18th April

Zimbabwe Independence Day

Zimbabwe is named after the ruined city of Great Zimbabwe, and may mean ‘large stone houses’.

From c.1450 Zimbabwe was called the Mutapa Empire and provided trade routes to Arabs and the Portuguese. The Portuguese decided they wanted to own the routes and began to war with them until the empire collapsed.

It then became the Rozwi Empire, expelling the Portuguese. A Zulu clan called the Ndebele conquered the Rozwi empire by 1838.

In the 1880s Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Company arrived, gradually took over using some very British treaties and soldiers, and named the country Rhodesia after Cecil.

The BSAC tried to raid the South African Republic, expecting British ex-pats there to rise up and help fight off their Dutch rulers, but it failed, and this inspired the Ndebele to rebel, but this was quashed.

In WWII Southern Rhodesia contributed more (per white person) to the war effort, particularly in East Africa fighting Italian Axis forces, than any other part of the British empire, including Britain.

Northern and Southern Rhodesia were combined (by Britain, without anyone wanting them to) with Nyasaland (now Malawi) into the Central African Federation, which didn’t last long.

Northern Rhodesia then became Zambia, and independent, so Southern Rhodesia’s Ian Smith, who led the Rhodesian Front, claimed independence too. Britain was reluctant as usually we only allowed colonies to become independent once they had a majority rule (i.e., they weren’t being governed solely by the white minority).

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe African People’s Union and Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National  Union started a guerilla war against the white Rhodesian Front.

In 1978 Ian Smith agreed that maybe actual Africans could run for election too, and the United African National Council won, with African bishop Abel Muzorewa becoming Prime Minister.

Britain helped negotiate to end the guerilla war. In 1980 Mugabe’s ZANU won a landslide victory. The Ndebele thought this was a Shona takeover; Mugabe killed and tortured tens of thousands of Ndebele to shut them up in the Matabeleland Massacres.

Other problems emerged: around 1 in 4 Zimbabweans were infected with HIV by 1997, and in 2006 Zimbabwe had the shortest life expectancy in the world (about 35 years).

70% of the land was owned by white people. Mugabe forcefully redistributed the land to his friends in 2000. In 2002 Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth.

60% of Zimbabwe’s wildlife has died since 2000 due to excessive poaching and deforestation (people use trees for fuel as electricity is unreliable).

Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River is one of the biggest waterfalls in the world.

Zimbabwe is also proud of its Balancing Rocks – can you build something like this?

The Shona people are famous for their sculptures.

Did you know Boy Scouting began here when Baden-Powell was fighting in the second Matabele War with Frederick Burnham, the Chief of Scouts for the British Army, and they started planning…

 

Japan Invention Day

They’ve invented such things as the novel, the idea of time travel, many different martial arts and video games, the digital synthesiser. They also have a special category of inventions, chindogu, which is those ‘unuseless’ inventions that seem like a good idea but actually cause more problems.

 

 

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18th March

Anniversary of the Oil Expropriation (Mexico celebrates nationalising its oil reserves in 1938);

 

Aruba National Anthem and Flag Day

Hindu New Year (2018), called Ugadi, Gudi Padwa, Cheiraoba, Chaitii, Chaitra Pratiprada. This celebrates the anniversary of the God Brahmin creating the world.

Attuvela Mahotsavam (Hindu festival in Kerala, India, 2016: According to legend, it is the welcome ceremony for the Goddess of Kodungalloor, who comes to visit her sister, the Goddess of Elamkavu. The Goddess Bhagavathy is the presiding deity in this small temple. During the two-day Attuvela, beautifully illuminated canoes, carrying a huge replica of the temple, sail down the waters accompanied by hordes of colourfully decorated small canoes and temple percussion music.)

Gangaur festival of Rajasthan (2018) is celebrated in reverence to Lord Shiva and goddess Parvati. It derives its name from the words ‘Gan’ and ‘Gauri’, the former is another name for Shiva while the latter is used to address Parvati. The festival centers around women and all the rituals to be followed are observed by them. The festival is held in the month of ‘Chaitra’ as per the Hindu calendar.

The festival rituals commence the day after Holi, and the women plant wheat and barley seeds in the ashes of the Holi fire. The women also make clay images of Gauri and her husband Isar (see picture). Gewar is a traditional treat during this festival:

18th December

1892 the Nutcracker premiers

1793 HMS Lutine sinks full of gold

1912 Piltdown Man announced

Niger Republic Day

Qatar National Day

UN Arabic Language Day;

New Jersey founded 1787: had the world’s first organised baseball game, drive-in movie, the first movie (by Edison), submarine, condensed soup, robots to replace workers, salt taffee, the first town to be lighted by electricity.

18th November

1307 William Tell shoots an apple off his son’s head

 

1928 short Steamboat Willie and Mickey Mouse’s birthday – find Mickey-Mouse-themed lunch ideas here.

 

2013 MAVEN probe sent to Mars

 

Latvian Independence Day: (from Russia, 1918)

Latvia had important access to the Baltic ports, which meant it tended to be attacked by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Sweden and Russia who all wanted it too.

From 1611 it was owned by Sweden, who were generally rather nice as you might expect of Swedes, the main change being that peasants started being educated.

Then it was taken into the Russian Empire, who also took all of its industry into Russia proper, until WWI , when Latvia became independent.

In 1939 Soviet Russia took Latvia into its protection, if it could be called that, replacing civil servants with Soviet Russians and deporting/killing thousands just in case.

In 1940 Latvia became part of the Soviet Union, and during WWII Nazi Germany took bits too. Post-war it was back to Soviet Russia, with all the deportations and repression that entailed.

In 1989-90 the USSR realised it wasn’t welcome and Latvia became independent again.

Latvia’s most popular sport is ice hockey. While they are a Christian country, they have a particular Latvian paganism called Romuva, and its followers are the Dievturiba, the Godskeepers.

You could tell stories from their folklore. They export a great deal of amber so you can talk about how that’s made. They invented the Namejs style of ring, as well as the Lielvarde belt whose symbols are said to explain the cosmos. You could try their sorrel soup.

 

Morocco Fete de l’Independance (Independence Day):

From the 6th century B.C. Phoenicians (Jewish traders in a purple dye from the Murex snail; they spread the use of the alphabet) settled and traded with Morocco.

From the 1st century B.C. it was part of the Roman Empire called Mauretania Tingitana (awesome name).

From the 6th century it was part of Byzantium. Umayyad Muslims from Damascus (in Syria) conquered Morocco; followed by a man named Idris, who formed the Idrisid dynasty and made Morocco a centre of Muslim learning.

Berber dynasties followed, and a bunch that claimed to be descendants from Mohammed, until in 1666 the Alouite dynasty united the country and still rule today.

Weirdly Morocco was the first country ever to recognise the US. From 1860 France and Spain started taking bits, and Moroccans fought for both countries in WWI and WWII, but after France exiled their sultan and replaced him with an unpopular one, Morocco really wanted independence; it gained this in 1956.

Spain left their bit of the Sahara but Algeria and the Polisarios (Spanish settlers) fought Morocco for it.

It’s still not really calmed down but there’s been a ceasefire since 1991. Cook some Moroccan food or make a little fez for a teddy bear. Try Andalusian classical music like Ziryab’s, or chaabi bands.

 

Also today:

  • Battle of Vertièrés Day (Haiti, 1803)
  • Oman National Day
  • Chinita’s Fair (Venezuela)

18th October

1851 Moby Dick first published – if, like me, you have no intention of ever reading the real thing, why not try the graphic novel version with your kids?

1922 BBC founded

1967 Soviet Venera reaches Venus and measures its atmosphere – here’s a short video about Venus.

Alaska Day (1867 US bought Alaska for $7.2 million), so make a Baked Alaska, or learn about the aurora borealis or watch sled dog races.

Azerbaijan Independence Day (from USSR)

Azerbaijan (see on Google maps) was originally inhabited by Caucasian Albanians, and then was settled by Scythians and Iranians before becoming part of Alexander the Great’s empire. Later it became a Persian vassal state, and the king officially adopted Christianity in the 4th century, but then the Islamic Umayyad Caliphate took over.

At the beginning of the 11th century Turkic Oghuz tribes took over, and their languages became Azerbaijani. It then became a vassal state of the Timur Empire which occupied most of Central Asia. Then Iranian dynasties took over, as well as a lot of khanates.

Russia came in in 1812, and after a couple of wars with Iran, took Azerbaijan. Russia collapsed after WWI, and Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia became the Transcaucasian Democratic Federal Republic.

The republic dissolved too and Azerbaijan gained independence as the first modern parliamentary republic.

But slightly less than two years later Soviet Russia invaded because it needed Azerbaijan’s oil. Azerbaijan’s oil really helped Russia during WWII.

On 18th October 1991 Azerbaijan became independent from Russia again.

(…to be continued)

18th September

1809 London’s Royal Opera House opens

1928 Juan de la Cierva makes the first autogyro crossing of the English Channel

1709 Samuel Johnson (wrote the first English dictionary) born

1819 Leon Foucault (inventor of the Foucault pendulum) born

Azerbaijan Day of National Music – see 17th November

Chile Independence Day (Dieciocho)

Native Americans moved to Chile about 10,000 years ago. They became the Mapuche people, who resisted Inca invasions.

In 1520 Ferdinand Magellan discovered the Strait of Magellan through Chile. Spain came to conquer them in 1540, but the Mapuches weren’t having it. In fact, Spain abolished slavery after realising it just made the Mapuche people angrier. However Spain eventually succeeded, and by 1778 73% of the population was European.

In 1808 Napoleon decided France had Spain now and put his brother Joseph on the throne. Not all of Spain agreed and Chile definitely didn’t and declared itself independent on 18th September 1810. Spain tried to take Chile back in the Reconquista but by 1818 Chile had won.

From 1972 they had a socialist government which increased nationalised industry and employment, but a year later inflation was out of control because they had funded the socialist changes by printing money. A military coup took over, led by General Pinochet and helped by America. Around 40,000 people were then tortured, imprisoned or killed for political reasons. Eight years later he lost his presidential role in a democratic election.

In 2010 Chile had a huge earthquake, but also made international news for rescuing 33 miners who were trapped in a shaft for 17 days.

Chile’s national animal is the condor. The national dance is the cueca. Chile is most famous for Easter Island.

 

18th July

Uruguay Constitution Day:

The Portuguese discovered Uruguay in 1512. Before then there were only the nomadic Charrua, who were driven there by the Guarani from the north about 4,000 years ago.

The Spanish arrived in 1516. The Charrua killed one of the Spanish explorers the year before, and their fierceness combined with the lack of treasure in Uruguay meant no one fancied settling there until 1603 when Spain introduced cattle.

Then the British, Spanish and Portuguese fought over it – Spain mostly won but in 1806-7 Britain did manage to seize the capital, Montevideo, as part of the Napoleonic Wars (that sounds like a tenuous excuse).

In 1811 José Gervasio Artigas revolted against the Spanish authorities and defeated them.

A new government was formed in Buenos Aires, and Artigas said every area should have its own political and economic autonomy, particularly east of the river Uruguay in the Banda Oriental.

The new government ignored him, so he broke with Buenos Aires and seized Montevideo. Artigas organised a Liga Federal of six states (four of which became part of Argentina).

In 1816 the Portuguese invaded from Brazil and took Montevideo the next year.

Brazil became independent in 1822, and three years later the Thirty-Three Orientals, a revolutionary group led by Juan Antonio Lavalleja, declared independence, fought for 500 days about it, and eventually Britain got involved and negotiated independence for them on 18 July 1830.

A year later, Bernabé Rivera, the nephew of the new president Fructuosa Rivera, invited the remaining Charrua people (remember them?) to meet him, then killed all the men and enslaved the women and children. Nice.

A couple more massacres later and there were only four Charruas left: they were taken to France to be shown off like a circus act, and they all died, including a baby that was born to them on the journey. There is a monument to them in Montevideo called Los Últimos Charrúas.

Then Uruguay became split between two political parties: the Blancos, who were conservative farmer types, and the Colorados, who were liberal business types.

Oribe.

In 1838 the Colorados led an army and overthrew the Blanco president, Manuel Oribe. He fled to Argentina, ruled by Manuel de Rosas.

Rosas.

So then Colorados leader Fructuosa Rivera declared war on Rosas (not sure I entirely understand why). The war lasted 13 years and is called the Guerra Grande, or Great War.

In 1843 Argentina started trying to take Montevideo in a siege that lasted 9 years and ended up involving Italian and French troops on Uruguay’s side.

In 1849 Britain and France negotiated in favour of Rosas.

Eventually Oribe was defeated when there was an uprising against Rosas by his own people and also Brazil got involved on the Colorados’ side.

In 1865, the emperor of Brazil, the Argentinian president and the Uruguay (Colorado) president formed a Triple Alliance and went to war on Paraguay. No reason given.The Paraguayans call this one the Guerra Grande because it devastated them.

Then followed the usual list of insurrections, military rule, coups, and some nice presidents; they jumped in at the end of WWII with the rest of the Americas; in the late 1950s there was an economic dip which led to everyone getting a bit violent, and by 1973 the country was under oppressive military rule for 12 years. In 1984 they went back to democracy.

Now Uruguay is top in Latin America for democracy, peace, lack of corruption, quality of living, and top in South America when it comes to press freedom, prosperity and security. It also supplies more troops to the UN than anyone else in the world. It has recently legalised cannabis, same-sex marriage and abortion, making it one of the most liberal nations in the world.

Activities: Play football, or make a sand sculpture:

 

Nelson Mandela Day
Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) campaigned against the apartheid in South Africa. In 1962 he was imprisoned for trying to overthrow the state and served 27 years. In 1994 he became South Africa’s first black President. He didn’t stand for a second term and instead set up the Nelson Mandela Foundation to combat poverty and HIV.