1st October

1946 Mensa founded in UK – there’s a kids’ IQ test here.

1969 Concorde breaks sound barrier – you know you gotta make paper aeroplanes!

Cameroon Unification Day (independence of South Cameroon from UK, 1961):

Settled from Neolithic times, Cameroon was first inhabited by Baka/Pygmies, Bantu immigrants, then the Sao civilisation, the Kanem Empire which introduced Islam, and later became the Bornu Empire.

In 1472 Portuguese explorers named it Rio dos Cameroes – Shrimp River.

Modibo Adama led a jihad against non-Muslims, creating the Adamawa Emirate in the 19th century, and northern Cameroon was an important part of the Muslim slave trade network.

In 1884 Germany decided it was theirs now; after WWI it was divided between France and Britain.

Popular music styles include makossa, bikutsi, ambasse bey, assiko, mangambeu and tsamassi. Nico Mbarga’s ‘Sweet Mother’ is the top-selling African single of all time. Older kids could try some beadwork.




Thimphu Drubchen (sacred masked dance in Bhutan to appease the protecting deity, Pelden Lhamo – try making a Bhutan mask)


Palau Independence Day (from UN Trust Territory Status, 1994)

Palau is one of those islands that has been passed around imperialists like a recycled Christmas present. Spain took it without asking in 1522 when one of its explorers, Ferdinand Magellan, named it San Juan while passing by. Spain sold it to Germany in 1899 with a bunch of other Caroline Islands; Japan took it at the start of World War I and the US took it from Japan in World War II.

In 1978 it finally became independent again. I like it because when it asked the US if it could become independent, the US said yes but could it store nuclear missiles on the island, and Palau quite rightly said “No thanks” – making it the world’s first nuclear-free constitution.


China National Day

China has the world’s largest population at 1.3 billion and is the second largest country after Russia. For most of the last 2,000 years China has had the world’s largest economy, even though everyone seems surprised they’re on their way there again. Hominids first lived there 2.24 million years ago – fossils in a cave near Beijing of the Peking Man. They invented paper – for writing on, for wrapping presents, for wiping bums, for bank notes – as well as Confucianism (after Confucius, who basically wanted everyone to be nice to others and try to better themselves), Buddhism (seeking enlightenment or nirvana, often through meditation), printing, the compass and gunpowder.

Oracle Bone Script

Chinese writing first appeared in the Shang dynasty in 1700 BC – they used the oracle bone script, which later turned into the modern writing used now.

Qin Shi Huang, founder of the Qin dynasty after which China was named, was the first to rule all of China in 221 B.C. and started building the Great Wall of China.

Then came the Han dynasty, which expanded into Korea, Mongolia, Vietnam and Central Asia and helped create the Silk Road, China’s link to Western Europe. Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms is about the period after the Han dynasty’s collapse.

Under the later Tang and Song dynasties, China invented the woodcut printing block, which led to more people being able to read … and play cards. They studied medicine and diagnosed diabetes; invented porcelain; and transported natural gas through bamboo pipes to power stoves.

In 1271 Mongolian leader Kublai Khan (grandson of Genghis) took over, and halved the population in his cruel conquest. A peasant named Zhu Yuanzhang overthrew his Yuan dynasty and founded the Ming Dynasty, in which China developed a strong navy and economy, explored the world, and developed arts and culture even more.

Ming Vase

Ming Vase

In 1644, the Ming dynasty was overthrown and was followed by the Manchu Qing dynasty, the last of the dynasties, finishing in 1912. During this period China had two Opium Wars with Britain, when the Chinese government noticed that literally everyone in China was addicted to opium mixed with tobacco. The government tried to ban it and seize the imported opium, and Britain declared war. Ridiculous. It ended badly for China, with Britain taking Hong Kong and imposing a whole bunch of other unfair terms. The embarrassment for the Chinese people led to the Taiping Rebellion in 1850, by a man who believed himself to be the (much) younger brother of Jesus. The civil war cost up to 40 million lives (WWI killed off about that around the world). A famine in 1876-9 took another 13 million lives.

While China was mucking around fighting each other and dying all over the place, Japan was invading Korea. China went to help and this became the first Sino-Japanese War, in which China lost Korea and Taiwan to Japan in 1895.

In 1912 Yuan Shikai overthrew the last emperor, Puyi, and the Republic of China was established. Sun Yat-sen of the Nationalist/Kuomintang Party became the temporary president, before being replaced by Yuan Shikai. Yuan decided he wanted to be emperor, actually, but that really annoyed everyone and he had to step down.

The Kuomintang reunified the fragmented country by marching across the country in the Northern Expedition, defeating all the warlords and uniting everyone, and then went back to fighting the Communists, against whom they’d been fighting since the civil wars. The Commies retreated in the Long March (370 days long, to be exact), but came back to help the Kuomintang fight the Japanese during WWII.

After Japan surrendered they went right back to fighting each other, of course, until 1949, by which time the Communists were in control of mainland China and the Kuomintang were just left with the islands of Taiwan, etc. Mao Zedong declared his country the People’s Republic of China and set out on his economic Great Leap Forward, which had the very best intentions but starved about 45 million people. His Cultural Revolution

Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong

Weirdly, China was not particularly allied with Soviet Russia, even though you’d think they’d be best buds in the Cold War. In 1971 the People’s Republic of China (the Communists) replaced the Republic of China (the non-Communists) in the UN and began to be accepted in the world. After Mao’s death Chinese socialism became a bit less strict, peasants were granted land and the market was more open.

The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 were against government corruption and for greater freedom of speech. The army came in and killed hundreds and the government cracked down even harder on freedom of speech,

Activities: We dressed up as pandas and talked about why they were becoming extinct. We went out into the garden and ate chives, pretending they were bamboo. We watched some Chinese opera and we tried to eat Chinese food (rice, dumplings, noodles, soy products, dim sum). We tried some green tea and tried kung fu and tai chi. We made paper and tried to write our names in Chinese script with a calligraphy pen. We looked at the Great Wall and on our walk, every time Baby wanted to walk along a garden wall I said “You’re walking along the Great Wall of China! Can you see any pandas from up there?” We looked at how silk is made. Make pottery.You could try ping pong, mah jong or making a go board with buttons or counters. You could try seeing how big and long a wall you can build at the seaside or with Lego, etc. You could try reading the Tao of Pooh together. Little boys would probably love living like a caveman for a day, making a tent out of sticks and leaves, making tools and foraging for food. Making dragons is always fun. Probably don’t try acupuncture.


Cyprus Independence Day (from UK, 1960)

Cyprus was first inhabited about 10,000 B.C. and still has some of the world’s oldest water wells. The arrival of humans on the island mysteriously coincided with the extinction of all its dwarf hippos and dwarf elephants…

From 1400 B.C. Mycenaean (= Bronze-Age) Greek traders arrived and they settled on the island from 1100 B.C. In Greek mythology Cyprus is the birthplace of Aphrodite and Adonis.

From the 8th century B.C. Phoenicians (sea-faring people from Lebanon) began to settle the island too.

Because of its strategic location, Cyprus was then conquered by Assyria (centred around the Iraq/Syria/Turkey area) in 708 B.C., then Egypt, then Persia under the Achaemenid Empire. The Cypriots revolted and managed to retain some of their Greek culture.

In 333 B.C. it was conquered by Alexander the Great, and when on his death his empire was divided up between his successors Cyprus went to Hellenistic (=Greek) Ptolemaic Egypt (=from Ptolemy I to Cleopatra and the Roman Conquest).

In 58 B.C. the Roman Empire took Cyprus. When that empire fell in 395 it became part of the Byzantine Empire.

But from 649 and for three hundred years Muslim raiders attacked from the Levant (eastern Mediterrannean) – leaving thousands dead and all churches ruined and ransacked. Eventually Byzantine rule was restored.

In 1191 Richard I of England took it during the Crusades, then sold it to the Knights Templar.

Then Venice took it in 1489, and built gorgeous Renaissance walls around the capital, Nicosia, against the Ottomans.

In 1570 the Ottoman Empire took Cyprus. The Turks allowed different religions to rule themselves under the ‘millet’ system (millet = millah = nation in Arabic).

After the Russo-Turkish war in 1877-8, Cyprus was ‘leased’ to Britain, although it continued to officially be owned by Turkey along with Egypt and Sudan.

Also today:

  • Hong Kong National Day
  • Nigeria Independence Day (from UK, 1960)
  • Tuvalu Days (Independence from UK, 1960)
  • World Vegetarian Day

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