Yesterday marked the beginning of Botswana’s 50th-year independence month and just before 11am the southern part of Botswana experienced the partial solar eclipse.
Although it is easy to find factual explanations for such phenomena because of technological advances, I decided to consult village folks at Serowe (who are not fond of eclipses) to hear their explanations on why the sun is suddenly getting dark in the middle of a September day.
As a child of the village, sometimes these things are better heard from folktales without the somewhat boring scientific explanations. Space scientists have expressly demonstrated the eclipse. They have even correctly predicted future eclipses, both solar and lunar, with excellent precision.
They say the solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and earth, and the moon fully or partially blocks the Sun. In other words it is just a natural phenomenon.
That is all acceptable, but we have to remember that we come from a people that sees magic in natural phenomena. The people of Kgosi Sechele (first Motswana Christian) who dumped rain-making and accepted Christianity (the white-man’s God) despite loud disapproval from his people causing one of the worst El Niños in the area, as he refused to make rain.
So when I saw the sun losing its shine for just a few hours, on a day of the month that Botswana should be shining brighter than ever, I called the village and enquired from the people that told me different tales of the moon, stars and sun, our version of the eclipse of the sun.
They call them myths, but those are our traditional stories
“Somebody important is about to die,” said one of the folks. Apparently, solar eclipses precede (sometimes even follow) the deaths of leaders, especially dikgosi.
In Serowe, elderly folks still remember the 1959 eclipse that occurred after the death of Tshekedi Khama. In February 1980, there was another total solar eclipse that occurred through much of Africa and Asia, and it is believed to have been the warning sign of the death of Botswana’s first president, Sir Seretse Khama, who died five months later. That is why yesterday’s eclipse did not excite the old folks. They felt it could be a warning from the sky of a big tragic spoiler for the BOT50 celebrations.
In 2013, National Geographic magazine did an article on the myths of the solar eclipse and reported that, “some see it as a time of terror, while others look at a solar eclipse as part of the natural order that deserves respect, or as a time of reflection and reconciliation”.
While many were excitedly tweeting about the September 1 partial solar eclipse, it remains to be seen whether if this ring of fire is indeed an omen of things to come. A warning sign of a great tragedy on the month that marks the country’s golden jubilee.