The 1997 Steven Spielberg’s “Amistad” takes us back to 1839 aboard the La Amistad, a 19th-century two-masted Spanish ship owned by the Spanish colonists of Cuba. The American drama film is based on the historic Mende people, including Sengbe Pieh who were being captured to be sold to European slave traders.  

Poster for Amistad 1997 | Source: Amazon / DreamWorks Pictures

Sengbe Pieh on La Amistad 

Among the Mende captives was Sengbe Pieh who was also known as Joseph Cinque. Born in Mani which is modern-day Sierra Leone, Senge Pieh was a rice farmer and trader. While he was working in the field, he was abducted and brought to the Lomboko slave factory, off the Gallinas Coast and was boarded on to the Amistad ship along with 52 other men, women, and children. 

Modern Mende People of Sierra Leone | Source: Wikipedia

On their voyage to Cuba, Pieh freed himself and initiated the revolt onboard, killed the ship’s captain and cook, and took over the ship. Two months later, a U.S ship Washington seized the slave ship and arrested Pieh and the rest of the African slaves. Later, Sengbe Pieh and other captives were released and brought back to Sierra Leone after they told their story.   

Depiction of Sengbe Pieh | Source: NPS.Gov

Sengbe Pieh on Sierra Leonean Leone Banknotes 

The Sierra Leonean currency “Leone” was introduced way back in 1964, replacing the British West African pound with the decimal system. The first banknotes featured the historic Cotton Tree standing in Freetown. The tree became famous since 1792, when African American slaves who were liberated, landed in Freetown. They gathered before the tree to pray and sing praises of thanksgiving for their freedom.  

Sierra Leone 5,000 Leones | 1993 | Source: Banknote World Educational

Sengbe Pieh first appears on the obverse of the 5,000-Leone notes issued in 1993. Following the 1992 military coup that ousted President Momoh. His portrait is depicted on the obverse of the preceding issues. The obverse of the 5,000 Sierra Leonean Leone banknote also reflects the Old Fourah Bay College building in Freetown. In addition to the coat of arms of Sierra Leone. On the reverse is the Bumbuna Dam. The note’s security features include a solid security thread and a lion’s head watermark.  

Sierra Leone 5,000 Leones | 2018 | Source: Banknote World

Another 5,000 leone banknotes of similar design were issued between 2010 and 2018. It has enhanced security features such as a diamond holographic patch added to its obverse design. As well as a StarChrome windowed security thread bearing a dememtallized text.  

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