Saturday, March 18, 2006

Who switched off the Sun?

In 2001 there were riots in Nigeria in its northern state of Borno because of a solar eclipse. The inhabitants there suspected that evil people in their communities had dabbled with the occult to darken the world, sending them into frightened but angry frenzy. Needless to say, in the riots, people did get hurt and killed.

Well, there will another eclipse for Nigeria on 29 March. The shadow caused by the eclipse will put considerable parts of the Earth in temporary darkness. This shadow will move from southern part of South America across the Atlantic to most of Africa [except South Africa and the eastern coast], all of Europe, Middle East, Pakistan, Northern India, Central Asia, western China, etc, in other words, moving along a SW-ly to NE-ly axis across the surface of the Earth.

Actually the term ‘eclipse’ is not technically correct as it refers to a situation when the Earth blocks out the Sun from the surface of our Moon, preventing reflection from the Moon surface that allows us to view our planet’s satellite. If you’re a Bolehnaut on the Moon, you won’t get to see the Sun during an 'eclipse'.

In the case of the Moon passing between the Sun and our planet and causing darkness on parts of the Earth, an occurrence which led to rioting in Nigeria 5 years ago, the correct term is ‘occultation’. The dictionary provides the meaning as ‘the passage of one celestial body in front of a second, thus hiding the second from view’. This term is particularly applicable to the Moon obscuring the Sun (or any star) from an observer on Earth.

But on second thoughts, perhaps the Nigerian government should avoid the use of this term because it may mislead some Nigerians to think the word ‘occultation’ stems from another word that had frightened them 5 years ago, ‘occult’! Then they would be back to Square 1.

The Nigerian government obviously wants to avoid the rioting again. It has conducted a campaign to inform, educate and assure its citizens, and warn them that eclipses [or that O-word] are OK, that there is no cause for panic when parts of the country are darkened, though the phenomenon may cause social and psychological ‘discomforts’.

I can understand what psychological discomfort is, but what really is social discomfort? Like getting hammered or killed?

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