Archive for March, 2011

31
Mar
11

The art of being Tuareg: Sahara nomads in a modern world

The Tuareg, who once controlled the caravan trade routes across the Sahara, are semi nomadic, pastoralist people of North-African Berber origin. The actual total population of Tuaregs amounts to approximately 5,2 million. The Tuareg have been predominantly Muslim since the 16th century. They combine Sunni Islam (specifically the Maliki Madhhab, popular in North and West Africa) with certain pre-Islamic animistic beliefs, including spirits of nature (Kel Asuf) and such syncretic beliefs as divination through means of the Qur’an.

The Tuareg adopted camel nomadism along with its distinctive form of social organization from camel-herding Arabs about two thousand years ago, when the camel was introduced to the Sahara from Arabia. They are grouped into independent federations and live in Southern Algeria, Southwestern Libya, Mali and Niger and in fewer numbers in Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Southern Morocco. Although the Tuareg are minorities in the countries they presently inhabit, their cultural unity is far-reaching.

Tuareg society is stratified and includes a noble class, tributary groups, and marginal classes made up by religious leaders and artist/smiths called ‘inadan.’ Their economy is based on breeding livestock, agriculture and trade. They speak Tamasheq, a language related to other North-African nomadic peoples, as well as French, and they read and write using a script called ’Tifinar’, which is related to ancient Libya. They are sometimes referred to as “people of the veil” or “the blue people of the Sahara” in reference to the indigo turbans worn by men, which stain their skin and define their identity.

The twentieth century saw profound changes in the Tuareg way of life: the end of French colonial rule and the creation of new countries with established borders; devastating, repeated droughts that decimated herds of livestock; and political marginalization and rebellions. Their social organization and economy have been substantially transformed, and today most Tuareg have given up their nomadic lifestyle, settling instead in villages and towns.

30
Mar
11

Ananda Pagoda Festival, a Festival in Bagan, Myanmar

Ananda Pagoda is probably the finest, largest and best preserved of all the Bagan temples. Ananda Temple suffered considerable damage in the earthquakes in history. The Ananda, built by Kyansittha in 1090, is on a larger scale than the Pahtothamya and the Apeyadana temples, and is significantly different in form. The temple is said to represent the endless wisdom of the Buddha.

Symbolizing the limitless wisdom of Buddha, there is a month long sanctified festival for the temple Ananda, the most beautiful one out of 2000 holy monuments in Bagan, Myanmar. It usually falls on January every year. The busiest day of the festival is on the full-moon day of the lunar month. Villagers and pilgrims around Bagan roll in the sacred site of Ananda for the consecration.

This is also the best time to see not only the ritual of Buddhists, but the festival is also meant for social gathering, reunification, propagation and perpetuation of the religion that is Buddhism. During the festival, walk around in a sea of vendors and shops that sell traditional Myanmar food-stuff and enjoy the local atmosphere in locality.

The most interesting aspect of this festival is the caravan of bullock-carts in the pagoda compound, camp under the shady trees. As the dawn breaks on the full moon Day of Pyatho the pilgrims are up and ready with their donations. The monks make their way between the donors lined up on both sides and all reverently place their donations in the monk’s hands. This they do with boundless piety. It does not matter if one’s donation is expensive or cheap but the merit lies in the heart of the donor. If the heart is pure the amount of merit will be as big as a banyan tree despite the small quantity or value of the donations. But impure hearts will only get merit the size of a banyan seed regardless of the amount of the donation.

When all is finished the families get ready to return to their villages and to prepare the fields for next year’s harvest. The dust clouds kicked by their oxen billow above the convoy of carts as they head home, meandering amongst the ruins. And for sure all are determined that next year they will come again and support the Buddhist sasana as their King had commanded.

29
Mar
11

Red Deer, king of the Austrian alps

October in Austria sees the start of the rutting season for red deer.  The rut is a period when the biggest and strongest male (stag) rounds up a group of females (hinds) for mating. 

Of course every other male deer wants to do the same, but there’s only so many females to go around. In order to maintain control over a group of females the stag must constantly drive away rivals.  The stag announces his superiority over other males by constantly bellowing out an echoing roar, which sounds something like a cross between a chainsaw and a burp.

Sometimes shouting is not enough, and when contenders approach the females they need to be chased off.  Occasionally fights between males can break out, and this can lead to some serious clashing of those magnificent antlers. Red deer are the largest native land mammals in Austria.  They can weigh up to 190kg. 

If you go to watch the rutting deer make sure you keep at a safe distance.  You definitely don’t want to get between the stag and his females.  Getting charged by an angry stag can be bad for your health.  Those antlers are sharp!

28
Mar
11

The Majorelle garden in Marrakech: Yves Saint Laurent’s secret Moroccan garden

When it comes to experiencing a bit of tranquility, then the Majorelle gardens are the right place to visit. Apart from all the busy life and crowded streets of Marrakech, Majorelle gardens is the place where one can forget everything and enjoy the outmost beauty of nature. Pierre Berge and Yves Saint Laurent are the owners of La Majorelle gardens. Yves Saint Laurent’s ashes were strewn in the entire garden when he passed away in the year of 2008. The French painter known as Jacques Majorelle was the person who actually designed and created this beautiful place. He came to Morocco during the First World War and settled there permanently.

Jacques Majorelle succeeded in the year of 1924 when these exotic gardens were complete and ready. Today this exotic garden is classified as one of the most fantastic botanical gardens located in Marrakech, Morocco. This was a colonial period when France had Morocco has one of his protectorates. Although many people have forgotten about the beauty of watercolors this garden carries but many of them are still kept preserved in the garden’s villa collection. This garden is surely one of the masterpieces any artist will ever create and therefore anyone who visits the sight once always comes back again. The name bleu Majorelle highly reflects from several things that are painted with shades of special cobalt blue; especially the buildings that can easily catch attention right away. In the year of 1947, the Majorelle garden was opened for public to come and admire. It was the year of 1980 when Pierre Berge and Yves Saint Laurent owned this heaven on earth.

Another interesting and attractive feature of the garden is that there’s a museum located in it as well. This museum was actually Majorelle’s personal studio, that was painted with beauty and passion. It carries the Islamic Art or Marrakech that is of high importance of course, and tourists from all around the world come to see it. Some of the things that this museum carries, are beautiful paintings made by Majorelle, old traditional yet beautiful jewelry, ceramics, and North African textiles that are from Saint Laurent’s own personal collections..You get to experience over 300 species of fantastic plants. Many of these plants are placed in attractive pots which are vibrantly colored.

Concrete pathways painted red throughout the garden awaits you to enjoy its lush green environment. So if you ever get a chance to visit Morocco then you cannot afford to miss visiting La Majorelle Garden. This is a place that will keep on calling you back because of its beauty, history, tradition, culture, and soul.

27
Mar
11

Poor children in The Gambia, West-Africa

The Republic of the Gambia, commonly known as The Gambia, is a country in West Africa. The Gambia is the smallest country on mainland Africa, bordered to the north, east, and south by Senegal, with a short coastline on the Atlantic Ocean in the west. The country is situated around the Gambia River, the nation’s namesake, which flows through the country’s centre and empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Its area is almost 10.500 km² with an estimated population of 1.700.000.

A wide variety of ethnic groups live in The Gambia with a minimum of intertribal friction, each preserving its own language and traditions. The Mandinka tribe is the largest, followed by the Fula, Wolof, Jola, and Sarahule. Approximately 3.500 non-Africans live in The Gambia, including Europeans and families of Lebanese origin. Muslims constitute more than 90% of the population. Christians of different denominations account for most of the remainder. Gambians officially observe the holidays of both religions and practice religious tolerance.

According to the 1993 census, more than 63% of Gambians lived in rural villages, although more and more young people were coming to the capital in search of work and education. Provisional figures from the 2003 census showed that the gap between the urban and rural populations was narrowing as more areas were declared urban. While urban migration, development projects, and modernization are bringing more Gambians into contact with Western habits and values, the traditional emphasis on the extended family, as well as indigenous forms of dress and celebration, remain integral parts of everyday life.

The UNDP’s Human Development Report for 2010 ranks The Gambia 151st out of 169 countries on its Human Development Index, putting it in the ‘Low Human Development’ category. This index compares life expectancy, years of schooling, Gross National Income (GNI) per capita and some other factors. The Constitution mandates free and compulsory primary education in the Gambia, but a lack of resources and educational infrastructure has made implementation difficult.  In 1995, the gross primary enrolment rate was 77.1 percent and the net primary enrolment rate was 64.7 percent. School fees long prevented many children from attending school, but in February 1998 the President of the Gambia ordered the termination of fees for the first six years of schooling. Girls make up about 40 percent of primary school students, though the figure is much lower in rural areas where cultural factors and poverty prevent parents from sending girls to school. Approximately 20 percent of school-age children attend Koran schools, which usually have a restricted curriculum.

26
Mar
11

ABU SIMBEL, EGYPT: The Great Temples of Ramses 2 and Nefertari

In 1257 BCE, Pharaoh Ramses II (1279-13 BCE) had two temples carved out of solid rock at a site on the west bank of the Nile south of Aswan in the land of Nubia and known today as Abu Simbel.

Long before Ramses II, the site had been sacred to Hathor of Absek. The temple built by Ramses, however, was dedicated to the sun gods Amon-Re and Re-Horakhte. Because of their remote location near the Sudanese border in sourthern Egypt, the temples were unknown until their rediscovery in 1813. They were first explored in 1817 by the Egyptologist Giovanni Battista Belzoni.

 The first, and largest of the temples, is dedicated to the sun god Ra-Harakhte, while the second, which is smaller, and a few meters to the north, was dedicated by Ramses II to his beautiful wife, Nefertari, to be worshipped together with other deities.These two temples attracted world-wide attention when they were threatened by inundation by the waters of the High Dam. In response to an appeal by the Arab Republic of Egypt, UNESCO, in 1959, initiated an international donations campaign to save the monuments of Nubia, the relics of the oldest human civilization. The salvage of the Abu Simbel temples began in 1963, and cost some 30 million euros. Once again the Abu Simbel temples were relocated on the plateau to greet the sunrise every morning.

The Greater Abu Simbel Temple (Ramses II)  is one of the many relics erected by the Pharaoh Ramses II, this is the grandest and most beautiful of temples. The facade is 33 meters high, and 38 meters broad, and guarded by four statues of Ramses II, each of which is 20 meters high. High on the facade, there is a carved row of baboons, smiling at the sunrise. On the doorway of the temple, there is a beautiful inscription of the king’s name: Ser-Ma’at-Ra and between the legs of the colossal statues on the facade, we can see smaller statues of Ramses II’s family: his mother “Mut-tuy”, his wife “Nefertari” and his sons and daughters. There is also a number of dedications, important amongst which is Ramses II’s marriage to the daughter of the King of the Hittites. Beyond their entrance, there is the Great Hall of Pillars, with eight pillars bearing the deified Ramses II in the shape of Osiris. The walls of this hall bear inscriptions recording the Battle of Kadesh waged by RamseS II against the Hittites. Then we enter the smaller hall of the temple – the hall of the nobles, containing four square pillars. Then we come to the Holiest of Holies, where we Amun-Ra find four statues of: Ra-Harakhte, Ptah, Amun-Ra and King Ramses II. This temple is unique, since the sun shines directly on the Holiest of Holies two days a year: February 21, the king’s birthday, and October 22, the date of his coronation.

The Smaller Abu Simbel Temple (Nefertari), located north of the Greater Temple, was carved in the rock by Ramses II and dedicated to the goddess of Love and Beauty, Hathur, and also to his favorite wife, Nefertari. The Facade is adorned by six statues, four to Ramses II and two to his wife.

25
Mar
11

Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China: The Largest City Square in the World

Tiananmen square is a large city square and the geographical centre of Beijing, China. It is named after the Tiananmen Gate (literally, Gate of Heaven’s Pacification) located to its north, separating it from the Forbidden City.

Tiananmen Square is the largest city square in the world (440,000 m² – 880m by 500m). It has great cultural significance as it was the site of several important events in Chinese history. The Tiananmen square was designed and built in 1651, and has since enlarged four times its original size in the 1950s. In November 1958 a major expansion of Tiananmen Square started, which was completed after only 10 months, in August 1959. This followed the vision of Mao Zedong to make the square the largest and most spectacular in the world, and intended to hold over 500,000 people. In that process, a large number of residential buildings and other structures have been demolished.

The year after Mao’s death in 1976, a Mausoleum was built near the site of the former Gate of China, on the main north-south axis of the square. In connection with this project, the square was further increased in size to become fully rectangular and being able to accommodate 600,000 persons. The urban context of the square was altered in the 1990s with the construction of National Grand Theatre in its vicinity and the expansion of the National Museum.

Tiananmen Square has been the site of a number of political events and student protests. These include the famous Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989. These 1989 protests resulted in the massacre of Chinese protesters in the streets to the west of the square and adjacent areas. There are reports where soldiers opened fire on protesters, killing 400–800, and perhaps many more. Eyewitness accounts of the events on the night of June 3 and the early morning of June 4, 1989 continue to emerge from former student leaders and intellectuals, broadening the scope of the original reporting of the massacre by Western media outlets. This was the scene for the iconic image of Tank Man, where a column of PLA tanks was stopped in its tracks by a protester. No one knows if the man in the image is still alive.  Some Western reporters who were on the square during the unfolding events reported that they saw no one actually die on the square itself, though they did see bloodied people but could not confirm whether they were dead or injured.