30th May

Canary Islands Day:

The Canary Islands include Tenerife, Lanzarote and Gran Canaria. They are not named after canaries, but after dogs: Canariae Insulae is Latin for ‘Island of the Dogs’, hence the little doggies on their flag.

Canaries are named after the islands.

The Romans knew of the islands, when they were apparently uninhabited but had ruined buildings.

When Europeans explored the islands from the 14th century, the people living there, the Guanches, had a Stone-Age lifestyle.

In 1402 French explorer Jean de Bethéncourt conquered the Canary Islands for Castille (a medieval kingdom in Spain).

In 1448 Bethéncourt’s heir sold Lanzarote to the Portuguese. The Castilians and the Lanzaroteans did not like this, and pushed the Portuguese out. But from then on Portugal and Castile kind of shared the islands and their surrounding area.

The islands became an important stopping point for Spanish ships on their way to the New World in the 16th century and the islanders became rich from the trade. This wealth attracted not only pirates but also the Dutch, who took time out of their War of Independence in 1599 to attack the islands, and also our own Nelson, who lost his arm trying to take over the Canary Islands in 1797.

The Canary Islands’ sugar exports couldn’t compete with the slave-plantations in the New World, and so switched to cochineal (powdered beetles still used as food colouring today).

Thousands of Canarians emigrated to the New World during this time.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the British began growing bananas in the Canary Islands. I don’t know how we got in there, but we did.

In 1936 Francisco Franco became General Commandant of the Canary Islands, and on 17 July joined the military revolt that began the horrendous Spanish Civil War. He later became dictator of Spain and the islands.

After Franco died in 1975, Spain became a democratic constitutional monarchy (which means they have a royal family but they don’t make the laws, just like Britain), and in 1982 the Canary Islands were granted independence and a year later held their own elections.

Most Canarians feel equally Spanish and Canarian. They have their own wrestling style (Canarian wrestling),

and a kind of fencing using long sticks (called ‘the game of sticks/Juego del Palo’).

Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria are both the capital city of the Canary Islands. It’s home to the endangered Loggerhead Turtle.

Other events today:

  • 1431 Joan of Arc burned at stake
  • Anguilla Day (a Carribean island)
  • First day of Kamataan harvest festival in Malaysia
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29th May

Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring premiers in Paris

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Oak Apple Day (originally to celebrate the restoration of the monarchy in 1660; people traditionally wore oak apples as Charles II hid in the ‘Royal Oak’ from Parliamentarians). Go hunting for oak apples and wear them in your button hole (although they are wasp eggs, they won’t hurt you; gall wasps don’t sting anyway and the larva inside this oak apple looks nothing like a wasp). Find out more here.

Rhode Island and Wisconsin Statehood Day: Rhode Island (founded 1790) is the smallest state. It has the world’s largest bug sculpture.

Roger Williams founded the state and was The Only Man in the History of the World to think the native people had equal rights to the land that he did, and that atheists, pagans, Jews, Muslims and Christians should all be able to get along. The American Industrial Revolution began here with Samuel Slater’s water-powered cotton mill.

Wisconsin (founded 1848) has the very weird House on a Rock.

Mount Horeb is the Troll Capital of the World because it is covered in sculptures of trolls (Norse folklore said they brought good crops).

Barbie and ice cream sundaes came from here. Bloomer is the Jump Rope Capital of the Word. It also has a Mustard Museum showing 2,300 kinds of mustard.

28th May

Ethiopia National Day, celebrates downfall of Derg junta in 1991:

Ethiopia, also sometimes called Abyssinia, has over 93 million people, the most people living in a landlocked country in the world.

A 4.4 million year old humanoid skeleton was uncovered here, as well as ‘Lucy’, the earliest skeleton of a human. It is thought Homo sapiens first evolved here, and later set out to the Middle East; it’s also where the coffee bean first appeared.

In around 300 A.D. Ethiopia’s Kingdom of Aksum was as powerful as Rome, Persia, China and India, and was the first empire to adopt Christianity.

In 1270 the Solomonic dynasty began rule in Ethiopia, claiming descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, making them the second-oldest monarchy in the world (after Japan’s Imperial Dynasty).

From 1508 Ethiopia had trade links with Portugal, and in the Ethiopian-Adal War (Adal was a Muslim state in the Horn of Africa) Portugal and the Ottoman Empire took sides as well.

From 1755 Ethiopia became cut off from the rest of the world and was run by warlords.

From around 1850 Ethiopia allied with Britain, who helped it to unite and reestablish the emperor’s power. Turkey and Egypt invaded in 1875-6, but Ethiopia won.

In 1889 Menelik II became Emperor, and built roads and schools and the capital, Addis Ababa.

He also let Italy have a bit of northern Ethiopia, now Eritrea, in return for arms and support. Italy took the mick and expanded the offered territory, but Ethiopia defeated them in the Battle of Adwa, 1896. This makes Ethiopia the only African power to have defeated Europe and never been colonised.

From 1916 Emperor Haile Selassi I became emperor. Selassi was originally called Duke, or Ras, Tafari, and is worshipped by the Rastafarians as the Second Coming.

He was making Ethiopia all independent and modern when Italy invaded again. Selassi appealed to the League of Nations, and became Time magazine’s Man of the Year.

In WWII Britain pushed Italy out of Ethiopia and gave Ethiopia independence again.

In 1942 Selassi abolished slavery, even though about 2-4 million people out of the 9 million population were slaves.

In 1952 Ethiopia became a federation with Eritrea, then annexed them in 1962, who fought back and gained independence.

Mariam

In 1974, following an increase in oil prices, Selassi was deposed by a Soviet-backed Marxist-Leninist junta called the ‘Derg’. Led by Mengistu Haile Mariam, they killed around 500,000 people, and Mariam was found guilty of genocide in 2006 and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

In the 1980s 1 million died from famine.

Soviet Russia collapsed in 1989 and Ethiopia lost its financial support, and Mariam had to flee as the people turned on him.

In 1995 Ethiopia held its first democratic elections.

In 1998-2000 the Ethiopia-Eritrea war cost both countries $1 million  a day because Ethiopia had taken the area of Badme (it still has it).

The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democractic Front, led by Meles Zenawi, has been in power since 1991 and although it lost the 2005 elections it still claimed power.

Ethiopia still uses the Julian calendar with 13 equal months; it is currently 2003.

Day and night are always the same as Ethiopia is on the equator, and instead of using a 12-hour clock beginning at midnight or noon, 1 o’clock is at daybreak, 6am, or at 7pm if it’s 1 o’clock at night (yes, I did explain that terribly).

It has these unique churches carved straight into the ground:

Nepal Republic Day

People have lived here for more than 11 thousand years. Around 500 B.C. a Nepalese prince called Siddharta Gautama gave up his title and tried to become enlightened – he is now known as Buddha.

Nepal was sometimes part of Indian empires like the Mauryan and Gupta Empires, and Nepal became more Hindu than Buddhist.

In 1482 Nepal was three separate kingdoms, Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur. In the mid-18th century, a Gurkha (soldier) king, Prithvi Narayan Shah, and he took over looooooads until China felt he was getting a bit close and declared war. And the Brits, who were all over India, also got scared and declared war, but we massively underestimated how fierce the Gurkhas are and were nearly beaten.

In 1846 the Nepalese queen wanted to get rid of a military leader, Jung Bahadur Rana. He fought back, and this led to the Kot Massacre, where loads of princes and chieftains were killed and Rana became king. He allowed the Prime Minister more power than him, and was very pro-British.

In 1959-89 democracy was abolished and the king just had layers and layers of advisers. In 1991 they got democracy back; meanwhile, Bhutan decided to get rid of anyone of Nepalese descent and sent about 100,000 people over, who still just live in a refugee camp in eastern Nepal today.

In 1996 the Communist Party began a civil war until 2006, with 12,000 people killed. In 2001 the Crown Prince killed the king, queen and seven other royals for disagreeing with his choice of wife. The next king entered negotiations with the Communists and eventually agreed to stand down, and Nepal became a secular republic with the Communist Party in coalition with basically all the other parties, which sounds nice.

Nepal has eight of the world’s 10 tallest mountains, including Mount Everest. We like to build a mountain of cushions, climb to the top and have a picnic. Weirdly satisfying. Nepal is the only country to have a non-rectangular flag.

Other events today:

23rd May

1829 accordion invented, Vienna,

World Turtle Day

Watch David Attenborough’s baby turtles racing to the sea (this video makes the Toddler laugh so much), then make these egg box turtles. Maybe, if you have a sandpit, you could make paper eggs for them and bury them.

Tibet Liberation Day: it was a British protectorate from 1904; China took it back 1950. See 10 March for full history.

Other events today:

  • Birthday of Guru Amar Das (Sikhs)
  • Jamaica Labour Day – see 6th August
  • South Carolina founded 1788: famous for peaches

20th May

1570 Theatrus Orbis Terrarum published, first modern atlas

1609 Shakespeare’s Sonnets first published

1927 Charles Lindberg sets off on the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic; 1932 Amelia Earhardt does the same, first time by a woman.

 

Josephine Baker Day – an American-born French entertainer who helped in the civil rights movement in America by refusing to perform for segregated audiences.

 

World Metrology Day (celebrates the use of the metre) – how tall are you in metres? How far can you throw a ball? How far can you throw a flipflop?

European Maritime Day – so make boats out of everything!

Cuba Independence Day (from America, 1902)

combined-map-of-usa-and-cuba

Cuba was originally inhabited by ‘American Indians’ – the Taino/Arawak people. Christopher Columbus discovered it in 1492 and claimed it for Spain, whose settlers wiped out the natives in the usual manner (disease, oppression).

In 1549 the new governor, Dr. Gonzalo Perez de Angulo. liberated all remaining natives.

During the Seven Years’ War, Britain took Cuba from the Spanish. We already owned North America and other parts of the Carribean, so actually this was good for Cuba’s trade. Also we brought thousands of West African slaves to work in the sugar plantations. But then we swapped Cuba for Florida.

Carlos Manuel de Céspedes

In 1868 Carlos Manuel de Céspedes offered to free any slaves who fought with him for Cuban Independence, leading to the Ten Years’ War. In the end Spain offered them more self-control and in the 1880s abolished slavery.

An exile, Jose Marti, founded the Cuban Revolutionary Party in New York in 1892. In 1895 he joined Maximo Gomez, who led the war against Spanish rule then. The Spanish army outnumbered the rebel army and put them in prototype concentration camps called reconcentrados, where they died of starvation and disease. The US was against the Spanish on this, and declared war.

After the Spanish-American War (1898 – America won), Cuba belonged to America until it was granted independence in 1902. There followed a series of presidents, included the dictator Batista who took the seat through a military coup.

Then Fidel Castro took over, also by military force, and Batista fled to exile. Castro executed any rebels and legalised the Communist Party which Batista had banned. The US sent in CIA-trained Cuban exiles to assassinate Castro. This was the Bay of Pigs Invasion, 1961.

The next year Cuba asked Russia if it could have some of its nuclear missiles stationed on it, to put the US off further invasions. This was the Cuban Missile Crisis and was perhaps the closest the Cold War came to full-on nuclear war. Economy was poor, but this was partly because all American states had imposed trade sanctions. Soviet Russia had been supporting Cuba with about $5 billion a year, and when it collapsed in 1991 that was….bad. But Cuba refused American help until 1993.

Now China supports them. In 2008 Fidel stepped down and his brother Raul took over. In 2013 Cubans were allowed to go abroad without even having to be invited by the government (the previous terms). 180,000 left and returned. They don’t have democracy or perhaps much freedom of expression, but they have good healthcare and education. People from around Latin America and America itself go to Cuba for medical care because it’s good and cheap.

Cuban music is called Son, and the Rhumba comes from here. Ernesto Lecuona is a classical Cuban composer.

Other events today:

  • Cameroon National Day – see 1st October
  • East Timor Independence Day (from Indonesia, 2002)- see 30th August
  • Indonesia National Awakening (leading to independence from the Netherlands in 1945) – see 17th August
  • Cambodia Day of Remembrance (remembers Communist rule of Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, which killed and tortured masses of opponents) – see 9th November

13th May

1880 Thomas Eddison tests his electric railway

1958 Velcro trademarked – you can engineer strange shapes with Velcro dots, craft sticks, corks, buttons, bottle lids, etc.

1958 Ben Carlin finishes a 10-year trip around the world in a car-boat – definitely something to build and test with the Lego!

Abbotsbury Garland Day (children traditionally have day off school to make flower garlands, which are blessed in church and were once put into the sea to bless the fishermen’s work but are now hung on the WWI memorial)

Rotuma Day (independence of Rotuma, an island off Fiji)