16th September

Mexico Independence Day (Grito de Dolores)

Between 1800 and 300 B.C. complex pre-Colombian Mesoamerican, or Aztec, cultures began here, most famously the Mayans. Write your name in Mayan hieroglyphs here! Or try a Mayan maths game.

The Teotihuacán started building those famous pyramids. The Aztec empire was wide-ranging, and rulers were left to their own devices so long as they paid tribute to the Aztec emperor. They also really liked sacrificing people to the gods, and in battle even avoided killing their enemies so they could sacrifice them later.


In 1519 Hernan Cortès arrived from Spain to conquer the Aztec empire.

Hernan Cortes

They killed 3 million Aztecs accidentally with smallpox, maybe even 15 million (half the population), making them a bit easier to conquer. It became part of the Spanish empire in 1521, called New Spain. The 700,000 Spanish settlers married natives, and most Mexicans are mestizos descended from them. Mexico had the first primary school, university and printing press in the Americas.

On 16 September 1810 the priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla gave the cry/grito for independence in the town of Dolores.

In 1821 Spain finally recognised Mexico’s independence, after the criollo army sent by the Spanish viceroy joined forced with the revolutionaries!

In 1838 a French pastry cook living in Mexico complained to the French king that his shop had been looted by Mexican officers. France demanded 600,000 pesos (partly because Mexico had already defaulted on millions of dollars in loans). The president didn’t pay, so France blockaded its ports, bombarded a fortress and seized the city of Veracruz. Wow. Oh yeah, and they captured the whole Mexican navy. So Mexico had to declare war on France. Britain got involved and eventually Mexico agreed to pay the bloomin 600,000 pesos. This whole thing is called the Pastry War. Brill.

In 1831 the dictator-general Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna approved a new consitution that nobody was happy with and sparked a civil war. Part of Mexico left and became Texas in the United States.

The 1846-8 Mexican-American War then fought over where Texas’s border should be  –  Mexico lost half of its territory, including what is now New Mexico. There were a load of other wars too, including the Caste War of Yucatan where the Mayans revolted against the European settlers.

In the 1860s Napoleon III invaded and installed the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian as Emperor of the Second Mexican Empire. He was executed for his troubles in 1867.

Then there was a bunch of revolutions and general civil war until 1929 when Plutarco Elías Calles founded the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to unite all the revolutionary factions and promised everyone equality through socialism.

He nationalised the oil industry, and was generally oppressive towards Catholics and protestors. The party only fell from power in 2000.

Mexico is home to about 12% of the world’s biodiversity, with the most number of reptiles and the second highest number of mammals in the world.

Native food includes chocolate, vanilla, corn, tomatoes and chillies. Make tacos or salad or fajitas.

It is the largest silver producer in the world. Mexican art includes Diego Rivera’s murals

and Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits.

Mexican music is played by mariachi bands and the dance is the jarabe.

Cornish miners brought English football over there and it’s now their national sport.

Papua New Guinea Independence Day (from Australia, 1975)

Papua New Guinea is one of the world’s least explored countries – and one of the most diverse, listing 848 official languages. Only 18% of people live in rural areas.

Humans first arrived here around 45,000 years ago. Traders from Southeast Asia arrived 5,000 years ago to trade in birds of paradise plumes. The people there practised headhunting and cannibalism. A Spanish explorer going past in 1545 called it New Guinea as the people there reminded him of African Guineans.

In 1884 Germany took the north as German New Guinea, and the Brits took the south. In 1904 we gave our half to Australia for administration, and in WWI Australia captured the northern half from the Germans.

Japan invaded in WWII and around 216,000 US, Australian and Japanese soldiers died fighting over it.

It gained independence from Australia in 1945. It is still part of the British Commonwealth.

Seashells were a currency in some areas until 1933, and the practice lives on in some ways – to get married a groom must collect a set number of golden-edged clam shells.

It’s had a couple of hiccups – 20,000 people died in an uprising from 1988-1997 to allow Bougainville federal autonomy within Papua New Guinea. They also had an anti-Chinese riot in 2009, protesting against the Chinese ownership of a number of companies.

Papua New Guinea is famous for tree-kangaroos, Asaro mudmen, that bird of paradise dance, and birds of paradise headdresses.

Ozone Day – try this video.

Malaysia Day (formed 1973) – see 31st August

Oktoberfest (2016)


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