Guy Fawkes Night: Gunpowder Treason & Plot

November 5.

Remember, remember, the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
I see no reason, why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

Guy Fawkes

We think of terrorism as a modern phenomenon but 400 years ago, before the first permanent settlement in North America, English authorities uncovered a terrorist plot that came one spark from away from blowing London to bits.

Guy “Guido” Fawkes was an Englishman who fought on the side of the Spanish Catholics in the Netherlands.

This would-be terrorist was described as “skillful in the wars”, “of excellent good natural parts, very resolute and universally learned,” “a man of great piety, of exemplary temperance, of mild and cheerful demeanour, an enemy of broils and disputes, a faithful friend, and remarkable for his punctual attendance upon religious observance.”

Not your typical mass-murderer.

Fawkes and his anti-English co-conspirators sought to destroy the entire British government in one foul swoop.

On November 5, 1605, after receiving an anonymous letter, authorities found Guy Fawkes and 36 barrels of gunpowder in the cellar of the House of Parliament. Fawkes was only one of several conspirators, but he was the one entrusted with the mission of setting off the explosion. Others had fled the country, expecting Fawkes would succeed.

Guy Fawkes Night, 1776, Windsor Castle

So the popular rhyme goes:

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t’was his intent
To blow up King and Parli’ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England’s overthrow;
By God’s providence he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match.

Ever since that day, youths in the United Kingdom set off firecrackers, light bonfires, and burn effigies of the notorious Guy Fawkes in memory of the miraculous discovery of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

International Day to Eradicate Poverty

October 17.

60 years after the adoption of the universal declaration of human rights, million of people are still deprived of basic human rights such as food, housing and decent working conditions.

On October 17, 1987, over 100,000 people gathered at the Trocadero in Paris, the site of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, to protest and draw awareness to the problem of poverty around the globe.

The Declaration covers the basic rights of human beings, from the very broad…

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. (Article 1)

to the more specific….

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services… (Article 24)

For the 5th anniversary of the 1997 demonstration, the United Nations declared October 17 “International Day to Eradicate Poverty.”

Today, while three-quarters of the world’s income is in the hands of the richest 20%, the poorest 40% of the world’s population accounts for just 5% of global income.

Hans Rosling: New insights on poverty and life around the world

Poverty Facts and Stats

Dictionary Day

October 16.

October 16th is Dictionary Day in honor of Webster’s birthday.

Webster Long

Wrong Webster.

Noah Webster
Noah Webster

That’s better.

“On the first of May will be opened…a school, in which children may be instructed, not only in the common arts of reading, writing, and arithmetic, but in any branch of academic literature.

“The little regard that is paid to the literary improvement of females…and the general inattention to the grammatical purity and elegance of our native language, are faults in the education of youth that more gentlemen have taken pains to censure than to correct…”

–Noah Webster, April 16, 1782

Across the Atlantic, the English Parliament was just voting to end the war in America when Noah Webster, a 24 year-old Yale grad and veteran of the Connecticut Militia, posted his notice. He had earned a law degree the year before, but the post-war economy was in such bad shape that no one could afford a lawyer. So he tried his hand at teaching.

His mission to ensure the literacy of Americans became a life-long passion, as did his belief that this new country required its own distinct standards of spelling. He printed his first Speller for children in 1783. The Speller became an irreplaceable teaching tool due to Webster’s keen understanding of how children learned language at different stages.

During his lifetime, he earned far more from the Speller than from his dictionaries. The Speller sold millions of copies, and was acknowledged as a considerable force for maintaining the unity of Americans through language.

His Compendious Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1806. In it, Webster created a uniquely American way of spelling. With words such as center, harbor and program, instead of centre, harbour and programme.

In 1828, at age 70, he published his masterpiece: American Dictionary of the English Language. It contained over 70,000 entries, but sold only 2,500 copies. Webster was forced to mortgage his house to complete the second edition, which was released in 1840.

After his death in 1843, George and Charles Merriam purchased the rights to the dictionary and expanded it. The expanded “Unabridged” dictionary became the undisputed American authority on the English language for over a hundred years.

Noah Webster article – by Joshua Kendall, 2008

Noah Webster – by Horace Scudder, 1886

Nyerere Day – Tanzania

October 14.

Julius Nyerere was born in 1922 just east of Lake Victoria in what was then Tanganyika. He herded sheep and “led a typical tribal life” in the village where his father was chief of a small tribe.

He began school at age 12 and studied to be a teacher at Makerere University in Uganda. After teaching for three years he received a scholarship to the University of Edinburgh.

He taught English, Swahili, and history in Dar es Salaam, and was elected head of the Tanganyika African Association, which he had helped to form as an undergraduate at Makerere.

Under his leadership TAA transformed into the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) a political force dedicated to Tanganyikan independence. As his reputation grew colonial leaders pressured him to choose between teaching and politics. Though he chose politics, his supporters would call him Mwalimu, or “teacher,” for the rest of his life.

Nyerere traveled to New York to speak to the United Nations on Tanganyikan independence on behalf of the TANU, which became the most powerful political coalition in the country. In the late 1950s, Tanganyika won independence and Nyerere was elected its first president.

As President, Nyerere helped unite Zanzibar and Tanganyika, forming Tanzania. He was controversial in the West for increasingly distancing himself and the country from European governments and leaning more toward Communist China. For instance, his transformed the age-old African concept of Ujamaa (Familyhood) into an economic policy, melding socialism with traditional tribal government.

“Nyerere reasoned that political independence would have to be followed by quick material development, which, in turn, rested heavily on Western aid. What Nyerere did not wish to import from the West was the individualistic, self-seeking, acquisitive character of its capitalism…”

An African Voice – Robert William July

A few years before his death he gave an interview to Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

CHG: You mentioned the one-party rule in your country where you were president for four terms during which time you promoted the principle of “Ujamaa,” socialism, and you have acknowledged that it was a miserable failure…

NYERERE: Where did you get the idea that I thought “Ujamaa” was a miserable failure?

CHG: Well, I read that you said socialism was a failure…

NYERERE: A bunch of countries were in economic shambles at the end of the 70s. They are not socialists…You have to take in the values of socialism which we were trying to build in Tanzania in any society.

CHG: And those values are what?

NYERERE: And those values are values of justice, a respect for human beings, a development which is people-centered, development where you care about people. You can say ‘leave the development of a country to something called the market,’ which has no heart at all since capitalism is completely ruthless. Who is going to help the poor? And the majority of the people in our countries are poor. Who is going to stand for them? Not the market. So I’m not regretting that I tried to build a country based on those principles…Whether you call them socialism or not…what gave capitalism a human face was the kind of values I was trying to sell in my country.

In a time when so many of his contemporaries clung to power until losing it by coup, Nyerere chose to step down in 1985.

He died of leukemia on October 14, 1999. Today, on the anniversary of his death, the people of Tanzania remember Nyerere, his extraordinary leadership, and the principles on which Tanzania was founded.

Canadian Thanksgiving

Second Monday of October.

Newfoundland and Nova Scotia each lay claim to Thanksgiving celebrations even older than the Pilgrims of Massachusetts.

English navigator Martin Frobisher enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal on Baffin Island in 1578, and Samuel de Champlain established an “Order of Good Cheer” in 1606, after most of his men died out the previous winter from scurvy and malnutrition.

But according to Robert Ruby, author of An Unknown Shore: The Lost History of England’s Arctic Colony, neither event can be linked to the modern celebration of Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving in the Americas traces its history back to good old England, where Thanksgiving Days were declared not just for agricultural bounty, but for military victories as well. King Henry V held a Thanksgiving after a victory against France in 1415. Queen Elizabeth declared Thanksgiving in November 1588, upon hearing of the destruction of the Spanish Armada near Scotland.

The first annual English Thanksgiving was declared on November 5, 1605 (now Guy Fawkes Day) which celebrated the foiling of the infamous terrorist’s plot to destroy London.

English Puritans meanwhile refused to observe the many Saints Days celebrated in England, which they believed were contaminated by Europe’s pagan past. Rather, Puritans only recognized holy days observed by Jesus, such as the Feast of the Tabernacles in autumn. And they carried this harvest tradition across the Atlantic.

After the Seven-Years War, residents of Halifax declared a Thanksgiving for their victory. This, combined with the influx of Loyalists from the lower 13 colonies during the American Revolution, solidified Thanksgiving’s status as an annual holiday, though the date changed several times.

Thanksgiving was declared a Canadian national holiday in 1879. After WWI, Armistice Day and Thanksgiving merged to form one holiday. The two became independent holidays in 1931.

Children’s Day – Brazil

October 12.

It began with a two-foot tall sculpture. Headless at that.

Three fishermen were casting their nets in the Paraiba River in Brazil. The year was 1717. Their nets were turning up empty until one of the fishermen pulled up a dark brown headless statue of a woman. Intrigued the fisherman cast his net again and pulled up the head. After finding the statue, the men’s net grew heavy with fish. They called the idol Nossa Senhora da Aparecida–Our Lady Who Appeared.

For the first 15 years, the small black Madonna was housed in one of the fishermen’s homes. Legends grew around the doll and the miracles it performed, including one legend about a slave who visited the shrine, whose chains broke when he came in contact with the idol. It became a symbol of hope for the oppressed in Portuguese-controlled Brazil. By the 1760s, due to its popularity a basilica was built to house the shrine, and the town itself became known as Aparecida.

The basilica was renovated in the 19th century. In the 1950s a new, larger basilica was begun to accommodate the overwhelming amount of visitors.

The Pope declared Our Lady of Aparecida the patron saint of Brazil in 1928, and today the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida is widely considered the second largest church in the world after St. Peter’s. It can accommodate 45,000 people and receives almost 7 million visitors a year.

October 12th is the national saint’s feast day, but these days the holiday is also celebrated as Children’s Day. Children throughout Brazil look forward to this day all year, for it’s the day they unwrap gifts from their parents. In many places in Brazil, Children’s Day is even bigger than Christmas.

The Black Madonna and the Limits of Light

Dia de la Raza

October 12.

On this day in 1492 two worlds collided.

Mexican philosopher Jose Vasconcelos coined the term La Raza Cósmica, the Cosmic Race (for lack of a better word), to describe the people of Latin America, and what he considered the future of the human race. Vasconcelos theorized that:

“the different races of the world tend to mix ever more, until forming a new human type, composed of the selection of each of the existent peoples…”

…and that the Americans were a mixture of all races: the Asiatic tribes who crossed over the Bering Strait, and the Iberian colonizers and African slaves who crossed via the Atlantic. Vasconcelos’s theories were not without bias: “A religion like Christianity advanced the American indians, in a few centuries, from cannibalism to a relative civilization.” But you will hear echoes of Vasconcelos’s optimism on Dia de la Raza.

Raza means “race”, but not entirely in the English sense of the word. In the context of the holiday, raza refers to the birth of a new breed of humanity, the synthesis of cultures, races, religions, and ideologies that make up Hispanic America today.

Thus, Dia de la Raza, takes this day of tragedy and turns it into a celebration of life across Latin America.

Dia de la Raza & Columbus Day – Contradicting Cultures

Columbus Day

Second Monday in October.

October 12, 1492. Perhaps no date in Pan-American history is as important or controversial.

By October 11, 1492, Columbus’s crew had had enough. The trip was too long. They had spotted weeds and birds—signs of land—for weeks, but not a hint of soil. And at the rate they were going, many were afraid there would hardly be enough headwind to take them back to Spain.

Each day, Columbus lied to the men about how far they’d traveled, so as not to worry them more about the distance between themselves and civilization.

Finally a sailor aboard the Pinta by the name of Rodrigo de Triana spotted a speck of land on the horizon. On October 12, Columbus disembarked at an island in the Bahamas whose exact location is lost to history, and met with the island’s residents. His first impressions were that the people were young (all under 30), unclothed, painted black or various colors, and were a people who could be easily converted to Christianity, as “it seemed to me they had no religion of their own.”

Also, he noted how when he showed them his sword, they had never seen such a thing. They gripped it by blade and were surprised to find themselves cut. It was a foretelling symbol of the future of the two peoples and their relations.

Throughout much of the Americas, Columbus is derided as the bringer of devastation to two continents and the precursor to the genocide of millions of people.

“When Columbus sent back hundreds of Taino indians to be sold as slaves, Queen Isabella ordered them free and returned to their land.  Eventually, the European colonists and sovereigns became so discontent with Columbus’ mismanagement that he was arrested and shipped back to Spain in chains. He spent the rest of his life trying to regain his governorship over Hispaniola.

“The government of Columbus was brutal and violated human dignity and the moral senses of his contemporaries.  He was the first to establish institutions of slavery and brutal conquest that would lead to the demise of the nations and people who already called the Western Hemisphere their home.

Dia de la Raza

Historians have still not settled upon a psychological portrait of the man around whom so much of world history hinges upon. Unlike the kings of the day whom history recorded so fastidiously, Columbus was a relative nobody until 1492.

And that may be the root of his popularity in 18th and 19th century United States. Here was a man not descended from royalty, but who attained fame and (supposedly) fortune merely by heading west into the great unknown—a fitting hero in the days of “manifest destiny.”

Had Columbus turned back on October 11, the New World would never have been discovered, and the indigenous tribes of the Americas would have lived in peace for hundreds of years. Unlikely. The idea had flourished in Europe that if the world was round a quicker way to the Orient must exist, and had Columbus turned back, it was only a matter of time before others would go the distance. Whether the actions of another discoverer could have stemmed the brutality, slavery and genocide, we will never know.

The Huejotzingo Codex of 1531: the first known depiction of the Virgin in indigenous glyphs

Today in the United States, over 500 years later, Columbus is one of four individuals honored with a federal holiday. The others are Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington, and Jesus Christ.