TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - The skies will turn dark over 11 provinces soon after dawn breaks on March 9. There is no cause for fear of the total solar eclipse, unlike in 1983 when the government urged people to stay indoor to avoid blindness. Leave this embarrassing episode behind and let's go out and celebrate this special event.
A total solar eclipse is a rare, long-awaited event, particularly when some regions can only witness it once in every 55 years.
In 1983, the government cautioned citizens about observing the eclipse followed by various absurd measures. Two million pamphlets containing the instruction were dropped from planes. In East and Central Java, transparent celluloid glasses were destroyed and copies of eclipse viewing guidelines and equipment seized. The police were deployed to herd back those who ventured out. The only way to watch the eclipse was from the TVRI live broadcast.
Spicing up this hilarious propaganda were various myths floating around. In Banyuwangi, East Java, pregnant women hide under covers to protect their fetuses from the monster that swallowed the sun. In the Kalimantan hinterland, Dayak beat gongs, pounded mortars and pots to pacify the raging supernatural being.
There is nothing wrong with these myths, derived from centuries-old traditional beliefs that enrich our culture. However, it was regrettable that the government at that time failed to make use of the myths and rituals surrounding the eclipse to attract international tourists. Instead, it chose to evoke fear through senseless prohibitions.
Fast forward 33 years later, this time the government is taking full advantage of this March 9 event as a tourist magnet. Cultural festivals are being planned in cities from Palembang, Bangka-Belitung, Palangkaraya to Ternate and Halmahera. With hotels in Ternate fully booked a month ago, the government is likely to achieve its target of 5 million domestic and 100,000 foreign tourists.
This is also a good momentum for the government to instill in children a love of science through observing the eclipse. With the support from city and regional governments, astronomy communities can help school children create simple eclipse-viewing tools. Students can also be assigned to make basic research, such as animal behaviors during the eclipse.
Researchers on the other hand must not miss this golden opportunity. The National Aeronautics and Space Institute, for example, has prepared several teams. Their most important goal is to prove the gravitational effect on light deflection of stars as calculated by Albert Einstein in his universal relativity theory a century ago.
Undoubtedly, cultural festivals, research and education will be positive and productive activities to welcome the eclipse. If thirty-three years ago people were forbidden from going outside, this year, they should be discouraged from staying indoor when the nightfall suddenly comes in the morning. (*)
Read the full story in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine