December 26 – January 1


God makes three requests of his children: Do the best you can, where you are, with what you have now.

— African-American Proverb

Originally intended as an Afrocentric alternative to Western holidays in the United States, Kwanzaa is now celebrated by people of African heritage in Europe and the Caribbean as well as by millions in Africa itself. The term Kwanzaa comes from the Kiswahili phrase “ya kwanzaa” meaning “first fruits.” The name refers to the ageless African tradition of harvesting the first fruits of the season. According to, “Kwanzaa is a time of year for black people to come together to celebrate the fruits of our labor during the past year.”

Other names you might hear today:

Mishumaa saba: the seven candles.

Nia: purpose

And perhaps most important: Nguzo Saba.

Nguzo Saba means Seven Principles, or Seven Reasons. The week-long celebration of Kwanzaa emphasizes one of the seven principles each day.

  • Umoja – Unity – Dec. 26
  • Kujichagulia – Self-Determination – Dec. 27
  • Ujima – Collective Work and Responsibility – Dec. 28
  • Ujamaa – Cooperative Economics – Dec. 29
  • Nia – Purpose – Dec. 30
  • Kuumba – Creativity – Dec. 31
  • Imani – Faith – Jan. 1

The Nguzo Saba are the “minimum set of values African Americans need to rescue and reconstruct their lives in their own image and interest and build and sustain an Afrocentric family, community and culture.” — Kwanzaa founder Maulana Karenga

The Kinara (candleholder) symbolizes African ancestors; The Mishumaa Saba (7 candles) symbolize the 7 Principles


On the first day of Kwanzaa African-Americans celebrate Umoja, or “unity”. It is the foundation of the seven Nguzo. Politicians often call upon “unity” as a slogan in the national arena, yet the concept of unity is overlooked within our communities and within the family.

Unity of the family is the building block of Umoja. It means unity of father and mother as role models for their children, and respect for one’s elders. Karenga notes that in many Western societies the elderly have been cast aside “leaving them with only failing memories.” African communities utilize the experience of their elders as judges and conflict resolvers. Their participation benefits both the society as a whole and the elders themselves.

A central purpose of Kwanzaa is to teach the younger generation about traditions that were passed down by Africans for countless generations, but were violently torn away during the slave trade and slavery. Marcus Garvey wrote:

A people without knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.

Umoja extends from family to community, from community to nation, and from nation to race. Applying the concept of umoja to the entire race is a difficult challenge. The African continent is home to over 50 nations. Each of these nations has not only its own ethnic identity, but several, often competing identities. And attempting to apply umoja to the entire continent and to all those descended from it is nothing less miraculous than uniting the entire planet.

But the principle of umoja is a practice as well as a principle. And the practice of umoja begins at home, one family at a time.

Tomorrow we celebrate the principle and the practice of Kujichagulia: Self-Determination…

Up you mighty race: accomplish what you will.

— Marcus Garvey

The first Kwanzaa stamp, 1997

Niger Republic Day

December 18

The Tree of Ténére, 1961, by Michael Mazeau

Standly quietly in the desert, L’Abre du Ténére was the only tree for 400 kilometers in any direction, earning the reputation as the most isolated tree in the world. It served as a natural lighthouse for travelers and traders crossing the Sahara.

In 1939 a team dug a neaby well to find out where the tree got its water. It determined the trees roots had to descend 35 meters to reach the source.

The Tree of Ténére was the sole survivor of a forest than once dominated the region. In fact this part of the Sahara was a fertile grassland, which ancient artworks depict supporting a multitude of animals. Ten thousand years of “global warming” entirely dried up the grassland.

Giraffes of the Sahara, (c) 2006 Marc Faucher

Today 80% of Niger is covered by the Sahara desert. Most Nigeriens live in the southwest corner of the country, where a small stretch of the Niger River flows in from Mali on the west and out through Nigeria to the south.

For centuries the unusual path of the Niger River baffled European explorers, who assumed its source was an unchartered snow-topped mountain rather than from storm run-off.


“Age after age the lordly stream hath run,
From secret source which mortal ne’er hath seen,
Deep-hidd’n perchance, where never sound hath been
Or sign of life–where tropic summers glow
On silent peaks of everlasting snow;”

William Allan Russell, The Niger

Because of its remoteness, the Niger region–ancient domain of the Songhai–was one of the last casualties of colonization. The French, intent on linking their holdings from the Niger River to the Nile, subdued Tuareg resistance and confiscated tribal lands in 1922.

During WWII, the French found themselves similarly occupied, and the Vichy government gave Nigeriens the right to vote. On December 18, 1958, Nigeriens voted to become an autonomous nation within the French commonwealth. Full independence came two years later. December 18 is celebrated as Niger’s National Day.

Niger National Day (c) 2006 Esther Garvi
Niger National Day (c) 2008 Esther Garvi

Watching Nigeriens celebrate National Day, you’d hardly believe the title that the UN Human Development Index bestowed upon the nation in 2006: “Least Livable Country in the World.” Nigeriens are among the most resourceful and spirited people in the world. The nation has navigated for centuries though colonialism, coups, drought, famine and war for centuries.

It has few precious natural resources. No oil like its neighbor to the south, Nigeria. No diamonds like Sierra Leone. No ocean access. A new gold mine started production in 2007, which may help raise Niger’s GDP. The land-locked nation gained notoriety in 2003 for something it didn’t do with its most highly-safe-guarded natural resource: it didn’t sell yellow-caked uranium to Iraq, as U.S. intelligence once suspected.

As for the Tree of Ténéré, it stands no more. According to Henri Lhote, who observed the tree in 1934 and again in 1959:

“Before, this tree was green and with flowers; now it is a colourless thorn tree and naked. I cannot recognise it—it had two very distinct trunks. Now there is only one, with a stump on the side, slashed, rather than cut a metre from the soil. What has happened to this unhappy tree? Simply, a lorry going to Bilma has struck it… but it has enough space to avoid it… the taboo, sacred tree, the one which no nomad here would have dared to have hurt with his hand… this tree has been the victim of a mechanic…’

After hundreds of years of surviving the harshest desert conditions, the lone survivor of the Ténéré forest succumbed 14 years later, not to nature, but to the bumper of a reportedly drunk driver.

Tenere Tree, 1939

L’Arbre du Ténéré

Niger 2006 Solar Eclipse

Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Niger (God is BIG!)

Esther Garvi’s Niger Blog


Green March – Morocco

November 6


Nope, this has little to do with the environmental movement. Green here signifies the religion of Islam, and the March in question was led by Moroccans protesting Spain’s continued occupation of the Western Sahara (then Spanish Sahara) well into the 1970s.

The Green March was orchestrated by Morocco’s King Hasan II who emphasized Western Sahara’s long-standing ties with his country.

In 1975, faced with growing international opposition and fighting within the territory, Spain announced the possibility of creating an independent state out of Spanish Sahara.

However, both Morocco and Mauritania (to the southeast) had claims to the territory. Hasan took the case to the International Court of Justice. The Court determined that there were ties between the Saharan territory and Morocco, but that the ties were not substantial at the time of Spain’s colonization of the territory; thus the Court recommended a Saharan referendum on self-determination.

In a televised announcement, Hasan emphasized the first part of the Court’s recommendation—the territory’s ties to Morocco—and called on Moroccans to liberate Spanish Sahara by means of a massive peaceful march.

On November 6, 1975, around 350,000 unarmed Moroccans assembled on their southern border and crossed over into then-Spanish territory calling for the return of Moroccan Sahara. The Spanish commanders refused to fire on the unarmed civilians as Hasan had predicted. The Green March went off peacefully and triumphantly. Later that month Spain agreed to temporary joint administration of the territory with Morocco and Mauritania, after which Western Sahara would be split between the two African nations.

Mauritania withdrew from Western Sahara in 1979 after a guerrilla war movement in favor of Saharan independence. The anniversary of Green March is a triumphant holiday in Morocco, although the call for independence is still hotly debated in Western Sahara.

Morocco Since 1830: A History, by C.R. Pennell

Why Green?

There’s little evidence in the Qur’an for green’s emergence as the color most symbolic of Islam, but numerous Muslim countries include green on their flags. In fact Libya’s flag is entirely green, the only single-color banner in the world.

One Surah (76:21) does notes that in paradise, denizens will be clad in green robes of fine silk.

Other sources claim that the Prophet Muhammad wore green and used green in his armies’ banners.

Still other theologians point to green as the color of nature and of life. So in a sense the Green March may have been related  to the environmental movement after all…

Assassination of Molchior Ndadaye

October 21

“The was no way to predict or prepare for Rwanda.”

Not exactly true. In 1993, a year prior to the Rwanda genocide, a nearly identical scenario occurred in Burundi.

After years of Tutsi rule, Hutu political parties united in their support to elect Melchior Ndadaye, a Hutu, as President of Burundi. The Hutu parties succeeded, ousting the incumbent President Pierre Buyoya, a Tutsi, in the country’s first democratic election.

Ndadaye was 40 years old. He had grown up during the intense ethnic wars of 1972. He studied at the University of Rwanda and at the National Academy of Arts and Trades in France. He sought to bridge the ethnic divide in Burundi by appointing Tutsis to top governments posts, including that of Prime Minister. But less than three months from taking office a coup erupted to removed the ruling Hutu government. On October 21, 1993, under the guise of protection, Tutsi security forces escorted Ndadaye and top government officials to a secret location, and murdered them.

The coup ultimately failed, but the President’s death sparked passion and anger across the country, fueled by radio and other mass media. Hutus attacked Tutsis in mass, neighbor against neighbor. The weapon of choice, the machete. The Tutsi-led army retaliated by killing tens of thousands of Hutu men, women, and children. Before long, an estimated 100,000 Hutu and Tutsi Burundians lay dead.

And the world was none the wiser.

Despite the lessons learned from Burundi, the United Nations remained ill-equipped to combat the ethnic massacres in Rwanda the following year. In July 1994, a plane carrying both the Rwandan President and the new President of Burundi crashed, igniting the bloodiest massacre in modern times. In a matter of months, a million men, women, and children were slaughtered by their own neighbors.

The Burundi Civil War continued until 2005, taking the lives of over a quarter million Hutus and Tutsis.

The wounds are slow to heal. Burundi is one of the ten poorest countries in the world. Today its people remember the horrors of 1993 and the assassination of President Molchior Ndadaye.

Molchior Ndadaye
Molchior Ndadaye


October 20

When the Missionaries arrived, the Africans had the Land and the Missionaries had the Bible. They taught us how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.

Jomo Kenyatta

Jomo Kenyatta was a controversial figure, difficult to categorize, impossible to stop. He straddled the world of traditional Kenyan tribalism and European imperialism during the country’s most revolutionary years, and is considered Kenya’s founding father.

Kenyatta was born Kamau wa Negengi, a member of the Kikuyu people, on this day in 1894. His first contact with the West was at age 10, when a leg infection caused his family to seek help at the Church of Scotland mission. Kamau studied English and the Bible at the mission school and was baptized “John Peter.”

He found work at the Nairobi Public Works Department, and earned the nickname “Kenytta”, Kikuyu for the type of fancy belt he always wore. Kenyatta took an interest in local politics, joined the Kikuyu Central Association and edited a small newspaper.

In 1929, Kenyatta traveled to London to argue for Kenyan land interests.  He met with little success, but published an editorial in The Times.

Kenyatta studied at the London School and Economics and the Soviet Union’s Moscow State University, briefly joining the Communist Party. Despite his involvement in the Communist Party, later as leader of Kenya, he fought against nationalization of industry and agriculture, encouraging instead European investment in Kenya.

Jomo Kenyatta
Jomo Kenyatta

In 1952, the violent Mau Mau rebellion broke out against British rule. Kenyatta denied involvement in the Mau Mau attacks, but he was arrested and convicted by a British court in a highly publicized trial and sentenced to 7 years hard labor.

When Kenyans won the right to vote in 1960, Kenyatta was elected President while still in detention. He negotiated Kenya’s terms for independence from Britain, and became the independent nation’s first Prime Minister and President in 1963 and 1964, respectively. He died in 1978.

Kenyatta is controversial in Kenya even today. He pioneered a one-party political system, and though he greatly increased Kenya’s wealth during his presidential years, much of that wealth went directly to his family and cronies.

According to one blogger:

“If parliament sees it necessary that Kenyatta Day be retained because of historical significance, then I can only suggest that it be renamed Heroes Day or Wazalendo Day or whatever, but just not to name it to one individual who caused Kenya more harm than good in their life time.”

Balboa Day

September 25

There are two separate holidays on September 25, celebrated in 4 hemispheres, that collectively mark the beginning and the end of colonialism.

Balboa Day

Balboa plays wave-jumping in the Pacific
Balboa plays "wave-jump" in the Pacific

Vasco Nunez de Balboa was 26 in 1500. It was only 8 years after Columbus’s first voyage, and the young Spaniard sought adventure in the New World. Balboa joined the crew of an expedition headed west to Hispaniola (Cuba) and on to Colombia with the purpose of establishing a settlement.

Due to lack of men, the Spanish were unable to maintain a colony in Colombia. Balboa returned to Hispaniola and pursued Plan B: pig farming. Evidently, Balboa was not a very good pig farmer. He went broke, and was even unable to join the next mission to Colombia because he owed so much money.

The following year he didn’t ask. He snuck aboard a ship carrying supplies to the new settlement.

When the ship arrived in South America the newbies found the Spanish colony deserted. Unable to defend the colony or to sustain their food supply, the Spanish settlers had hightailed it back home. Balboa, who had some familiarity with the land, recommended the group move west, where the indigenous tribes were more peaceful. Thus, the stowaway became the group’s unofficial leader.

Balboa and his crew had many riotous adventures, making slaves of the native populations, stealing gold, and setting wild dogs upon 40 natives exercising the “foulest vice” of male-love. (Right)

In 1513, Balboa heard rumors of a sea to the south, across what is now Panama. Balboa led a group of 90 men southwest across the isthmus. On September 25, 1513, Balboa scaled the highest summit and became the first European to set eyes upon the eastern half of the Pacific Ocean.

Unable to fathom its vastness, he called it the “South Sea” because it appeared to follow Panama’s southern shore.

It was downhill from there for Balboa, literally and figuratively.

A few years later a new governor arrived in town, appointed by the King of Spain. To ensure Balboa would not usurp him, the governor accused Balboa of treason. Balboa and 4 of his men were tried and beheaded in 1519.

Armed Forces Day – Mozambique

From the Northern and Western Hemispheres we move half a world and four and a half centuries later to the coast of Africa.

In the 1500s, Portugal owned half the world (’cause the Pope said so). By the 1960s, the former Iberian powerhouse was tightly clenching its few remaining colonies.

Spurred on by success in Tanzania, FRELIMO, Mozambique’s anti-colonialist liberation party, formed (illegally) in 1962, and received support from China and the Soviet Union. On September 25, 1964, FRELIMO went militant, attacking a Portuguese base in Cabo Delgado.

The fight for independence would be bloody and costly, lasting over a decade. Ultimately, Mozambique won independence, like other Portuguese colonies, because of a government coup in Portugal in 1974. Thus ending almost 500 years of Iberian colonialism in Africa and the Americas.

In memory of that bloody first day, September 25 is Armed Forces Day in Mozambique.

Heritage/Braai Day – South Africa

September 24

We have 11 different official languages but only one word for the wonderful institution of braai. It’s braai in Xhosa, it’s braai in English, it’s braai Afrikaans…All it calls for is come with your friends and family, have a little fire, and braai…That should make you proudly South African.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The 24th of September was once known as Shaka Day, in honor of the Zulu king, but these days it’s celebrated throughout South Africa on as Heritage Day, or Braai Day. Today the “Rainbow Nation’s” near 50 million people come together to partake in the country’s national past time.

According to

“Cooking food on an open fire is an international phenomenon, but to braai is a truly unique South African past time that penetrates racial, cultural, religious and social boundaries.”

Heritage Day–or Braai Day as it’s been called the last few years–is one of several holidays that came into being with the fall of the Apartheid government in the 1990s. These new holidays sought to remember dates that resonate with all South Africans.

Braai Day Video – 2009

Other national holidays include:

March 21: Human Rights Day

In memory of the sacrifice of 69 protesters killed by police on this day in 1960. The demonstrators were protesting the infamous pass laws. In the wake of the Sharpeville Massacre, the government outlawed black political organizations.

April 27: Freedom Day

The anniversary of the first truly free election in South Africa in 1994.

June 16: Youth Day

Dedicated to those his lost their lives in the protests and riots of 1976, fighting for equal education.

August 9: National Women’s Day

When 20,000 women marched to Pretoria’s government buildings in 1956 to protest the pass laws.

Women’s ‘Repeal the Pass Laws’ flyer

December 16: Day of Reconciliation

Both the anniversary of the beginning of the armed anti-Apartheid movement in 1961 and of the defeat of the Zulu army at Battle of Blood River in 1838. That South Africans have their different reasons for remembering the date underscores its true purpose: to come to terms with the country’s often brutal past of racism, violence, and injustice.

Enkutatash – Ethiopian New Year

September 11 (September 12 prior to leap years)


Happy New Year!

September 11th (or 12th) is New Year’s Day in Ethiopia, following the Coptic calendar and observed in the Rastafarian tradition. It marks the end of the rainy season in Ethiopia.

2000 years ago, the Ethiopian calendar fell on the equivalent of August 8 or 9. However, because of disparities between different calendars, the day now falls in September.

“The name Enkutatash was given when the famous Queen of Sheba returned from her expensive jaunt to visit King Salomon in Jerusalem. Her chiefs welcomed her back by replenishing her treasury with “Fuku,” or jewels.”

— Ethiopia, by Pascal Belda

2009’s celebration marks the year 2002 AM in the Ethiopian Calendar. The festival is also the saint day of John the Baptist.

Enkutatash is celebrated with bonfires on New Year’s Eve, dancing, singing and prayers. On September 11, 2001, Ethiopians in the homeland and around the world were celebrating Enkutatash when planes flew into the World Trade Center.

“People who passed by and did not know what we were here for thought we were celebrating the attack, but we would never do anything like that,” said Ras Delbert Christie of the Montego Bay Ethiopian World Federation. (“Rastafarians Celebrate Ethiopian New Year in Jamaica”, World Wide Religious News, 2002)

Two weeks after Enkutatash, Ethiopians celebrate the finding of the true cross, or Meskel.