Solar Eclipse - When the Moon Swallowed the Sun in Indonesia
A Child and the Moon
A traditional Indonesian nursery rhyme, wherein the moon comes down to play with a child.
The day of the solar eclipse
I was the first Westerner to visit the remote Indonesian village in more than a decade. Small children, terrified, ran to hide behind their mother’s skirts. If that wasn’t scary enough, a solar eclipse was coming that day as well! The national TV (the only TV station at that time) was making sure that everyone understood how dangerous it was to look directly into the sun. “No peeking; you’ll go blind.”
Nobody went to their gardens. Everyone stayed indoors, not really sure what would happen when the moon swallowed the sun. If anyone had to venture out, they were sure to carry an umbrella for protection against this ominous threat.
I had hired a taxi for the two-hour drive to my village destination. The driver was exercising extreme caution to avoid potholes—which were everywhere. “Who knows what calamity might befall us? The moon was swallowing the sun!”
The taxi suddenly screeched to a halt! A black cat ambled slowly across the road. The driver continued. I doubt he knew anything about the Western superstition, but one never knows when the moon swallows the sun!
In the village
We all sat around fidgeting with small cakes and heavily sugared tea, anything to pass the time. How long until the inauspicious event would occur? I wanted to elicit certain cultural information for a research project I was working on. The more courageous adults were quite happy, actually, to have me distract them from thoughts of—shudder—the moon swallowing the sun.
I had my eye on my watch because I knew the eclipse would occur close to 1:00 pm. I had been envious of Western colleagues who stayed in town where they would see a total eclipse. Well, as it turned out, they might have if it hadn’t been cloudy and raining there! Where I was, there was an abundance of bright sunshine and I would soon be seeing a partial solar eclipse.
Then the moon swallowed the sun!
Suddenly, daylight turned to dusk! But there were distinct shadows that aren’t present at dusk. At the edge of each shadow was a curious phenomenon. I extended my hand into sunlight to make a small aperture, but was protectively reprimanded.
Well, OK, there were enough holes in the ceiling from nails and who-knows-what. So I pointed out the pinpoint shapes they made on the floor. What are always small circles of light were now small crescents! “Oh no, the moon is swallowing the sun! We looked!”
I explained to them—they knew I was a university researcher—that the reflected image of the sun was harmless compared to its direct rays. That seemed to relax their fears somewhat. In any case, it was over in a few minutes, as suddenly as it began.
In the following days, the national TV reported on the eclipse. It was interesting to see how they made light of the people’s general overreaction, not just in remote villages, but in big cities, too. The media themselves were most responsible for stirring up a lot of the anxiety and, oh well, it wasn’t really all that dangerous after all. It was just a solar eclipse, and scientists say they’ve been happening for centuries!