Saba-Saba and the Fourth of July –
by Andrew A. Clark
The following story is about celebration of political independence. In Tanzania, the holiday called Saba-Saba (seven-seven in Swahili, meaning in this case the seventh of July 1954) celebrates the founding of the Tanganyika African National Union – TANU – which eventually was instrumental in gaining political independence. At the time of this event Saba-Saba was the primary political holiday in Tanzania, eclipsing even the day of actual independence. It was a day of serious political celebration.
So here’s the story ……………..
In 1982 I was working in Singida, Tanzania directing a development project.
In a conversation about politics with a Tanzanian, he talked about Saba-Saba and the great importance it had for Tanzanians. He also asked what we as Americans did to celebrate our political holidays, especially our Independence Day? That began a train of thought for me – what indeed do we do? Eat hot dogs, maybe? Drink beer. Watch fireworks. Perhaps have a party to do all three, and play some softball too? Very little, generally, to really celebrate our political freedom which for us is so far back in our history that we feel little immediacy as opposed to Tanzanians who, because the inception of TANU and independence is within their lifetimes, feel a great deal of immediacy.
At that point I was the senior American of the area so I decided that we, the American community of the Singida area, would host a Right And Proper Celebration of our Independence Day and to that end we set about planning the event.
The American population of the area was Barbara my wife, our five kids, me, six Peace Corps Volunteers who worked on the project I was directing, several Lutheran missionaries, and perhaps a few others whom I have forgotten.
We wrote to the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam outlining our plan, and they did us proud. They sent an American flag and shortly before the event actually shipped to us some dry-ice frozen hotdogs – actual true American tribal-food hotdogs! What a smash!!
The strategy was to invite a lot of Tanzanians and all the foreigners working in the area, and as it turned out at the event there were a total of 18 different nationalities represented. We intended to demonstrate our true nationalism with a tribal parade, a tribal picnic with tribal foods, tribal games of “Wheelbarrow” and “Three Legged Race” and others of that sort, and then a tribal oratory.
We began with the parade. Having no electricity, I had rigged a car stereo system with its attendant battery in a wheelbarrow so we could parade behind Old Glory to the tribal imperatives of John Phillip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever”. It was a wonderful parade, winding through the compound where we lived. All eighteen nationalities including four physicians from the People’s Republic of China who were working at the hospital in town – and imagine at that time in history the irony of Chinese parading behind the American flag!!
Then to the tribal games, which to the assembled crowd, especially the Africans, were an astonishing show of nonsensicality. After our games the Australians felt it necessary to introduce one of their tribal games called “Fling the Wellie”. In case you’ve forgotten, a “wellie” is a rubber boot (a Wellington boot) and the idea of the game is to see who can throw it the furthest. It makes about as much sense as the American tribal games. It was won by an Australian who was built like an orangutan with arms that reached almost to the ground, and he could make that wellie float like a frisbee. Everyone played, including a German girl whose understanding of a “picnic” was a formal affair to which dress clothing was worn. Formal dress notwithstanding, the Honor of Germany was at stake and she felt compelled to compete so she hitched up the skirt of her pretty white dress to mid-thigh level and flung the wellie!! It was a great event.
The picnic lunch was served. Hot dogs. Hamburgers. Potato salad. Baked beans. Corn on the cob. Watermelon. Brownies. How much more American can you get???? There was lots of fun mixing and talking and enjoying one another, and of course discussion about the peculiar food that was being served.
And then to the political part of the celebration to the true foundation of our disparate mongrel tribal identity. For the orator, a wooden box on which I had painted “Soap” was turned upside down to stand on. Everyone sat on the ground facing the box. We had two pieces of program.
First a history of how the Declaration of Independence came about and the people who wrote it. This piece was written and presented by Charles Franzen, a PCV who had a degree in history from the University of Mississippi. He did a wonderful job of putting together the background of the people involved and explaining how the writers came from varying modes of life, their Age of Enlightenment thinking, the political imperatives of the time, and the formulation of the document. I still have the original of Charles’ presentation and have used it several times– it is wonderful piece of writing and made a great speech.
For the second piece of program, I read the entire Declaration of Independence, beginning to end, in what I hoped was a clear, slow, and respectful cadence. I have never experienced a more attentive and focused group of people – 80 individuals sitting on the ground, paying rapt attention to that entire document. A pin dropped in the sand would have been heard. After the presentations and people were saying their goodbyes and leaving, a group of four Germans who I had never seen before, and I never did know what they did in the area or where they lived, came to say that they had never heard the Declaration before and what a marvelous document it is. They were very excited and even emotional about having heard it.
In total it was a terrific event. It felt good to everyone involved. People went home having had a fun and meaningful experience. It allowed us Americans to express our national identity in a positive and acceptable way without any inference of superiority or vertical relationship, and to demonstrate that we indeed do have a lot to celebrate on our Independence Day. All around it was a strongly positive sharing of mutual interests.
I have very fond memories of that wonderful celebration of July 4th, 1982.