Carnival – Grenada

August 8-9, 2011

Key ingredients:

Take a warm August Caribbean day.

Add Music: Calypso, Steel drums, Soca, and other traditional rhythms.

Mix with bright, colorfully-costumed dancers and musicians atop or around decorated floats

And set amid thousands of spectators dancing along the procession route.

You have yourself Carnival.

Serves more than you can imagine.

Carnival in Trinidad (March)
Carnival in Trinidad (March)

Though many locales celebrate before Ash Wednesday, such as Haiti, Martinique and Trinidad and Tobago, others celebrate in August, including Antigua and Barbados, Grenada, and, of course, Notting Hill. Today Grenada celebrates Carnival.

The festival has its roots in the synthesis of French-Catholic and West African cultures in the Caribbean in the 16th though 19th centuries.

Traditions include the crowning of a Calypso King or Monarch, Battle of the Steel Bands (Panorama) and J’Ouvert–the wild parade of the festival occurring from the middle of the night till just before dawn.

Women’s Day – South Africa

August 9

South Africa’s Women’s Day recalls the 20,000 woman-strong march in Pretoria on this day in 1956.

The marchers protested amendments to the Urban Areas Act, which, among other things, reserved urban living spaces for white South Africans, and required black men in cities and towns to carry special passes with them at all times or be subject to arrest. Originally enacted in 1923, the Pass Laws were expanded in the 1950s to require all black South Africans over 16 to carry the pass. Bearers had to have their passes approved each month by their employer–employers who, by South African law, could only be white.

As a gesture of unity against apartheid, tens of thousands of black South African women converged on the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the seat of the South African government, and delivered a petition with 100,000 signatures to the Prime Minister’s door.

The Pass Laws were not repealed until 30 more years of struggle, protest, and bloodshed.

Years later, the song chanted by the women that day, Wathint’ abafazi, wathint imbokodo” (“When you touch a woman, you strike a rock”), has become the motto of the women’s movement in South Africa and continues to be a symbol of women’s strength against racism and sexism.

Women’s anti-Pass Law Campaigns in South Africa

Farmers’ Day – Tanzania

August 8

Today is Farmer’s Day in Tanzania. Held on the eighth day of the eighth month, Nane Nane literally means, you guessed it, “eight-eight.”

Used to be the big holiday in Tanzania was Saba Saba (“seven-seven”) on July 7th, a holiday that commemorated the creation of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) party by Julius Nyerere on July 7, 1954. Nyerere and TANU were instrumental in leading the country to independence in 1961 and in keeping the nation relatively peaceful and stable during its formative years.


When Tanzania became a multi-party state in the 1990s, other political parties challenged the fairness of a national holiday that promoted one party over another. Instead, Nane Nane–honoring the nation’s farmers–was promoted as a national holiday. The International Trade Fair takes place in Dar es Salaam from August 1st to August 8th.

Of course old traditions die hard. In 1994 employees refused to go to work on Saba Saba, citing government calendars which still marked July 7 as a holiday. Finally…

…a compromise position was reached that a single celebration would be held in the capital of Dar es Salaam on Saba Saba Day, but that the rest of the country would hold Nane Nane celebrations.”

Performing the Nation: Swahili Music and Cultural Politics in Tanzania, by Kelly Michelle Askew

Despite the political move, both are still celebrated these days by the people of Dar es Saleem, though Nane Nane may have finally surpassed its predecessor in popularity.


While the populace celebrates the nation’s farmers in Dar es Salaam, politicians and activists in the capital city of Dodoma note that Tanzania is in the middle of food crisis. Food prices have gone up 83 percent over the last three years, while wheat prices have near nearly tripled. 80% of the country’s workforce are employed in agricultural, a field that has endured a roller coaster ride of changes over the last century, first under German and British occupation, then as an independent state adjusting to a changing global marketplace.

Nane Nane: A Bit of History

Hugo the Hippo

Battle of Boyacá – Colombia

August 7

Nearly two centuries after Simon Bolivar faced Spanish troops at the bridge of Boyacá on this day in 1819, Colombians still celebrate his victory as one of the defining moments of Colombia’s independence movement and of the independence of the entire South American continent.

As a military commander, Simon Bolivar was a master at turning disadvantages into advantages. His crossing of the high Andes prior to the Battle of Boyacá to meet the Spanish army has been compared in difficulty to that of Hannibal crossing the Alps.

“In this passage more than 100 men died of cold and exposure…No horse had survived. It was necessary to leave the spare arms behind and even some of those that were carried by the soldiers. When the army reached Socha…in the heart of the province of Tunja July 6th, 1819, it had dwindled to a mere skeleton…

The commander of the Spanish troops, General Barriero, controlled the road to Bogota, and Bolivar knew he had to attack quickly before reinforcements could arrive. Bolivar maneuvered his men around Barriero’s to attack them from behind, forcing Barriero’s army to abandon their entrenchments. Bolivar continued to keep Barriero’s army moving by leading his own men across the Sagomoso River, then feigned a retreat in order to capture the city of Tunja and restock arms and supplies.

By August 5, Bolivar had turned the tables, placing his men between Barriero and the capital. Barriero attempted to bypass Bolivar by crossing the river at the Boyacá bridge. However, Bolivar predicted this move and reached the bridge first.

The armies collided on August 7. Though their numbers were about even, Bolivar’s placement of infantry and cavalry allowed him to capture 1600 royalist prisoners, including Barriero and his officers, who were then executed.

When Bolivar entered the capital, he was applauded by the people who proclaimed him liberator of New Granada.

History of South America from the First Human Existence to the Present – William Frederick Griewe

Qixi – Night of Sevens

7th night of the 7th month, Chinese Lunar
August 6, 2011
August 23, 2012

According to Chinese tradition, when a man proposes on The Night of Sevens, his bride to be is blessed by seven fairies from the heavens that brings luck in uniting their love forever.

How To Propose on the Night of Sevens


It’s Valentine’s Day in China. But it’s not named for a 3rd century Roman saint. Today’s “Qixi” Festival (Night of Sevens) has its roots in the legend of the Weaver Princess and the Cowherd.

There are many versions of the story. In one, a Weaver Princess comes down from the heavens to do a little skinny dipping. A Cowherd happens across her and—urged on by his mischievous ox—steals the Princess’s clothes. When the Princess finally comes out of the water to retrieve them, she has to agree to his proposal of marriage, as he had seen her in the buff (’cause them’s the rules.)

The Princess grows to love the Cowherd and together they have two kids; however, when the Princess’s grandfather, the Jade Emperor (some sources say her mother) hears about the match, he is not happy. He forces the Princess back to the Heavens, where her job is to weave the clouds. The Princess is the star known as Vega.

When the Cowherd, through some misadventures of his own, finally makes it up to the heavens to see her with their two kids, the Emperor separates them, placing a great river in the sky between them. The river is the Milky Way, and the Cowherd is the star Altair. Their two children are the smaller stars beside him.

It’s said that the two lovers are allowed to meet only once a year, in mid-summer, on the 7th evening of the 7th moon in the Chinese lunar calendar.

Qixi means “Night of Sevens” but it’s also called “Daughter’s Day.” In Japan, it is known as Tanabata and is also celebrated on July 7th. (7/7)

The traditions and rituals related to the festival have gone through several incarnations over the past 2000 years. These days Qixi is a day of romance for lovers and can be compared in many ways to Valentine’s Day in the West.

Transfiguration of Jesus

August 6

a: a change in form or appearance; metamorphosis
b: an exalting, glorifying, or spiritual change

The transfiguration, celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church each year on August 6, refers to what is perhaps history’s greatest Kodak moment: Jesus talking with the prophets Moses and Elijah (Elias) on the peak of Mount Tabor in 27AD.

Only the Apostles Peter, John and James witnessed the event, and unfortunately none of them posted pics it to their myspace account. (If you have a photograph of the Transfiguration, please email it to us!) Nor do we have any record of what was discussed, for the disciples were too distant to hear the conversation, and Jesus forbade them from even mentioned the event until after the Son of Man had risen.

What we do know comes from nearly identical versions in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Jesus led the three Apostles to the mountaintop where “His face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light,” says Mark.

Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus,” continues Matthew.

Peter offered to set up three shelters, one for each prophet, but as he spoke a cloud enveloped them. “A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him,” concludes Luke. When the Disciples looked again, the two prophets had disappeared.

Theologians have debated the literalness of the Transfiguration. Most take the Transfiguration as a factual description of an actual event, especially in the Orthodox Church. Others view it as an allegory.

One interpretation of the Transfiguration is that Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the Prophets.

In Jesus’ time, Moses was seen as having delivered the Law from God to the people and codifying it during their 40 year trek across the desert. In fact, after Genesis and half of Exodus, that’s what most of the first five books of the Bible are: lengthy lists and descriptions of the laws that governed ancient Hebrew society, from the now obscure laws concerning the treatment of slaves, the ritual sacrifice of goats, and proper stoning technique, to principles still considered the basis of Western law, such as “Thou shall not kill.”

Elijah meanwhile, may have represented the Prophets. Elijah is a prophet in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths (“Ilyas” in Islam), but occupies very little space in any of those religions’ spiritual texts. One of his claims to fame was that he was said to have never died. Instead he was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire. It was believed his future appearance on Earth would be an imminent predictor of the coming of the Messiah. In the New Testament, folks take St. John the Baptist for Elijah.

For all its celebration among the churches themselves, the event receives very little attention from the general Christian public. And these days a child is less likely to learn about transfiguration from Matthew, Luke, or Mark than from Harry:

“Transfiguration is some of the most complex and dangerous magic you will learn at Hogwarts. Anyone messing around in my class will leave and not come back.”

— Minerva McGonagall, HP 1:8

[2008: This year the Transfiguration falls only a few days away from Islam’s Al-Miraj, the Ascension of the Prophet. During what is often called the “Night Journey,” Muhammad travels first to Jerusalem in a single night, then up to the heavens where he meets the prophets of Islam’s past, including Jesus, Moses, and Abraham. Like the Transfiguration in Christianity, Islamic religious leaders debate whether Al-Miraj is an actual event or symbolic allegory. And like Jesus, Muhammad is transformed prior to the encounter, not by light but by the Qur’an’s most famous open-heart surgery.]

Greek Orthodox Transfiguration

Independence Day – Burkina Faso

August 5

Do you do the Ouagadougou?

It’s not the craziest new dance sensation sweeping the nation (though it should be). No, Ouagadougou [pronounced ‘wa-ga-du-gu’] means “place where people get honor and respect.” It was named so by Naba Wubri, a 15th century warrior, but we have the French to thank for its cruel and unusual orthography.

The French captured this capital city and home to the Mossi people in 1896, completing their colonization of the area known as French West Africa. Over the next 50 years the territory merged with and separated from other French territories in West Africa, including Senegal, Nigeria, and the Cote d’Iviore.

In 1958 the self-governing Republic of Upper Volta (today’s Burkina Faso) was formed. President Maurice Yaméogo declared the country’s full independence from France on this day (August 5) in 1960.


Independence Day in Burkino Faso falls just one day after the nation’s Revolution Day, celebrated on August 4.

On August 4, 1983, reformist Thomas Sankara took the reigns of the country, with the help of ally Captain Blaise Compaore, and changed the country’s name from Upper Volta’s to Burkina Faso. It means “land of the men of integrity.”

In its short history as a sovereign nation, Burkina Faso has observed the anniversaries of numerous “Revolution Days”.

Between January 3, 1966 (the coup in which the first president, Yaméogo, was ousted) and October 15, 1987 (Burkina Faso’s last putsch to date), the country had a coup every few years. In 1987, Blaise Campaore overthrew his former ally Thomas Sankara four years after he helped to make him President.

Though implicated in Sankara’s assassination, Compaore has remained president for over 20 years.

Evidently, Campaore knows how to do the Ouagadougou.


1987 Coup

Political Reform in Francophone Africa – by Clark & Gardinier

Saint Sithney – Patron Saint of Mad Dogs

August 4

On August 4, Cornwall, England celebrates the Feast Day of Saint Sithney, the patron saint of mad dogs.

Legend has it that the Lord Almighty asked good ol’ Sithney if he would be the patron saint of girls seeking husbands. Sithney politely declined the offer, fearing he would be besieged with prayers for rich hubbies and fancy jewelry and the whatnot. Instead, Sithney said he’d rather be the patron saint of something like mad dogs, and the request was granted.

Saint Roch (Sithney wasn't available for photoshoot)

August 4 is also the birthday of U.S. President Barack Obama. We know when he was born, but where exactly where he was born is at present a topic of heated debate, dominating the media coverage on conservative talk shows. It may be that one day a child will review the historical archives of August 2009 and be surprised that the question of Obama’s citizenship even existed, let alone monopolized the news cycle, between the death of Michael Jackson and the devastation of Hurricane Grace. But until that day, we wish the President good luck in his quest to prove he’s American, and we ask Sithney to hasten his healing efforts on certain unnamed talk show hosts.