JAKARTA – Thousands of tourists have flocked to Indonesia to witness a total solar eclipse that will sweep the archipelago next Wednesday, in a country which marks the phenomenon with a mix of Muslim prayers and colorful tribal rituals.
“This is a very special year because we have this phenomenon – a tourism attraction created by God,” I Gde Pitana, the government’s head of foreign tourism, told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Monday, March 7.
“We are very lucky”.
Anticipating the total solar eclipse next Wednesday, about 10,000 foreign visitors and 100,000 Indonesian tourists are expected to view the phenomenon.
Hotels in the best viewing spots filled up weeks ago and in one city officials have had to find extra space for tourists on boats.
Along with the spectacular view of the sun, visitors will enjoy special events across the country, which ranges from a festival featuring live bands to dragon boat races.
The total eclipse will sweep across 12 of Indonesia’s 34 provinces, which stretches about 5,000km (3,000m) from east to west, before heading across the Pacific Ocean.
Partial eclipses will be visible in northern Australia and parts of Southeast Asia.
The moon will begin moving across the sun on Indonesia’s main western island of Sumatra at around 6:20 am (2320 GMT Tuesday), before the eclipse sweeps across Sulawesi and Borneo, then moves over the Malukus and heads out into the ocean.
In the country’s most populous Muslim country, the phenomenon would be marked with eclipse special prayers.
“Our Prophet Mohammed said the prayer signifies the greatness of Allah, who created this wonderful phenomenon,” said Ma’ruf Amin, chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council, the country’s top Islamic clerical body.
On the other hand, the phenomenon sparked fears of some of Indonesia’s indigenous tribespeople, who make up to 70 million of the country’s 250 million inhabitants.
Members of the Dayak tribe in one part of Borneo island, known for their elaborate tattoos and costumes, will be performing a ritual to ensure it does not last too long.
The Balian Ba Ampar-Ampar involves traditional music, chanting mantras and giving offerings of flowers and incense to ensure the sun, the source of life, does not disappear.
However, for many visitors and scientists, the spectacular view when the moon covers the solar face, creating a breath-taking silver halo in an indigo sky, was worthy.
“Anybody who has an opportunity should go and watch the solar eclipse – it is a life-changing experience,” said Nat Gopalswamy, a Nasa astrophysicist coming to Indonesia for the event.
Solar eclipse is the partial or total cutting off of the sun’s light when the moon comes between it and the earth.
Before Islam, people used to associate this unusual phenomenon with some superstitious reason. It happened that the sun eclipsed on the day the Prophet’s son Ibrahim died in Madinah, so some people attributed that to his death.
Hence, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) took the opportunity to correct the people’s mistaken notion about the solar eclipse saying, “The sun and the moon are two signs of Allah; they are not eclipsed on account of anyone’s death or on account of anyone’s birth. So when you see them, glorify and supplicate Allah, observe the Prayer, give alms.”