Banknotes tell you much more than what you can buy

VIENTIANE, Laos (MindaNews / 30 May) – An eminent Filipino historian, Dr. Ambeth Ocampo, told students in a lecture on Wednesday to study and reflect on banknotes as they are an expression of a nation’s history, culture and identity.

Ocampo, who is a journalist, author and professor from the Department of History at the Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines, said history can be found not only in books but also in a small paper called money.

The National University of Laos’s History and Archaeology Department, led by the Dean of Sciences-Sociology, Dr. Phout Simmalavong, hosted the lecture.

Phout said in his closing remarks that the presentation was very useful for the improvement of the university’s subject methodology.

He added the department will apply what they learned from the lecture and that they will invite Ocampo to more activities in the future.

In his presentation, Ocampo showed pictures of banknotes from different countries and pointed out that most of them have printed faces.

Most denominations of the Lao currency (kip) have the face of Kaysone Phomvihane, the leader of Lao People’s Revolutionary Party and first prime minister of Lao People’s Democratic Republic from 1975 to 1991. He was the country’s president from 1991 to 1992.

In the Philippines, national hero Jose Rizal was featured on one peso bills in 1967, and then on one peso coins since 1983.

Ocampo said Rizal was placed on a peso coin as it is the basic unit of currency which every Filipino has, and that coins last longer than banknotes.

He said the Philippine banknotes have signatures of the current governor of the Central Bank and the president of the country, while the money bills of Laos do not have signatures included in the design.

Ocampo said while banknotes tell a story on a small sheet of paper, what people do not see are the reasons behind banknote design.

“Like flags and emblems that are symbols of a State. A banknote placed in your pocket or wallet is like an identity card of a country,” he said.

He explained that banknotes were often designed in a special way to avoid counterfeiting, adding that these are not just artistic or historical.

“Banknotes may seem like ordinary objects. They are so common that people tend to see them but rarely take the time to look at the design elements and ask whether the notes truly reflect their own ideas of nationhood,” Ocampo said.

The lecture was a part of the “Jose Rizal and the Emergence of the Filipino Nation” series, which was initiated by the Philippine Embassy/Sentro Rizal in Vientiane, in cooperation with the Philippine National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

Ocampo also gave a similar lecture last Thursday called “Mukhang Pera: Rizal, Banknotes and Nation” to the Filipino community in Laos at the Philippine Embassy building here.

[Lorie Ann Cascaro of MindaNews is one of the fellows of the FK Norway (Fredskorpset) exchange program in partnership with the Vietnam Forum of Environmental Journalists. She’s currently in Laos and hosted by the Vientiane Times.]