Farakka Long March Day – Bangladesh

May 16

Today is the anniversary of the Farakka Long March in 1976. The march protested the construction of the Farakka dam, aka the Farakka Barrage. The dam is located just 11 miles from the border of Bangladesh, and it diverts up to 200,000 gallons of water per second from the Ganges River that would have flowed to Bangladesh.

“If ever there was a lesson in the unintended effects of damming rivers, the Farakka Barrage is probably it…

“Although the barrage, the longest in the world, was originally intended to divert water from the Ganges into the Hooghly River during the dry season and rescue the Kolkata port 257 km downstream, the government in Dhaka has accused India of using it to turn parts of Bangladesh into a desert, raising salinity, affecting navigation and adversely influencing the environment, agriculture and fisheries. ”

— India: Farakka Barrage – An Environmental Mistake. Muhammad Javed Iqbal

In India, the dam has not only contributed to the problem it was intended to fix (the silt build-up in Kolkata harbor), it may even cause bigger problems, such as the merging of two of the Ganges’ major tributaries.

“Critics say this is a product of the so-called “engineers’ racket,” a term coined by the Indian geographer Sunil K Munshi, to describe corruption resulting from greedy civil contractors working together with irresponsible state and federal governments. And it appears that now India will seek to undo the damage with a mammoth US120 billion plan to interlink its rivers, which originate in the Himalaya Mountains, with 30 interlinked canal systems that would deliver water to so-called Peninsular India.” (Iqbal)

Back in 1976, to protest the construction of the dam, populist leader Moulana Bhasani led a mass demonstration and march of thousands of Bangladeshis across approximately 100 kilometers. Since the 1970s, the two countries have engaged in talks attempting to come to a solution regarding the sharing of water.

Like the Ganges, the observance of Farakka Long March Day each year on May 16 tends to ebb and flow with the passing of time. On the anniversary of the march in 2005, a half million people gathered to protest the Farakka Barrage and the proposed Indian River Interlink Project.

The damage caused by the dam is just one more problem Bangladesh has to worry about.

With over 160 million people in a space the size of Iowa (Iowa’s population by the way is 3 million), Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.

Contrary to news reports, Bangladesh is not an environmental disaster waiting to happen… It’s already happening. Bangladesh, the canary in a coal mine for the rest of the world, is “set to disappear under the waves by the end of the century” — independent.co.uk.

However, according to Professor Ainun Nishat…

“Although everyone says that 17% of the country will be under water, it is not sea level rise that we fear but the increase of salinity.”

Bangladesh is Ready With a Climate Change Strategy

Rising sea levels means deep wells in low-lying communities will become effected with salt water, effecting both agriculture and drinkability.

Many researchers believe that climate change may also increase the frequency of tropical cyclones, which routinely strike the Bangladesh coast. The deadliest of these—in fact the deadliest cyclone in recorded history—was the Bhola Cyclone of November 1970, which killed over half a million people.

Farakka Day Today

Farakka, a Lost Battle for Bangladesh?

Farakka Barrage: Cause for Concern

San Isidro – Spain

May 15


Just when Madrid sobers up from back-to-back celebrations of Labor Day and Dos de Mayo, it pulls out all the stops for the week-long celebration of San Isidro.

San Isidro (1070-1130) is Madrid’s patron saint, whose feast day falls on May 15.

A simple farm worker, Isidro never had much money, never led a diocese or congregation, never fought in a war, and was not martyred or notably persecuted for his faith. Nor was his wife Santa Maria de la Cabeza (Saint Mary of the Head). And yet Maria and Isidro are among the few husband-and-wife teams to be canonized in 2000 years of Christendom. (Though it did take 500 years for the Pope to do so.)

[Iberian Gothic? 12th century saints Ysidro & Maria reincarnated]

The couple lived in poverty for most of their lives, but they were known for their generosity, giving more to the poor than they kept for themselves. Stories of Isidro’s miracles, like the materialization of food and water for the hungry, are reminiscent of Jesus feeding the masses with a single loaf of bread. According to legend, one day Isidro’s scythe struck the earth, and a spring burst forth with enough water to sustain the whole city.

In the 900 years since Isidro and Maria walked the earth, farmers have called on them for relief in times of drought.

The holiday also marks the beginning of bullfighting season. Spanish bullfighting traces its roots back to Mithras, imported from the Middle East either through Rome or North Africa.

“The killing of the sacred bull (tauromachy) is the essential central iconic act of Mithras, which was commemorated in the mithraeum wherever Roman soldiers were stationed. Many of the oldest bullrings in Spain are located on the sites of, or adjacent to the locations of temples to Mithras.”

If you’re with PETA, and bullfighting doesn’t do it for you, concerts and dancing fill the streets the whole week. Parks are converted into open-air verbenas, where celebrants wear traditional attire: chulos and majos for the guys, chulapas and majas for the ladies.

Chulo is a derogatory term sometimes applied by other Spaniards to the inhabitants of Madrid. It means arrogant. But the Madrilenos take it in stride. Dressed in chulo and chulapa costumes, performers live up to their name in a stylized dance of exaggerated arrogance.

Strange that a holiday in honor of a man so down-to-earth would be celebrated by imbibing vast quantities of alcohol and performing dances that exude arrogance.  But as the Spanish say…

Cada uno en su casa, y Dios en la de todos.

San Isidro and Santa Maria

San Isidro in Madrid

San Isidro the Laborer: A Worker’s Life Anchored in Christ

Madrid’s Festival of San Isidro

St. Isidore: the Patron Saint of Farmers

Liberia – Unification Day

May 14

We here in the United States get cranky at our politicians for the slightest misstep, like plunging our country into bankruptcy or sending our children into misguided opportunistic wars.

Yet our stalwart Liberian cousins put up with 14 years of civil war before finally giving their leaders the boot in 2005. The rallying cry of the president to-be?

“All the men have failed Liberia. Let’s try a woman this time!”

In November 2005 the Liberians elected Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to the highest office in the country, becoming Africa’s first elected woman head of state.

President Sirleaf declared:

“My administration shall thus endeavor to give Liberian women prominence in all affairs of our country…. We will also try to provide economic programs that enable Liberian women — particuarly our market women — to assume their proper place in our economic process.”

Americans may not know it, but the U.S. has played a pivotal role in Liberian history over the past two centuries, unparalleled in transAtlantic history. Back in 1817 the American Colonization Society purchased land in on the West African coast to emigrate freed African-American men, women and children. The motives for doing so were as different as the Society’s members, which included abolitionists and slave owners. Some saw emigration as the road to freedom for African Americans; others saw it as an alternative to integration in order to maintain a homogenous white state.

According to From Plantation to Ghetto:

“In the main, free blacks were suspicious of the motives of the American Colonization Society and strongly opposed it.”

Over 3,000 free blacks met in Philadelphia to protest the Society in the year of its founding.

However, over the next 40 years the well-funded ACS “repatriated” 13,000 African Americans to live in Liberia.

The Society’s involvement in Liberia lessened after 1847 when the Americo-Liberians (those who emigrated from the U.S.) declared Liberia an independent nation. Americo-Liberians modeled Liberia after the U.S. in a number of ways. The name Liberia itself means “Land of the Free.” Its capital is Monrovia, named for President James Monroe. Its flag, government and constitution are modeled on that of the U.S. It became the first African republic in 1847, though the U.S. didn’t recognize its independence until 1862.

Liberia received monetary support from the United States over the years. Despite the fact that Americo-Liberians constituted a small minority of the population, the “Americans” as they were called, controlled the government and dominated the African population for the next 150 years.

“That is, because they were not regarded as citizens in in America, they too, did not recognize the indigenous inhabitants as citizens of the new Republic.” — Unification and Integration in Retrospect – Sehgran K. Gomah

In fact, as late as the 1930’s, the League of Nations censured the Liberian government for the forced labor of its indigenous population. Even after the abolishment of forced labor, indigenous Liberians remained disenfranchised second-class citizens until 1951. President William V.S. Tubman was a major proponent of integration and unification during his 28 years as President (1943-1971). Under his leadership, the government declared May 14 National Unification Day (during the 1959/1960 legislative session) to celebrate the integration of American and indigenous Liberians.

President Sirleaf reinvigorated National Unification (and Integration) Day in 2007, calling on Liberians work together to heal the wounds of a decade and a half of civil war.

“In November 2005, Liberian women strapped their babies on their backs and flocked to voting tables all across their war-racked country to elect Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as Africa’s first female president. It was a seminal moment in the political history of not just Liberia but the entire continent, where patriarchal rule has long dominated, leaving African women on the sidelines to fetch water, carry logs, tend farms, sell market wares and bear the children of their rapists, while their menfolk launched one pointless war after another.”
Madame President, NY Times, by Helene Cooper, May 15, 2009

The Liberian Civil War of the 1990’s and 2000’s took nearly 300,000 lives.

Lemuralia: Malicious Girls Marry in May

May 13

When midnight comes and drops silence for sleep,
and dogs and dappled birds are hushed,
The man who remembers the ancient rite
and fears the gods, rises up (barefoot)
And makes a thumb sign between his closed fingers
to avoid some ghostly wraith in the quiet.
When he has washed his hands clean with fountain water,
he turns around after taking black beans,
Glances away and throws, saying: ‘These I release;
I redeem me and mine with these beans.’

— Ovid’s Fasti

The head of the Roman household would, according to Ovid, perform this rite nine times and then, after rinsing his hands, would shout, “Leave, ancestral spirits!” another nine times, purifying his house of those departed whose souls refuse to rest. (The Japanese still observe a similar bean-throwing tradition during the Shinto lunar new year, Setsubun.)

The Roman superstition that Ovid describes was once a public festival known as the Feast of Lemuria, or Lemuralia, decreed by Rome’s co-founder Romulus.

She-wolf suckles Romulus & Remus

Romulus and Remus were twin sons of Mars, god of war, who were nursed by a she-wolf in the wild. They wanted to build a great city, but couldn’t agree on the location. Romulus preferred Palatine Hill, Remus preferred Aventine Hill. They each built their own city. When Remus mocked Romulus by jumping over the wall meant to protect his, Romulus slew Remus in a fit of rage.

Guilt-ridden, Romulus was haunted by Remus’s ghost, who asked to be remembered on this day.

Lemuralia, says Ovid, is a corruption of Remus (Maybe Remuralia was too hard to pronounce?):

Over a long time the rough letter became smooth
at the beginning of the whole name.
Soon they also called the silent souls lemures…
The ancients shut temples on those days, as you now
see them closed in the season of the dead.
The same times are unfit for a widow’s marriage
or virgin’s. No girls who wed then live long…
Folk say: “Malicious girls marry in May.”

Around 610, Pope Boniface IV declared May 13 “All Saints Day”, in honor of all martyred. All Saints Day was later moved to November 1, coinciding with regional harvest festivals remembering the spirits of the dead.

Our Lady of Fátima – Portugal

May 13

Our Lady of Fatima

Sightings of the Virgin Mary date all the way back to 40 AD when the Virgin Mary first appeared to the Apostle James in Spain. They’ve occurred all over the world, in communities big and small, and the sightings continue to this day. In fact…

“Just last week, the Virgin Mary appeared in the form of a stain on a griddle at Las Palmas restaurant in Calexico, California. More than 100 people have come to gaze upon it, manager Brenda Martinez told the Imperial Valley Press…” — The Standard – May 13, 2009

But the most famous sighting in modern times may be the one that took place on this day (May 13) in 1917 in Fátima, Portugal. As the World War raged throughout Europe, three Portuguese children—Francisco and Jacinta Marto, ages 9 and 7, and their cousin Lucia Dos Santos, age 10—were building a wall in the fields when their play was interrupted by a flash of lightning.

“They thought that a storm was brewing and herded the sheep together to take them home. They once again saw a flash of lightening and shortly afterwards they saw above a small holm oak tree a Lady dressed entirely in white and shining more brilliantly than the sun.”

The apparition answered the children’s questions on heaven, and entreated them to return on the 13th of each month thereafter. At subsequent encounters she told them about heaven, hell, and God’s message. Over the next 5 months, word spread of the children’s encounters. By October 13, 70,000 people gathered in the field hoping to catch a glimpse of “Our Lady of Fátima” (now also known as “Our Lady of the Rosary”).

“After the long extensive rains, the sky became blue, people could easily look into the sun, which started to spin round like a wheel of fire which radiated wonderful shafts of light in all sorts of colours. The people, the hills, the trees and everything in Fatima seemed to radiate these marvellous colours.

Then the sun stood still for a moment then the wonderful thing that had happened reoccurred. It was repeated for a third time. But now the sun broke loose from the heavens and came down to earth with a zigzagging movement. It became bigger and bigger and looked as though it would fall on the people and flatten them. All were frightened and fell to the ground while they prayed for mercy and forgiveness.” —  http://www.marypages.eu/fatimaEng.htm

Jacinta, Lucia, & Francisco

Sadly, Francisco died only 2 years later and Jacinta the year after that.  Pope John Paul II beatified Francisco and Jacinta on May 13, 2000. Lucia lived to the ripe old age of 97. She died in 2005.

May 13 is celebrated in Portugal and by many Portuguese Catholics in other parts of the world. On May 13, 2009, “The 13th Day”, about the miracle of Fátima, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in France.

Snellman Day – Day of Finnishness

May 12

Today is Day of Finnishness in you-guessed-it: Finland. It’s also known as Snellman Day, named after the Finns’ national hero Johan Vilhelm Snellman, but referred to as Day of Finnishness (perhaps because ‘Snellman’ sounds like that teacher in high school whose nostrils screamed when he breathed through his nose).

Snellman was in fact a teacher (but no word on his nasal exhalations). He was also a statesman, journalist and philosopher, who crusaded to make Finnish the national language of Finland. While this seems like a no-brainer in retrospect, it was a controversial issue at the time.

Finnish as a written language dates only to the 15th century. According to Wikipedia:

The first known written example of Finnish…was found in a German travel journal dating back to c.1450: Mynna tachton gernast spuho somen gelen Emyna dayda… English: “I willingly want to speak Finnish, [but] I cannot”…*

[*presumably because the author was the only one who understood it.]

In the 16th century, Mikael Agricola had set down the rules of written Finnish in order to translate the New Testament. 300 years later however, outside of religious ceremonies written Finnish was still virtually unused.

Along came Snellman, who encouraged politicians and the upper classes to make Finnish a part of everyday life, a vehicle for the arts and sciences, instead of a vernacular spoken only by commoners and a written form relegated to church services. Snellman felt a unique national language was essential to building a strong, unified nation. His outspoken nationalist agenda—known as the Fennoman movement—was a loaded issue. His newspaper, Saima, was censored by the Russian-dominated Finnish government, and eventually shut down.

J.V. Snellman

After the death of the Russian Czar Nicholas I in 1855, the government eased censorship, and Snellman was appointed a professor at the University of Helsinki. He was appointed to Finland’s Cabinet in 1863 and devoted much of the remainder of his career to fixing the Finnish financial system. Russia granted Finnish a status on par with Swedish in Finland in 1892.

Finnish is virtually an island among European languages. All the other Scandinavian languages—Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and Icelandic—are closely related, while Finnish’s closest relatives are Hungarian and Estonian.

After over five centuries of Swedish rule and one century as a Russian Grand Duchy, Finland declared its independence on December 6, 1917.

During World War II, Finland successfully defended its independence against the Russian invasion of 1939-1940.

+  +  +

A language of Finnish origin is currently taking over the world, but it’s not the one Snellman spoke. It’s called Linux, an open source computer operating system developed by Helsinki native Linus Torvalds. Linux is used in 90% of the world’s top supercomputers.

[Below: Armi Ja Danny – I Want to Love You Tender: Finnish National Anthem]

Gettin’ Glagolitic with Cyril & Methodius

May 11

Born in Thessaloniki in the 820’s, Cyril and Methodius are considered ‘Equals with the Apostles’ in the Eastern Orthodox Church, but were overlooked by the Roman Catholic Church for nearly a thousand years.

Sts. Cyril & Methodius

Cyril & Methodius were two missionary brothers with a gift for language. In the 860’s the Prince of Great Morovia (in Eastern Europe) entrusted them with the task of translating Biblical texts into the Slavic tongue of Great Morovia. They had one major obstacle: No such language existed. At least not in any standardized, written form. The Slavic languages were a collection of spoken dialects that stretched from Russia to the Adriatic coast.

The brothers first had to devise a whole new alphabet, named Glagolitsa (a variation of the Greek alphabet) to capture the Slavic language in writing.

The language the brothers developed, known today as Old Bulgarian, fortified the spread of Christianity across Eastern Europe. The brothers died in 869 and 882. But as a posthumous reward for their noble efforts, the East Frankish clergy outlawed the brothers’ language and imprisoned 200 of their students and disciples.

Old Bulgarian posed a political threat to the West. The codification of civil laws in a non-Latin, non-Germanic text limited Frankish-German control over the Slavic rulers. But ironically, the exile and diaspora of the users of Old Bulgarian to other parts of Eastern Europe only served to spread the knowledge and use of the language.

The Glagolitic alphabet was soon replaced with a descendant called Cyrillic (sorry Methodius), developed by a student of theirs, and is still in use over a thousand years later.

It wasn’t until the 1880s that the Saintly brothers got their own feast day in the Roman Catholic Church (July 5), and in 1980 Pope John Paul II deemed Cyril and Methodius two patron saints of Europe.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Saints Cyril and Methodius Day is observed on May 11 (Julian calendar) which is May 24 in the Gregorian calendar. It is also known as the Day of Letters.

In the Roman Catholic Church, their feast day is February 14.


Stonewall Jackson Day

May 10

“Had Jackson lived to command the right or left wing at Gettysburg, the Confederacy might be approaching its 150th year of independence today.”

– General Wesley Clark, “Stonewall Jackson“, by D. Davis

Two years ago, I was informed by a reader and friend that it is the duty of Every Day’s a Holiday to warn unsuspecting visitors to South Carolina not to bother going to the DMV on May 10. Any such excursions will certainly result in failure. For today state offices, banks, and businesses shut down to honor the memory of Thomas Jonathan Jackson, a man better known by his nickname: “Stonewall”.

Jackson has one-and-a-half holidays devoted to him. South Carolina commemorates the anniversary of his death on May 10, while Virginia combines the birthdays of Jackson (January 21, 1824) and Robert E. Lee (January 19, 1807) to celebrate Lee-Jackson Day.

Jackson lost his father and mother at an early age, and was raised by relatives. The orphan attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and despite starting with an educational handicap, he graduated 17th out of a class of 59. He then served in the Mexican-American War, and taught at the Virginia Military Institute.

Three months after the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861, Jackson was promoted to Brigider-General.

Stonewall Jackson as a young man, Virginia Military Institute

At the First Battle of Bull Run, when Union forces broke through Confederate lines, Jackson’s troops stood their ground defending the hill, causing Confederate General Barnard Bee to exclaim to his men, “There stands Jackson like a stone wall!” The name stuck. “Stonewall” Jackson and his “Stonewall Brigade” became symbols of Southern bravery.

Of course there may be another reason Jackson stood like a stone wall. As a student at West Point, one of Jackson’s many eccentricities was a belief that, if he bent over, it could damage his internal organs.

Jackson’s odd behaviors and personality traits caused some modern scholars to suggest…

“Stonewall Jackson meets the criteria for Asperger Syndrome, with clear evidence of a qualitative impairment in social interaction and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities. Although individuals with Asperger Syndrome demonstrate major problems in social relationships, many are capable of great creativity because of their ability to focus on a single topic — in this case, on the field of battle and in military affairs.”

Genius Genes: How Asperger Talents Changed the World, by Michael Fitzgerald and Brendan O’Brien

Jackson was one of the greatest military strategists in U.S. history. By October he was promoted to Major General. He led his troops to striking victories in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign. The Stonewall Brigade distinguished itself at Antietam and numerous other battles. It’s been said that had Jackson lived long enough to assist Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg, the South might have won the war’s bloodiest stalemate, and maybe even the war.

But it wasn’t to be. Jackson met his end at the Battle of Chancelorsville in May 1863. Jackson showed little concern regarding bullets whizzing about him, and on May 2, he was wounded by Confederate troops who mistook his convoy for Yanks. His arm was amputated, and he died of misdiagnosed pneumonia eight days later.

“Sadly, in April of 1865, only 210 men from the original Stonewall Brigade were left at Appomattox.  Because of the reputation of the brigade on both sides of the war, the Stonewall Brigade was the first to march through the Federal lines at the surrender.”

— www.stonewallbrigade.com

Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson