1st July

1903 first Tour de France – so go out on a family bike trip 1908 SOS becomes international distress call – try it in semaphore Ghana Republic Day:

Ghana is one of the world’s largest exporters of gold and cocoa. The area was originally inhabited by the Akan people, who traded in the plentiful gold. It became part of the Ashanti Empire, and in the 19th century the Portguese, Dutch, Spanish and British had built forts there. It was known as ‘White Man’s Grave’ though due to all the tropical diseases, which put a lot of the invaders off.

But not the Brits, oh no. We captured it in 1856 and named it the Gold Coast. The Akan fought us a lot until they were defeated in the War of the Golden Stool (best war name ever, I think you’ll agree; it refers to the Ashanti throne). They did not give up, and gained independence in 1957.

Activities: Learn about kente cloth, Afro-jazz, highlife, hiplife, dances such as Adowa, Kpanlogo, Azonto, Klama, and Bamaya

Sir Seretse Khama Day: Sir Seretsa Khama was born in Bechuanaland, Botswana, and became the king of the Bamangwato people from age 4 after his father’s death. He studied at Balliol College, Oxford, and studied to become a barrister at the Inner Temple.

He met and married Ruth Williams. South Africa did not like the king of the country next door being married to a white lady seeing as it had just banned interracial marriages.

To get some peace and quiet, as Britain was in charge of Bechuanaland, they investigated Khama’s ability to be a chief. The report found he would be a good chief, so the Brits hid the report and exiled him anyway. Khama was eventually allowed back once he renounced his throne… then he ran for President. And won.

In 1966 Botswana gained its independence and Khama was a very good President, focusing on economic development through beef, diamonds and copper, and remaining anti-corruption and anti-violence.

Virgin Islands’ Territory Day: The Virgin Islands are short for St Ursula and Her Eleven Thousand Virgins Islands, which was the snappy title Christopher Columbus gave them in 1493 (she’s a martyr who put off marrying her husband by saying she wanted to do a pan-European pilgrimage first. And she took 11,000 virgins with her, as you do.  When they got to Cologne it was in the middle of being invaded, and they were all shot by some Huns. So now there’s the Basilica of St Ursula in Cologne which is decorated with the alleged 11,000 virgin’s bones. Eat that, Laurence Llewellyn Bowen.)

The Islands were first inhabited by the Arawak, Carib and Cermic peoples, all of whom died from European disease, brutal slavery or mass suicide. So instead the Danish plantation owners used slave labour on them to make sugarcane until slavery was abolished in 1848.

During WWI America worried Germany might sneak in and use them as a submarine base and so bought them from Denmark for $25 million. The islands get a lot of earthquakes and tropical cyclones.

Activites: Listen to scratch bands and quelbe music, the cariso folk song, or St Thomas’ bamboula.

Burundi Independence Day:

Burundi was its own kingdom ruled by a Tutsi king until 1899 when it became part of German East Africa. Its king, Mwezi IV Gisabo, opposed this so the Germans helped his son Maconco lead a revolt against him; then Mwezi said ok, I’ll be part of Germany, so the Germans helped him defeat his son. Sorted.

From 1916, Belgium conquered the area and it was joined with Rwanda under Belgium and called Rwanda-Urundi.

On 1 July 1962 Burundi gained independence after Belgium allowed it to run its own democracy.

At that point the Tutsi king became head of state of a government made up of Tutsis and Hutus in equal numbers. In 1965 the Hutu prime minister was assassinated, and next door in Rwanda, a ‘social revolution’ in 1959-61 saw their Hutu government massacre all the Rwandan Tutsis they could find.

This prompted the Tutsi monarchy in Burundi to disallow Hutu members of parliament, so the Hutus tried to carry out a coup, so the Tutsis killed a whole bunch of Hutu politicians and intellectuals.

These back and forth killings and oppression continued until 1972, when bands of Hutus killed all the Tutsi civilians they could find and proclaimed a republic. Then the President and his army killed around 250,000 Hutus.

From then until 2006 the Tutsis and Hutus continued to assassinate each other at every opportunity and HIV has killed off a lot more. Burundi is one of the five poorest countries in the world.

Activities: Watch the Royal Drummers of Burundi perform. Go on a (pretend) gorilla trek – maybe take turns at being a gorilla hiding in the mountains (upstairs).

Canada Day: This is a celebration of the Brits uniting their colonies Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Province of Canada together to become Canada in 1867. There is a Canada Day held in Trafalgar Square, London.

Activities: Play street hockey. Eat pancakes with maple syrup. Learn about Niagara Falls and moose and beavers and Canadian geese and mounted police officers.

Rwanda Independence Day:

Similar to Burundi, Tutsi kings dominated until the Germans colonised the area in 1884, then Belgium from 1916.

Aside from the Tutsis and Hutus, there are also a group of aboriginal pygmy hunters called the Twa. The Tutsis and the Hutus were more like social castes, with the Tutsis the kings and the Hutus the lower classes, and well-behaved Hutus could become Tutsis.

However, Belgium thought they were different races and introduced identity cards labelling the Tutsis, Hutus, Twas or Naturalised (the latter for Belgian settlers?) and no one could move ranks anymore.

In 1959 the Rwandan Social Revolution occurred, in which the Hutus started killing the Tutsis. And vice versa and back and forth and so on until 1990 (by which point the Twas had been forced out of their forests and had mainly become beggars) when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (Tutsis) invaded and initiated the Rwandan Civil War.

At some point there must have been a ceasefire because the ceasefire ended in 1994, when the President’s plane was shot down and the Rwandan Genocide began –  up to a million Tutsis, Hutus and even Twas were killed by the government.

The RPF fought back and eventually regained control of the country.

Activities: Watch an umushagiriro, or cow dance, or the intore, or dance of heroes. Learn about an imigongo, a cow dung art. Can you make a nyakatsi house for your doll, with mud walls and a grass thatched roof?

Other events today:

  • Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Establishment Day – see 1st October
  • Somalian Foundation of the Republic – see 18th May
  • Suriname Abolition of Slavery Day – see 25th November
  • Madeira Day (used to be part of Portugal, now independent; this is also celebrated in England)
  • 1858 Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace present papers on evolution

30th June

1859 Charles Blondin crosses Niagara Falls on a tightrope

1937 999 introduced in London as emergency number – do your kids know what to do?

Congo Independence Day:

The first wave of people into Congo was around 2,000 B.C. These Bantu-speaking villagers knew the techniques of iron-smelting and moved the indigenous Pygmies out – there are now up to 600,000 Pygmies living in the Congo rainforest.

The villagers also exploited the natural ores of the land and became great exporters of metals and ivory, and became the Kingdom of Luba. The only downside so far was that Arabs kept nipping in for a slave raid.

In 1885, somehow Berlin decided King Leopold II of Belgium owned the Congo, and he set about building a railway there and began rubber production, cutting off the limbs of any natives who weren’t joining in the rubber production with enough enthusiasm. During this period of disease and brutality, the population of the Congo was reduced by as much as a half.

Due to international protest (Great Britain especially noisy), the Belgian parliament gently prised the Congo from the king’s grip and some economic and social progress was made, even though the colonialists looked down on the indigenous people.

On 30 June 1960 Congo gained independence in its own free elections and most of the colonialists fled.

The Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, then sacked the President Joseph Kasavabu, and the army’s chief of staff somehow managed to get money from the US and Belgium to neutralise Lumumba and Kasavabu’s fighing, in case they went all Communist.

In 1961, the US, Belgium and Katangan forces kidnapped and executed Lumumba, and the UN had to come in two years later to sort out all the confusion.

From 1971 the Congo was actually called Zaire under the rule of Mobotu Sese Soku, whom the US loved because he was anti-Communist, even though he declared a one-party state. He occasionally held elections in which he was the only candidate, and embezzled all the money he could get his hands on. Nice bloke.

He also, and this is my favourite bit, renamed himself Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga – “the all powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, shall go from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake”. (Before that he was called Joseph.)

In 1996, Rwandan and Ugandan armies sneaked over to conquer Zaire; some Zaireans joined in out of protest against Mobutu.

In 1997 Mobotu fled in the face of increasing opposition (and having lost US support now that Communism isn’t so scary) and the leader of that mixed army, Kabila, declared himself President of the Congo (not Zaire anymore).

He then asked the Rwandan and Ugandan soldiers to head home, thanks very much. Rwanda and Uganda then formed separate rebel armies and came back fighting almost immediately, and Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia got involved on Kabila’s side.

Kabila’s son took over after he was assassinated in 2001, and he asked for peace talks and UN peacekeepers were called in. Kabila jr agreed to share power with the Rwandan and Ugandan rebel army leaders and in 2006 the Congo finally got around to some multi-party elections.

The results led to fighting, the UN sorted it out, they had a re-vote, Kabila won. In general, the fighting has carried on and the whole war has so far killed 5.4 million people.

Activities: Listen to soukous music. Look at the bonobo (but not too much),

the white rhino, the mountain gorilla and the okapi (a zebra-giraffe thing).

They also have an equivalent to the Loch Ness monster: the Mokèlé-mbèmbé.

Other events today:

  • Phillippine-Spanish Friendship Day
  • Sudan Revolution Day – see 1st January

29th June

Tahiti Anniversary of Internal Autonomy:

Tahiti is the economic, cultural and political centre of French Polynesia. Its first settlers came from Fiji. After European contact in the 1700s, their paradise was disrupted by guns, prostitution, disease and alcohol, almost wiping out the population.

In 1880 the Tahitian king had to cede his sovereignty to France. In 1946 Tahitians were finally granted French citizenship and in 1966-96 France tested its nuclear bombs out on its nearby coral reefs. Nice. Now France really only helps financially and with military needs; Tahiti has its own government, etc.

Activities: Look at Gauguin’s work from Tahiti. Try pearl-diving (throw an oyster-style shell in the bath and ‘dive’ for it) as Tahiti exports black pearls. Make monoi out of gardenia flowers and coconut oil and use as a conditioner or moisturiser. Make tropical cocktails with little umbrellas. Make the Thunderbirds island!

Feast of St Peter and St Paul – stories here.

Seychelles Independence Day: See 18 June.

27th June

Seven Sleepers’ Day (Germany: how the weather is today predicts the next seven weeks, from the legend of the Seven Sleepers)

Helen Keller Day (the deaf-blind left-wing activist) – this video makes me weep, she was so amazing.

UK Armed Forces Day

Djibouti Independence Day:

Owned by France from 1894, when it was called French Somaliland,it was renamed the French Territory of the Afars and the Issas (catchy). In 1958 Djibouti voted to remain with France; however, France may have cheekily expelled the Somali residents who might have voted no in favour of joining next-door Somalia. In 1977, after two more referenda, Djibouti decided to be independent from France. I don’t know how to celebrate this day yet.

Tajikistan National Unity Day:

Tajik is a medieval Turk word for ‘Iranian/Persian-speaking people’. In the Iron Age it was ruled by the Kambojas, a kshatriya or warrior tribe of India; then it became part of the Persian Empire, the largest empire the world had ever seen at the time.

After Alexander the Great kicked the Persian Empire’s butt, it was part of the eastern end of the Greek Empire (this end was known as the Greco-Bactrian Empire). It came to have Arabic/Islamic and Chinese influences.

In the second half of the 19th century, Russia took contol. After the Imperial Russian Tsar was overthrown in 1917 and became the Soviet Union, basmachi or guerillas fought the Bolsheviks for independence. In 1929 Tajikistan became an separate republic, and when in 1991 the Sovient Union collapsed, Tajikstan declared itself independent.

Then it went through a lot of civil war, and most non-Muslims fled. By the 1994 elections, 100,000 people had died in the fighting and 1.2 million were refugees. Nowadays the country is mostly peaceful, but the world is keeping a close eye on it in case it starts sympathising with the Taliban of neighbouring Afghanistan.

Activities: Tajikstan has the highest dam in the world, Nurek. Can you build a dam? Their traditional folk arts include lots of cloth-making, embroidery and decorative wood-carving. Cook pilaf or manty (rice dish or dumplings).

Pride in London parade (2015)

26th June

1284 Pied Piper leads the children away in Hamelin (no, seriously, it really happened …)

Azerbaijan Army and Navy Day: Some kids might like to play at being soldiers and sailors today.

Madagascar Independence Day:

Madagascar used to be part of the supercontinent Gondwana, but split from India around 88 million years ago – now 90% of its wildlife doesn’t exist anywhere else, most famously lemurs but also the cat-like fossa and the world’s smallest chameleon.

The first humans to arrive did a good old-fashioned slash-and-burn on the ancient rainforests and killed off its largest animals, including the elephant bird, the giant lemur and the Malagasy hippo.

Madagascar got its name because Marco Polo not only got his place of arrival wrong (thinking it was the Somali port of Mogadishu) but then forgot how to spell that as well.

The French invaded in 1883 and they got independence on 26 June 1960.

Though half the population are Christian, nearly all practise folk beliefs that emphasise the connections with ancestors – and they hold big famadihana parties where they exhume a dead relative to give them a shiny new shroud. Cattle rustling is a rite of passage for young men, when farmers throw spears to get rid of the naughty lads.

Madagascar invented the board game Fanorona (basically, every time you move a piece, all the opponent’s pieces next to that point and along the line of that move are captured).

Of course, you can always celebrate by watching Madagascar.

25th June

1910 Stravinsky’s ‘The Firebird’ ballet premiers

1852 Gaudi born

Slovenia Statehood Day (see 8 February);

Croatian National Day: Croatia’s famous for cravats (named after the Croatian word for Croatia),

Dalmatians, and Pag sheep’s cheese.

You could also bake ‘Licitar’ hearts and decorate as gifts;

http://www.licitar.hr/en/about-licitars-1

try a Moreska sword dance (using wooden spoons for swords, perhaps).

Mozambique Independence Day: Mozambique led a guerilla war against Portuguese rule in 1964. Ten years later, they finally managed to take control and in 1975 any remaining Portuguese were ordered to leave and take no more than 20kg of luggage. Then they wasted another 20-odd years with a civil war.

Despite great natural resources, Mozambique has the lowest GDP per capita and is one of the worst countries for human development or equality. Mozambique people make handmade instruments out of wood or animal bone, like drums or horns. They also make elaborate masks for dancing. What about stilt-walking too, like the men of Makua? Mozambique was the greatest producer of cashew nuts.

Tunisia Republic Day: At the beginning of recorded history, Tunisia was occupied by Berber tribes, and from the 10th century B.C. Phoenicians and Cypriots settled there and founded the famous city of Carthage (featuring in Virgil’s Aenid, in which the heartbroken Queen Dido builds herself a funeral pyre where she throws herself upon the sword of her lover, Aeneas, when he remembers he’s supposed to be nipping out to found Rome. Original drama queen.)

Following the Battle of Carthage in 149 B.C., Romans controlled Tunisia and it grew into a great exporter of grains, olive oil and ceramics.

At the beginning of the 8th century, Muslim Arabs conquered it and founded their city of Kairouan, which has the world’s oldest standing minaret, the Great Mosque of Kairoan, the most ancient and prestigious sanctuary in the Muslim West.

https://peters365photos.wordpress.com/2012/07/11/kairouan-tunisia/

However, at the turn of the first millennium these rulers abandoned Tunisia for Cairo, and a warlike Arab Bedouin tribe called the Banu Hilal invaded and laid waste to the land, reducing it  to arid desert. In the late 16th century the country became a pirate stronghold.

Tunisia was then controlled by Spain and then the Ottoman Empire (Turks), but in 1869 it declared itself bankrupt. In 1881 France invaded and it became a French protectorate.

During WWII the German/Italian armies were defeated here, though with many US losses.

Tunisia became independent in 1956. Despite being officially a democracy (aren’t they always?), it was pretty much an authoritarian dictatorship and in 2010 Tunisia was the first to rebel in the Arab Spring. They are now ruled by a human rights activist.

Activities: Be a 16th-century Barbary pirate. Weave (Tunisians famous for their beautiful woven rugs). Listen to some Malouf music.

Virginia state founded (1788): Jamestown was the first English settlement; Virginia is named after Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen. The Franklin & Armfield Slave Market was here. The Pentagon. A flag with a boob out.