Nauru Independence Day

January 31

Over 40 years ago the small island of Nauru was granted its independence from Australia.

According to People and the Earth: Basic Issues in the Sustainability of Resources and the Environment, Nauru is the only nation in the world whose economy is based on bird droppings.

“Nauru survives by  the mining of the natural fertilizers that were produced over many millennia by the interaction of bird droppings (guana) with marine sediments exposed at the surface. Essentially depopulated during Japanese occupation in World War II, about 8,000 Nauruans now live on 1,100 of the 5,236 acres that are not mined to produce fertilizer for markets in Japan, New Zealand, and Australia.”

“When the resource is gone and mining ceases, currently estimated to occur in the year 2000, there will be no exportable product for Nauru except stamps and weight lifters. Even with reclamation, Nauru is unlikely to become a major tourist stop since there will be little of the island left that has not been stripped of every pound of exportable phosphate rock.”

Nauru from above

Aware of their finite resources, Nauru’s leaders used profits to diversify their assets, including the 52-story Nauru House, Melbourne, Australia’s tallest building when it was built.

The history of Naura goes back 3,000 years, when the peoples of Polynesia and Micronesia settled the island. The 12 “tribes” of Naura remained cut off from outside society other until the end of the 18th century. In the 1830s contact with the Western shipping and traders increased, allowing islanders to trade resources for popular imports: alcohol and firearms. Both, unfortunately, exacerbated the bloodshed of the 10-year Nauru Civil War during the 1880s. The population fell from 1,400 to 900.

After Germany annexed the Island at the end of the 19th century, they discovered and began mining phosphate.

Australia captured the island in World War I and it was governed  by the UK, New Zealand, and Australia.

During World War II the Japanese captured the island, turning it into one big airstrip, while deporting 1,200 inhabitants for hard labor for the war effort. Australia retook the island in 1945.

On January 31, 1968 Nauru was granted independence.

True to predictions, the export that had sustained the island since 1907 was depleted. The nation with one of the world’s highest per capita GDPs at the time of its independence became one of the world’s poorest. Its fertile land, now destroyed by a century of mining, is uninhabitable and unable to be restored.
Naura House in Melbourne was sold for $140 million to clear the nation’s growing debts. The island encouraged offshore banking as a tax shelter, and soon became a beacon of hope for money launderers everywhere.

Nauru cracked down on money laundering due to international pressure. Today Naura exports less than $600,000 in phosphate–its only export–and imports $19 million.

And the island, once cut off from the world and self-sufficient for thousands of years, is now completely dependent on Australian aid.

Martyrdom of Gandhi

January 30


Today Indians recall one of the darkest days in their country’s history, while schoolchildren in Spain learn about Dia Escolar de la No-violencia y la Paz, (School Day of Non-Violence and Peace). The holiday marks the tragic assassination of Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi, whose non-violent methods helped India gain independence from Great Britain, and inspired leaders from Martin Luther King Jr. to Nelson Mandela.

I believe that Gandhi’s views were the most enlightened of all the political men in our time…We should strive to do things in his spirit: not to use violence in fighting for our cause, but by non-participation in anything you believe is evil.

Albert Einstein

If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought, and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of peace and harmony…Gandhi resisted evil with as much vigor and power as the violent resister, but he resisted with love instead of hate. True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to evil power. It is rather a courageous confirmation of evil by the power of love.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

His life has inspired me ever since I was a small boy. Ahimsa or nonviolence is the powerful idea that Mahatma Gandhi made familiar throughout the world. But nonviolence does not mean the absence of violence. It is something more positive, more meaningful than that, for it depends wholly on the power of truth.

The Dalai Lama

Mahatma Gandhi came and stood at the door of India’s destitute millions, clad as one of themselves, speaking to them in their own language…who else has so unreservedly accepted the vast masses of the Indian people as his flesh and blood…Truth awakened Truth.

Rabindranath Tagore

Mahatma Gandhi will always be remembered as long as free men and those who love freedom and justice live.

Haile Selassie I

There is no religion higher than Truth and Right-eousness.

If all men realized the obligation of service (as an eternal moral law), they would regard it as a sin to amass wealth; and then, there would be no inequalities of wealth and consequently no famine or starvation.

There is an indefinable mysterious power that pervades everything. I feel it though I do not see it. It is this unseen power which makes itself felt and yet defies all proof because it is so unlike all that I perceive through my senses. But it is possible to reason of the existence of god to a limited extent. Even in ordinary affairs we know that people who do not know who rules or why and how He rules and yet they know that there is a power that certainly rules. In my tour last year in Mysore I met many poor villagers and I found upon inquiry that they did not know who ruled Mysore. They simply said some God ruled it. If the knowledge of these poor people was so limited about their ruler I who am infinitely lesser in respect to God than they to their ruler need not be surprised if I do not realize the presence of God – the King of Kings. Nevertheless I do feel as the poor villagers felt about Mysore that there is orderliness in the universe, there is an unalterable law governing everything and every being that exists or lives.

Mahatma Gandhi

The Spanish observance of the Indian civil rights leader’s death was established by Spain’s Education Secretary Lorenzo Vidal in 1964.

Up Helly Aa!

last Tuesday in January

If you thought the Vikings were a thing of the past, hold on to your helmet.

On the last Tuesday in January, hundreds of Vikings invade the otherwise sleepy archipelago known as Shetland.

Shetland lies between Scotland and Norway, making it the perfect pillaging point in the heyday of the Vikings. Around 1000 AD, the Vikings began settling on the islands. A thousand years later their descendants are still proud of their heritage.

Up Helly Aa by day

At no time is that more apparent than the morning of Up Helly Aa, when hundreds of men dressed as Vikings (women are not allowed) take to the streets of Lerwick to recreate events from the great Norse sagas. Now, if you’ve ever read the great Norse sagas, you would think this would be compelling reason to stay away. On the contrary, Up Helly Aa is one of Shetland’s biggest tourist draws, as travelers come from all over the globe to witness the motley crews and be a part of the drunken revelry.

Up Helly Aa by night

It’s at night that the Shetlanders really heat things up. Up Helly Aa is one of Europe’s greatest and most famous fire festivals. The bonfires and torchlit processions replaced the tar-barreling activities which were banned.

Enormous galleys are built for the celebration. The highlight of the evening is the torching of the amazing galleys, which light up the Lerwick night.

© Anne Burgess
© Anne Burgess, Creative Commons license

Nepal Martyrs Day

January 29

The small kingdom of Nepal, nestled between two giants, India and China, has miraculously managed to maintain its sovereignty through internal struggles and bloody power plays lasting over 200 years. The latest of which, in 2001, resulted in the violent deaths of the entire Nepalese Royal Family.

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Today the Nepalese remember four martyrs who protested the rule of the Rana dictatorship in 1951: Dharma Bhakta Mathema, Dashrath Chand, Gangalal Shrestha, and Shukraraj Shastri.

The Rana came to power in 1846, when the Queen attempted to assert control over a powerful military leader named Jung Bahadur and his six brothers. Bahadur won the battle against the Queen’s forces and forced the King to hand the throne over to the Crown Prince.

Badahur placed the royal family under house arrest and ensured his progeny’s place by marrying off his daughter to the king’s son. Badahur was known as the first of the “Rana.”

Jung Bahadur, 1877
Jung Bahadur, 1877

Bahadur traveled to England to strengthen British-Nepalese relations and commissioned the codification of Nepal’s civil and criminal law, limiting corporal punishment and banning torture.

But he also killed many aristocratic opponents, and filled the Assembly of Lords with his own family and followers, effectively making himself dictator.

The power system that Bahadur established would haunt Nepal for a century as leadership passed between Bahadur’s feuding brothers and nephews. (After his death, Bahadur’s own sons were all killed or forced into exile by his nephew.)

Rani Royal Family, ca. 1920

The Rana dictatorship maintained the puppet monarchy. Tensions reached a peak in 1950 when the pro-democratic King Tribhuvan sneaked out of Nepal with his family to India. In his absence the Rana replaced the King with Tribhuvan’s three year-old grandson Gyranendra, the only male heir left in the kingdom.

The British refused to recognize the new king, and a successful public revolt forced the last Rana prime minister to resign in 1951. The four martyrs who are remembered today were killed during this time period. King Tribhuvan reassumed the throne as a constitutional monarch.

Fifty years later (June 1, 2001) Nepal’s King Birendra had an argument with his son, Crown Prince Dipendra, during a dinner event at the Nepalese Royal Palace. According to witnesses Dipendra was drunk and “misbehaving,” and was escorted to his room by his brothers.

Later that evening the 29 year-old Eton-educated Crown Prince reappeared, this time with an assault rifle. He went on a horrific shooting rampage, killing his father the King, his mother the Queen, his brother, sister, uncle, aunts, cousin, and brother-in-law, as well as wounding five other members of the royal family, before turning the gun on himself.

Crown Prince Dipendra
Crown Prince Dipendra

With the royal family gone, Birendra’s brother Gynendra, who had been crowned at age three, reassumed the throne after 50 years of absence. He was out of town during the dinner; his wife, sister, and cousin had all been shot at the massacre, but survived.

King Gyanendra dissolved parliament, dismissed Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, then proceeded to appoint and dismiss two more Prime Ministers before taking over the country as absolute monarch in 2005. According to one Nepalese citizen:

“When the king took over all the power, the situation got worse because there were three parties fighting against each other – the King, the political parties and the so-called Maoists.

“Maoists had already been declared as domestic terrorists, so they were killing people, looting them, and even attacking the police offices and the army barracks all over the country.

“Right now the situation is getting worse and worse everyday. People are dying everyday in demonstrations. Last week there was a news that some local people were demonstrating in front of a police officer residence, and the officer started firing randomly which killed like 5 people and injured about 100. In the rural parts of the country, the Maoists are killing people everywhere.”

originally at (link no longer valid)

After massive unrest and international protest, King Gyanendra reinstated the parliament, which wasted no time stripping him of power. The Maoist Party won the largest number of seats in the April 2008 election. The following month the Assembly abolished the monarchy.

Gyanendra was the last king of Nepal, a dynasty that dated back to 1769 when King Prithvi Narayan Shah united the Kingdom.

Though originally remembered for the deaths of the Four Martyrs of 1951, the flow of Martyrs in Nepal has never stopped. Over 13,000 Nepalese were killed in the fighting between 1996 and 2006.


Nepal Mourns Slain King

Massacre Witness Blames Crown Prince

Hundreds Pay Respect to Martyers

Martyrs Day Observed

Democracy Day – Rwanda

January 28

“Rwanda Democracy Day, a holiday in Rwanda, which is called the African Switzerland; a civic day concerned with equality for all peoples in the nation.”

–Anniversaries and Holidays, by Ruth Gregory, 1983

Just over a decade later, “Rwanda” would be synonymous, not with “African Switzerland” but with the genocidal carnage that rocked the country in 1994.

In the late 19th century, Rwanda became part of German East Africa. During World War I, when Germany invaded Belgium, Belgium returned the favor by taking German East Africa.

European colonialism exacerbated ethnic tensions and divisions between the Tutsi and the Hutu tribes. The Tutsi were the ruling minority in Rwanda. Physically, the Tutsis are slightly taller than the stocky Hutus. According to the Atlantic Monthly (June 1964):

Although they never constituted more than 15 percent of the population, [the Tutsi’s] hierarchical organization, built around a king known as the Mwami, their development of specialized warrior castes, and above all their possession of cattle enabled them to dominate the Hutu.

Ruanda-Urundi (Rwanda-Burundi) became a UN trust territory governed by Belgium.

The beginning of the end of Tutsi dominance came in 1959, when the king died without designating a successor. A two-year Civil War broke out between Tutsi and Hutu. The Hutu gained the upper hand and declared the country a republic on January 28, 1961. (Burundi remained a Tutsi monarchy.)

For this reason the country celebrated Democracy Day each January 28, but it appears not to be celebrated today, perhaps because the holiday marked the fall of the Tutsi, who in 1994 were slaughtered by the hundreds of thousands during three months of ethnically-motivated terror.

Rwandans remember the genocide each year on the anniversary of its beginning, April 7th.

15 years after the genocide, democracy is making a comeback. Rwanda held peaceful parliamentary elections in September 2008 in which women won by a landslide, making Rwanda the first nation in the world with a female-majority parliament.

Women Run the Show in Recovering Rwanda

Female Majority in Rwandan Parliament

In his inauguration speech, President Obama said that his country’s peace and democracy had been fully paid for by the blood of their forebearers and that there was no going back to the old days. This set me wondering whether, the quantity or value of the blood of our own forebearers had not been enough to buy us freedom.

MP Beti Olive Kamya, Rubaga,Uganda


Last full week in January

©Tim Buckley

Winter-een-mas is a secular holiday devoted to gaming. The holiday spans the last week in January.

It is celebrated by 14 million people in 32 countries.

(Not really, just made that up.)

Actually it is celebrated by video game addicts, mostly males in their 20s, in the United States, Canada, the U.K., and Japan.

It is sort of the video game world’s Festivus, a holiday alternative to Christmas, publicized by the TV show Seinfeld.

Winter-een-mas originated from Tim Buckley’s comic strip Ctrl+Alt+Del, in which the character Ethan, upset when the heat goes out during a snow storm, makes the following realization:

“In fact, winter should be one long holiday that caters to me! I should be in constant receipt of gifts for having to deal with the cold! Yes! From now on the winter months shall be known as Winter-een-mas, and I shall be its king!”

Eventually Ethan is talked into shortening the holiday to one week.

Winter-een-mas has been celebrated by Ethan and video gamers across the world every year since 2003.

Wolfgang Amadè Mozart’s Birthday

January 27

Today, January 27, is Wolfgang Amadè Mozart’s birthday.

If you’re like me, everything you know about Mozart comes from Falco’s immortal ballad “Rock Me Amadeus.”

“1756, Salzburg, January 27, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is born.
“1761, at the age of five Amadeus begins composing.
“1773, he writes his first piano concerto…

But did you know that, according to Marcel Danesi’s Forever Young: The Teen-Aging of Modern Culture:

There are solid data to suggest that even minimal exposure to the music of Mozart, for instance, benefits both children and adults in many ways.

Ironically, this maturing effect of Mozart’s music did not work on the great composer himself, who despite his musical genius, lived much of his life in a state of perpetual adolescence. Mozart’s letters are riddled with misspellings, unorthodox grammar, and references to his fecal and scatological obsessions.

“How I like Mannheim?–as well as one can like any place without Baasle [little cousin]. Pardon my poor handwriting, the pen is already old; now I have been shitting for nearly 22 years out of the same old hole and yet it’s not torn a whit!…Now I must close, as it so happens, because I am not dressed yet, and we’ll be eating soon so that afterward we can go and shit again, as it so happens. Do go on loving me as I love you, then we’ll never stop loving each other…”

Nov. 13, 1777, letter, to cousin Maria Anna Thekla Mozart, translated by Robert Spaethling, Mozart’s Letters, Mozart’s Life

Perhaps the fact that Mozart virtually “skipped” childhood [He wrote his first symphony at age 8.] led him to make up for it in later years. Granted, Mozart probably didn’t expect his personal letters to wind up on the Internet, but then who does. Anyway, his eccentricities didn’t detract from his following, either during his life or after.

Nearing the centenary of Mozart’s birth, The Musical World (1855) wrote:

There is no name in music which addresses itself more powerfully and universally than that of Mozart in appeals to the heart as well as to the intellect. From infancy his melodies are made familiar to us; they are hummed at our cradles, taught us at schools, sung at our theatres, and made the groundwork of our musical appreciation.

We’ll never know how Mozart would have aged. He died on December 5, 1791, at age 35. He died of illness, though specifically of what illness we may never know.

Young Mozart
Young Mozart

Mozart’s Requiem

The mystery of Mozart’s death revolves around his haunting final work: Requiem. The Requiem was commissioned anonymously, and conveyed by a “Gray Messenger.”

Before long he became convinced that the Messenger had come to warn him of his own mortality and that he was indeed composing the work for his own death. Concerned with this morbid fascination, his wife Constanze hid the score and forbade him to work on the Requiem for several weeks.  But, shortly after resuming work in mid-November, Mozart became ill and took to his bed. He gathered a choir of friends around his bedside the afternoon of December 4th to sing the movements he had completed. He died less than twelve hours later.

Robert Levin, Requiem by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

His death was fictionalized in Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus. Historians believe the Requiem was not a rival composer’s plot to kill Mozart, but was commissioned by an Austrian count and amateur musician who intended to pass the work off as his own, in honor of his deceased wife.

Over 200 years after his death, historians and musicians still place Mozart in a category of his own. Mozart’s ability to connect to music-lovers for over ten generations, and his ability to express the entire range of human consciousness through music is made more remarkable considering the two things the composer never had: a true childhood, and a true adulthood. As the current Pope Benedict XVI once said:

“His music is by no means just entertainment; it contains the whole tragedy of human existence.”

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 1996, quoted in God’s Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the future of the Catholic Church

Republic Day – India

January 26

Today is Republic Day in India.

Although India gained independence from Britain in 1947, the Constitution was officially adopted on January 26, 1950, marking the Republic of India as a sovereign nation with complete autonomy.

The date January 26th was chosen in remembrance of “Poorna Swaraj Diwas,” when the Indian National Congress declared independence on January 26, 1930.

Guests of Honor at recent Republic Days have included King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Russian President Vladimire Putin, and Nicholas Sarkozy, President of France.

The Republic Day parade in New Dehli is a combination of cultural pride and military strength, symbolized by three fighter jets that fly over the ceremony each year.

Republic Day is for all Indians, regardless of religion or region. Still, sectarian tensions are high on Republic Day and security is heightened throughout the country.

Indian Army - Madras regiment - Republic Day

BBC: India’s Republic Day in Pictures
Kashmir view from 2007
India’s 59th Republic Day