during an attack on Madina on 10 November 1966.

Amilcar Cabral

Amilcar Lopes Cabral was born on 12 September 1924 in Bafata, Guinea-Bissau. His father, Juvenal Cabral, was a Cape Verdean, while his mother was Guinean. Cabral undertook secondary education in Sao Vicente, Cape Verde, and graduated with honours from the University of Lisbon’s Institute of Agronomy. While studying in Lisbon he was influenced by revolutionaries from other African countries. Returning to his homeland in 1952, he travelled the country as an agronomist in the colonial agriculture service. Becoming increasingly aware of the problems his people faced under the Portuguese, he founded the Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (PAIGC) with other nationalists in 1956. The movement sought independence for Portuguese Guinea and Cape Verde. Forced to move to Angola because of his nationalist activities, Cabral returned to Guinea-Bissau in 1959 to further the struggle of the PAIGC. With assistance from other independence movements in Africa, the PAIGC was ultimately able to launch its war against the Portuguese in 1962 and managed to maintain the struggle until independence was attained in 1973. Tragically, Cabral was assassinated by a group of disillusioned party members on 20 January 1973, some months before his goal of independence was achieved. (Amilcar Cabral is also considered a hero of Cape Verde and for this reason his portrait appears on two series of notes issued by the Banco de Cabo Verde. The dates on these notes are 20 January 1977 and 20 January 1989, these being the fourth and sixteenth anniversaries of his death.)

Francisco Mendes

Born on 7 February 1939 in Enxude, Guinea-Bissau, Mendes was one of the limited number of his countrymen who had managed to undertake a secondary education. However, he ultimately abandoned his studies to join the PAIGC in the struggle for independence. Adopting the nom de guerre of ‘Chico Te’, he soon became a valuable member of the party, holding numerous positions during the 1960s as the independence movement gained momentum. He was a political commissar of the Bafata region in 1962 and from 1963 to 1964 held the same position for the Northern Front. He was appointed to the Political Bureau in 1964 and in 1965 he became a member of PAIGC’s Council of War. In 1967 he was appointed delegate of the Council for the Northern Front.

            Ultimately, Mendes was elected to the position of Chief Commissar (Prime Minister) in 1973 following the declaration of independence. He tragically died in an automobile accident in Bissau on 7 July 1978. Mendes’ signature appears on the first four notes issued in Guinea-Bissau, and his portrait appears on the 500-peso note of the second and third issues.

I would like to acknowledge the enormous contribution to this article by Dr. Philip Havik of Lisbon. Dr. Havik provided a wealth of information on the items depicted on the bank notes and of the customs of the people of Guinea-Bissau. His contribution has greatly enhanced the detail of this article.

Signatories on the bank notes issued in Guinea-Bissau



Francisco Mendes



Vasco Cabral



Dr. Vitor Freire Monteiro



Carlos Correia



Joao Bernardo Viera



Vitor Saude Maria



Dr. Pedro A. Godinho Gomes



Jose Lima Barber



Luis Candido Ribeiro

This article was completed in November 2000
© Peter Symes 2000