A Symbol of Culture: Francs Guinéens Paint a Picture of Life in Guinea

by Kaylee Gund

During a recent visit to the Museum’s offsite collections storage, one carving in particular caught my eye — the Nimba (D’mba). After living in Guinea for over a year, I immediately honed in on the familiar polished wood of the Nimba among the other West African pieces.


The Nimba.

The Nimba is a symbol of feminine power and fertility, carried on someone’s shoulders around the fields to ensure a bountiful harvest. It wasn’t one of the traditions in the region where I lived, but I still saw the Nimba almost every day in my village on the corner of the 5,000 FG (franc guinéen) note.


The Nimba appears on the corner of a 5,000 FG note.

Among many other traditional symbols, the Nimba has become an expression of national pride, as evidenced by the Guinean bank’s use of it on currency and as its logo. Guinean currency is an interesting mix of national and local identity. Each denomination represents a different culturally distinct region of the country, showing important symbols and economic activities for that region.


A gold mining operation appears on the back of a 500 FG note, paying homage to the major source of income for the Siguiri prefecture.

Haute Guinée, the eastern plateau, is featured on the 500 FG, complete with an image of gold mining on the back. A major source of income for the Siguiri prefecture, gold mining was also an occasional source of exasperation for schoolteachers, as our students would often leave for months at a time during a gold rush and “cherchent l’or,” or “search for gold.”


As you’ve probably noticed, the number of zeros behind monetary amounts in Guinea can be a bit intimidating. Pictured above is a whopping 16,600 FG, worth a little over $2 in the U.S.

What can all this money buy?


Bags of clean drinking water are sold for 500 FG each. Drinking water from the well is ill advised, so this is a worthwhile investment at $0.07.


At the peak of mango season, everyone has more fruit than they know what to do with. It spoils fast with no refrigeration, so piles of mangoes are sold for 2,000 FG (less than $0.30).


Prepared food, like this rice with potato leaf sauce, costs between 5,000 and 7,000 FG for a plate (around $1).

So many mundane things require money that it’s easy to forget what an incredible symbol it can be. Guinean currency gives a glimpse into the many traditions of its different regions, and while there is occasionally ethnic strife between groups and the road to democracy is still rocky, the entire nation is unified in using Guinean francs.

Culture is an incredible thing, and we’re lucky enough to have access to a rich treasure trove of it: from Ancient Egypt to the Amazonian rainforest, even the smallest things can hold great significance.

Next time you’re about to spend a dollar, take a look at what’s on it. You might be surprised!

Editor’s Note: Kaylee Gund is in Youth Education Sales at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. During her time in the Peace Corps, Gund was placed in Guinea to teach chemistry in the country’s national language, French.

Go Back in Time with the Hadza: Last of the First Movie Screening

pic 1There are fewer people connected to nature now than ever before—and no one connected to it in the same way as the Hadza. One of the last hunter-gather groups on earth, the Hadza have lived sustainably off the bounty of their ancestral homeland in Africa’s Rift Valley for at least 50,000 years. But their unique culture and way of life, including the ability to source 95 percent of their diet from the wild, has been threatened by issues as varied as continuing encroachment, aggressive tree-cutting and over-grazing.

That’s why we’ve collaborated with The Nature Conservancy to bring a special screening of the groundbreaking film The Hadza: Last of The First to HMNS on April 13. Narrated by Alfre Woodard, The Hadza: Last of The First is a call to action to establish a protective land corridor to help the Hadza survive.

“The Hadza: Last Of The First” Trailer from Benenson Productions on Vimeo.

The Nature Conservancy is one of the many organizations heeding that call. They established their Northern Tanzania project to empower the Hadza and neighboring tribes to protect their land. Through the project, the Nature Conservancy works with local partners to help the Hadza and nearby indigenous communities secure legal rights to their homeland and works to improve the Hadza’s capacity to monitor and protect their titled land, including helping to fight to extend protections for Hadza land and associated wildlife corridors, as well as protecting grazing resources for pastoralists in buffer areas surrounding Hadza titled land.

pic 2

Roughly 60 percent of Africa’s lands and waters are communally owned, so a sustained threat for millions of people is simply a lack of control. An absence of strong institutions and governance exposes millions of communal acres to risk.

That’s why the people, in Africa and around the globe, are so critical to the success of the Nature Conservancy’s Africa program. They are fighting to help local communities, governments and organizations conserve and enhance Africa’s vast array of shared natural resources.

pic 3

Film Screening, April13
Don’t miss the Texas premiere of The Hadza: Last of The First in the Houston Museum of Natural Science’ Wortham Giant Screen Theatre on April 13 at 6:30 p.m. This is a one-night-only screening with David Banks, director of the Nature Conservancy’s Africa program and the film’s producers. HMNS and Nature Conservancy members receive $5 off the regular ticket price. For advance tickets call 713.639.4629, click here or visit the HMNS Box Office.

Travel to Japan without leaving home at family-friendly World Trekkers on Feb. 15

Editor’s note: Today’s blog comes to us from Jim Matej from the Okinawa Cultural Association of Texas.

All cultures are marked by their festivals and celebrations. In Okinawa — Japan’s southernmost prefecture — the Buddhist custom of Obon is celebrated every summer and has given rise to Japan’s most internationally recognized performing art: the Eisa dance.

Obon began more than 500 years ago. It is believed that each year during Obon, the ancestors’ spirits return to this world in order to visit their relatives. During the three-day event, graves are visited and food offerings are made at temples and household altars, ending with traditional dances called Bon-Odori (Obon dances).

The unique culture of Okinawa was established during the reign of the Ryukyu Kingdom. During that time it was a hub of maritime trade in Southeast and East Asia. This was due, in most part, to a tributary relationship with China’s Ming Dynasty. Ryukyuan ships, often provided by China, traded at ports throughout the region including China, Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Java, Malacca, Siam, and Sumatra.

See authentic Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko at HMNS' first ever World Trekkers event Feb. 15!With the abolition of clans and the establishment of prefectures during the Meiji Restoration of the 1800s, the Buddhist dances in Okinawa began to transform into Eisa performances. Today, in the local villages and towns of Okinawa, Eisa is still performed in its traditional role as part of the Obon festivities.  The youth of each community gather to form their own Eisa groups. On the last day of Obon, they march through the streets and stop in front of homes to perform a traditional send-off for the visiting ancestors.

Koza City (present-day Okinawa City) began the transformation to modern Eisa dance by establishing the Traditional Okinawan Dance Festival in 1956.  Although held at the same time of year as Obon, this Eisa competition is open to all community Eisa groups in Okinawa. The festival has since evolved into a festival representing the Okinawan culture as a whole.

Okinawan Eisa Dance was brought to the world stage by Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko (Ryukyu Kingdom Festival Drums). Since the early 1980s, RMD has elevated this religious and festival dance into a performing art. The choreography is created in Okinawa and is a dynamic blend of traditional Eisa and Karate forms with contemporary influences incorporating both traditional folk music and modern rock music. Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko is now a worldwide organization with chapters throughout Okinawa, Japan, Latin America, and the United States – RMD Texas being one of those.

See authentic Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko at HMNS' first ever World Trekkers event Feb. 15!In traditional Japanese costumes — with Jikatabi’s (calf-high white cloth shoes) flashing and arms swinging in synchronized movement, rhythmically pounding drums — this high-stepping, high-energy drum and dance troupe has performed worldwide, including at venues like Carnegie Hall in New York City.

In 1995, in association with Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko, the people of Okinawa incorporated the Eisa dance into a celebration of summer itself. The “Summer Festival in Naha” now has the world’s spotlight shinning on five days of Eisa being performed in the streets of Okinawa’s capitol city. The last day is capped off with the unbelievable “Ten Thousand Eisa Dance Parade.” Up to 10,000 Eisa dancers process down Kokusai Street, lighting up the city with their colorful costumes and jubilant dance, all proud to be part of Okinawa’s most internationally recognized performing art.

Join HMNS for its first-ever World Trekkers festival celebrating the art, culture and cuisine of Japan and see authentic Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko performed up-close by RMD-Texas.

World Trekkers will take place in the Grand Hall on Friday, Feb. 15 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Attendees can opt to buy a passport to track their cultural comprehension through each World Trekker festival, spotlighting Egypt (May 3), France (Aug 9), and Russia (Nov. 15). Tickets are $9 for the public; $7 for members. Click here for more information or here to purchase in advance.

Glimpse: Spirits & Headhunters [12 Days of HMNS]

Today is the Seventh Day of HMNS! In the spirit of the classic holiday carol, we’re taking 12 days to feature 12 different videos that preview or go behind-the-scenes of a holiday museum activity, here on the blog (or, you can get a sneak peek at all the videos on 12days.hmns.org – we won’t tell).

Many of the exhibits we host here – like Genghis Khan or the Terra Cotta Warriors – present objects from long-dead cultures, and the wonder comes from the experience of coming face-to-face with artifacts that were created so long ago. And when you walk through our current Spirits & Headhunters exhibition, and contemplate the absolute beauty of the vibrant, intricate feather art and objects on display, it’s easy to forget that the cultures that created these works are very much alive – though also fast disappearing.

Learn more from Adam Mekler, associate curator for Amazonia, who believes, “When a culture disappears, I think an aspect of all humanity disappears.”

Click play to explore the exhibit and discover these vanishing worlds.

Need to catch up?

The First Day of HMNS – Explore: Snow Science
The Second Day of HMNS – Preview: The Chronicles of Narnia Exhibition
The Third Day of HMNS – Preview: Disney’s A Christmas Carol
The Fourth Day of HMNS – Investigate: The Star of Bethlehem
The Fifth Day of HMNS – Shop: The Perfect Gift
The Sixth Day of HMNS – Marvel: Faberge

Get into the holiday spirit! Visit our 12 Days of HMNS web site to see the videos and get more information about each event, exhibit and film: 12days.hmns.org Happy Holidays!