The Moon and the reason I was working this Christmas

By Sibusiso Biyela

KING Goodwill Zwelithini, young men coming to age, the full Moon and a great moral teacher is born. All these things have conspired to have me go to work this Christmas.

Moon_right-view_(Clementine_dataset)

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Having the full moon this Christmas –something that has not happened since Star Wars Episode IV but more on that later- may seem like a Christmas miracle to some, but to not so to me. You see, the full moon being on the 25thDecember of this year means that the First Fruits Ceremony (called “uMkhosi woSelwa”) also has to coincide with this day.

UMkhosi WoSelwa is a sacred, traditional Zulu ceremony that sees young men flock to the King’s eNyokeni Palace in kwaNongoma. Once there, over several days they perform certain sacred rituals in line with what is expected of a Zulu man. When the King announced that uMkhosi WeSolwa will be held for a few days including Christmas, I cannot say that I was overly enthused.

Contrary to what I thought I knew about the Zulu nation, a lot of their lifestyle is dependent on the night sky. Indeed on many occasions, I have witnessed the King talking about the importance of astronomy for Zulus.

King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu has, on these public occasions, mentioned how the positions of the stars and planets play an important role in determining when harvests are made, when certain traditional ceremonies are conducted, and the role bodies like the moon play in the history of this great nation.

Speaking of which, around this time of year in 1878/9, His Majesty King Cetshwayo kaMpande, faced with imminent war cancelled this ceremony for that year in order to prepare his men for an altercation with Her Majesty’s Army in the midst of the dawn Anglo-Zulu war.

The heavens again became important, as the King’s men defeated the greatest army in the world at the time. As spears and cow-hide shields defeated semi-automatic guns, the Moon blocked the sun, and the blood-stained battlefield of iSandlwana momentarily turned day to night; a sign to the Zulu that God was on their side.

The current king has brought back this and many other traditional Zulu ceremonies, and as per custom, uMkhosi Woselwa has to happen during the last full moon of the year. The last time we had a Christmas full moon was in 1977, the same year the first Star Wars film in the 7-piece saga was first released.

While a Christmas full moon may seem special at first, it is quite rare as it occurs once every 38 years, but so it does for every other day of every other month as Neil deGresse Tyson tweeted this week.

Anyway, I cannot really complain about my predicament, as it has prompted me to think of the science of the moon, Star Wars, Christmas, and a proud Zulu nation and their ties to the night sky that has survived to this day.

Republished with permission from here.

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SciBraai, a proudly South African NPO dedicated to science journalism, communication and outreach. SciBraai began on Heritage Day 2013 - Anina Mumm and Engela Duvenage in 2013 launched the website, scibraai.co.za, to feature stories about South African research, technology and innovation, and the people behind the discoveries. This blog welcomes all South Africans to go behind the scenes of local science and exploration endeavors. It’s a place to share stories about the scientists themselves and the interesting, little-known activities that are often left out of research journals. A place to learn more about the stuff that makes South African science and its people tick. A place to feel inspired about what South Africans are discovering on home soil and abroad. Because local is lekker, no matter what language you use. SciBraai's following has grown in the past years, and we are now on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We've also begun organising real-life braai's where we share round-the-fire stories about South African science and scientists.

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