It was cloudy in Wellington two nights ago, so the lunar eclipse was not visible here. But a Christchurch member of our Flickr group added the photo above to our pool, so at least I’ve been able to see what it was like.
Lunar eclipses occur when the sun, earth and moon all line up, and the moon passes through the earth’s shadow. In Geoff Trotter’s image the moon is shaded, but it can also appear reddish due to refracted light from the earth’s atmosphere falling onto it.
Contrary to scenarios popular in stories such as Prisoners of the sun, where Tin Tin foretells an eclipse to escape from the Inca, indigenous people did know about eclipses (but couldn’t predict them). The story’s roots are from when Christopher Columbus foretold a lunar eclipse in 1504 in Jamaica so getting the natives to reinstate his ships’ food supplies, which they had withheld due to sailors cheating them.
Ethnographer Elsdon Best documented Māori knowledge of the sun and moon. Māori termed an eclipse of the sun ‘rā kūtia’ and thought that it was caused by demons devouring it – but they knew it eventually recovered.
In Māori mythology, Rona was snatched up by the moon after she had cursed it, because it had gone behind a cloud causing her to stumble. The feature that Europeans call ‘the man in the moon’ Māori saw as Rona, a tree and her water gourds. During an eclipse of the moon Rona is said to be fighting the moon. Don’t worry if you missed it this time, as Rona gives the moon the bash again in 2011.