The United States decided this week to put a black female abolitionist on their new $20 bill, replacing Andrew Jackson, the seventh president who was accused of keeping slaves.

The decision to honour Harriet Tubman got me thinking about Brazil and who we look up to here – or down to, as we flip through bank notes.

Brazil has in the past been much more egalitarian than the US, putting more women and more minorities (including indigenous people) on their notes. Over the years, composers and scientists, novelists and poets have been among those adorning the country’s paper money. (See this great slideshow for more.)

Brazil hasn’t had real people on its bank notes since 1994 when it introduced the real as its seventh currency in 27 years.

The Central Bank didn’t know how long the currency would last and so rather than subject historical figures to a short and ignominious stint in people’s pockets, they put generic Greek God like figures on the 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 real notes.

The Brazilian currency is robust and shows no signs of going the same way as the cruzado, the cruzado novo, the rei, the conto, the cruzeiro or the cruzeiro real., the currencies that preceded them.

So is it time to start honouring real Brazilians again on bank notes? Maybe now, in the midst of a financial crisis, is not the best time to implement such a costly change. But it’s time to at least begin a debate on the issue.

Off the top of my head, I suggest André Rebouças, Pelé, Ayrton Senna, Joaquim Nabuco, Orlando Villas Boas and Tom Jobim as possible new honorees. Suggestions?