This democratic tradition precedes the U.S. Fourth of July by nearly 700 years, going back to 1079, when King Godred Crovan of the Isle of Man convened an open-air assembly of commoners and nobility, the Tynwald, to discuss new laws for the kingdom. The Tynwald still governs this land in the Irish Sea, making it the oldest continuous parliamentary body in the world; each July 5, legislators meet outdoors atop an ancient mound said to be built out of soil from all across the island. In an era threatened by the economic might of transglobal institutions, we might all invoke the Tynwald spirit to assert that citizens, not corporate chiefs or the World Trade Organization, should make the decisions that rule our lives.
In their annual Homowo ('hooting at hunger') rituals, Ghana's Ga-speaking people commemorate a great famine that ended with an extraordinarily bountiful harvest. Fishing boats head out to sea at the start of the holiday season, reports Samuel Wiafe in The New Internationalist (April 1999); if they return with a poor catch, Homowo is postponed or canceled. If the catch is good, the season begins with a ban on drumming, dancing, nightclubs, and burials, so the gods can attend to the harvest and other important matters in quiet while mortals grieve lost loved ones, settle quarrels, and find romantic partners. Two weeks later, 10 days of communal feasts, sing-alongs, parades, and sports competitions begin. The ban on drumming and dancing ends on the last day of the festival, just in time for a noisy procession in which priests offer protection against evil spirits by sprinkling people with water as they march to the ocean for a ritual swim that washes away the year's misfortunes.