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DEAD MOON - BIT OF PRECISION NEEDED?
Mike McCabe
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As everybody seems to be getting on absolutely spiffingly on other parts of this site, could we try to settle on a precise understanding of what a 'Dead Moon' is. I do not mean what it was supposed to signify, but exactly what was it?

So, in moon/lunar terms, what was the observable difference to anybody sitting out all night watching the sky on the nights of 21, 22, and 23 Jan.

If, the night of 21 Jan was absolutely moonless, and there was no ambient light whatsoever (including no starlight?) - viz Smith-Dorrien claiming not to be able to see his own hand in front of his face - then perhaps the true import of the night of 21 Jan was to serve as an unambiguous time 'waypoint' for the synchronisation of various military efforts across the whole of Zululand. Or, would that be the night of 22 Jan?

'Dead Moonists' (perhaps our very own version of Star Trekkers), or should it be 'Dead Mooners', need to be very defined over that because exactly what and when the day of the dead moon was matters to all theorisers on its social and superstitious significance.

Regardless, it would appear that intelligent tactical opportunities were still seized to attack both the Isandlwana camp and Pearson's coastal column on the same day. In both cases because the British commander had observedly split his force without discovering the location of the enemy's local main force.

In the merry ongoing squabble elsewhere here over whether a 'deliberate' attack at Isandlwana was only to be countenanced on 23 Jan, is it by the way at all arguable that Ntshingwayo would not have taken the presented opportunity to attack on 22 Jan, at some tactical advanatage and more favourable relative strengths, and would have waited another night in the area - accepting the risk of discovery, or the possible return of the rest of No3 Column (plus Dartnell) reversing the tactical balance.

So, as an event, what and when was a dead moon in the third week of Jan 1879? Facts please.

MC McC
Keith Smith


Joined: 30 Aug 2005
Posts: 540
Location: Northern NSW, Australia
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Mike

I have seen a couple of definitions over time, but it sems to be the day of the new moon. If it helps, according to the Natal Almanac for 1879, the new moon occurred at 1.52 pm on the 22nd January.
KIS
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Mike McCabe
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Thank you, that's a very helpful start in building up the factual information picture.

We also need to recognise that Smith-Dorrien might be:
* Referring to the pre-dawn of 21 Jan, after the setting of any moon, so a few hours of darkness however much ambient light there might have been earlier, or:
* In his later reminiscences (I have not yet read his contemporary letters to his father) his recollection might be at fault - as it was in (uniquely) timing Durnford's arrival at Isandlwana much earlier than was likely to have been the actual case.

Setting aside any inauspicious character relating to a 'day of the dead moon', it really does matter to know exactly how that day was actually identified by the Zulus. One imagines by the observation of the incontrovertible visua - and when it actually fell
Presumably the Zulus simply observed its visual indications (whenever therecwas a clear sky) then applied simple counting to the 28 day lunar cycle. But, which actual day in the lunar cycle was supposed to be the day of the dead moon - and in Jan 1879 - 21, 22 or 23 Jan?
I'm simply not sufficiently knowledgeable of what would be observable/recognisable in the Zulu night sky. Presumably there was some dependence on actual observation of the sky to observe a particular visible sign - or counting forward from the last manifestation.
It does matter, exactly which day was supposed to be the day of the dead moon, and which daylight period was ergo assumed to be generally inauspicious.
Ignoring that aspect, and asuming a Zulu ability to track a repeated calendar of 28 day periodicity, the 'datum day' (whichever it was) could also have served a general synchronisation purpose for various concurrent military and logistic support preparations by the Zulu Army and its civilian population across the whole of Zululand. So, in the expectation of intensified military activity astride that day, we hear of and see non-combatant activity conducted, in the expectation in good faith that something major is about to happen.

What did actually happen at Nyezane and Isandlwana might simply illustrate a difference between planned 'intent' (operational level) and pragmatic exploitation of an intelligently assessed tactical advantage at both sites.
But, could it also conceivably be that 22 Jan was not actually the day of a dead moon at all, but 21 Jan. Who amongst the membership knows enough about Zulu culture and practice to tell us exactly how this cultural belief was applied in fine detail?
MC McC
Julian whybra


Joined: 03 Sep 2005
Posts: 436
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Does it matter one whit what we think or know, scientifically, to be the case now? All that matters is what was perceived to be the case by the Zulus then in 1879. In the score or so of Zulu accounts which mention the Day of the Dead Moon and Isandhlwana, to a man, they are all referring to the 22nd, the day the attack was not supposed to have happened, but did.
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Mike McCabe
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It does indeed matter that there should be an indisputable single meaning to the term 'day of the dead moon' - both to an understanding of any Zulu references to one, and in any interpretations that might be placed on information reports received by British and Colonial observers referring activity astride that day.

So, we have a universal datum mark that communicates a single day with precision, and understandable to all Zulus.

Interesting that its inauspicious nature ultimately made no difference to the seizing of tactical opportunities once presented.

Thank you Julian, once again, for adding value in your unique way.

MC McC
Julian whybra


Joined: 03 Sep 2005
Posts: 436
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It's a pleasure Mike. (Am I missing something here?)
For what it's worth my understanding of the Day of the Dead Moon has nothing to do with the lunar cycle but with the day of the eclipse.
When the Moon disappears near the time of conjunction the Zulus believed there were evil spirits in the air, and so they were waiting for the new moon to appear the following post-eclipse day.
I do not know this to be factually accurate and so am happy to be corrected. Like Keith I have heard 2 or 3 'definitions'. The one above comes from a Zulu prince and so seemed the more believable. Perhaps Ron or Peter could clarify with their RSA contacts.
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Keith Smith


Joined: 30 Aug 2005
Posts: 540
Location: Northern NSW, Australia
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Julian

I really cannot accept your definition, sorry! The only time that the moon can 'disappear' during an eclipse is when it is lost in the shadow of the earth. The Zulu were not capaple of predicting either an eclipse of the sun or moon, so the eclipse of the 22nd (an eclipse of the sun) was not predicted by them either. On the other hand, they were capable of predicting the phases of the moon - indeed, they were able to identify the correct state of the moon for the First Fruits ceremony. (see Bryant, The Zulu People, p. 511.)
KIS
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Mike Snook


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 130
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I'm with Keith on this - it has to be related to the lunar cycle rather than the eclipse.

M
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Julian whybra


Joined: 03 Sep 2005
Posts: 436
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OK I'm fine with that. I seem to remember finding some backup to the prince's view on some website or other which I'll try to track down. I recall that its explanation was that the 'dead moon' related to the 'dead' silhouette of the moon against the sky on the 'day' of the eclipse. Hence 'day' of the 'dead moon' and not 'night'. I do agree though that the Zulus were probably not up to astronomical calculations so it does seem unlikely.
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Mike McCabe
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Counting up to 28 would not be the problem.

It's the term 'day' of the dead moon.

Hence my, seemingly pedantic, line of questioning. If 22 January was the 'day' of the dead mon - what differences would be seen in the overnight sky on 21/22 Jan and 22/23 Jan.
I've no knowledge of what a new moon would look like at 1.52am on 22 Jan - assuming a clear sky. Could we find an explanation, perhaps arising from the meaning and nuances of Zulu language that explains why the day of the dead mon should be the day of a new mon?

MC McC
Mike McCabe
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Found it, I suppose:
New Moon
The New Moon occurs when the Sun and Moon are in conjunction, occupying the same part of the sky from the viewpoint of Earth. During this time the Moon doesn't reflect the light of the Sun, and so cannot be seen (except during a solar eclipse). The Moon's un-illuminated side is facing the Earth.

Full Moon
The Full Moon occurs between 14 and 15 days after the New Moon, and is shaped like a complete disc. The Moon's illuminated side is facing the Earth. The Full Moon reflects the maximum light from the Sun.

Moon Phases
Waxing - the moon is growing larger in the sky, moving from a narrow crescent just after the New Moon towards the Full Moon.
The waxing Moon grows from right to left and is called the 'right-hand Moon' - the crescent is like the curve between the right-hand's index finger and thumb.

Waning - the moon is decreasing in size, moving from the Full Moon back towards a crescent as the New Moon approaches.
The waning Moon decreases from right to left and is called the 'left-hand Moon' because of its similarity to the curve on the left hand.

Gibbous - during the phases between the First Quarter and the Full Moon, and between the Full Moon and the Last Quarter, when more than half of the disc is illuminated.

So, it's 'dead' on the day of a new moon, I asume 'cos there's nothing to see.

Gosh, wouldn't we save huge amounts of time if we didn't ask each other questions!

MC McC
Zulu voices speak -
John Young


Joined: 30 Aug 2005
Posts: 980
Location: Lower Sheering, Essex
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Rather than give the forum snippets of this text, I've decided to reproduce it in full, culled from three Zulu warriors who fought on the 22nd January at Isandlwana. Recorded 50 years after the event it gives an astonishing insight as to way the battle was not to be fought on the 22nd, and they infer it was because of the British rather than themselves, that it was to be fought the following day - I have highlighted the text for the reason - no Moon and an inaccurate calendar, making a Wednesday into a Sunday!

A further Native version of the battle of Isandhlwana was told to a representative of "The Natal Mercury" by three members of one family, all whom participated as combatants in the Ingobamakosi Regiment. They were Dubane Mzimana Ungune, the chief counsellor of Chief Zimema, Mhlahlana Ungune and Malumbela Ungune, who had made a special journey to Zimema's kraal to give their story in collaboration with on another.
We were here at Umhlatuzaan, began Mhlahlana, who was the chief spokesman throughout, when we were called together by our leader. "You must rest quietly at home," he told us, "because next month you will all be wanted. We had scarcely got back home when a special messenger came from Ondweni telling us to go there immediately as Cetewayo, our King, had need of us. The white men were even then in their tents at Isandhlwana. We went to the Royal Kraal, where all the regiments were marshalled together to hear what our ruler had to say to us. We formed up in a big circle, with Cetewayo standing in the centre.
He told us that he wanted certain regiments to go and eat up the white man at Isandhlwana. The first one he pulled out was the Unokenke, the next was the Ukandempemvu, then came the Indhluyengwe, who were followed by the Umbonambi, the Ingobamakosi, the Uve and the Udhloko. When he had completed his choice, we, the chosen ones, sang loudly saying: "Cetewayo, Zulu, Ndabezita, Gumede, you are the little mealie cob that puts out the fire started by Mantshongo and Ngqelemana, You are the bow-legged one who, on account of his legs, can baffle the police. You are the stalk that grows by itself at Nhlungwana, while other stems grow in large clusters. You are the one who turns his back on Ulundi and the Drakensberg Mountains. Bayete!"
With the Unokenke in the lead we left the Royal Kraal and slept that night on the banks of the Umfolosi River, some on this side and some on the other at the mountain called Nobamba. Our resting place the next night was at Umhlatuus. The following night we stayed at Mengewana's kraal, where it rained heavily and in the evening of the following day, a Saturday, we arrived at Nqutu, from where we could see the white men posting their scouts on the top of the hills.
The Indunas of our impi were Tumopu and Umkosaan, but our head commander was Mehle Inkosi ("the Eyes of the King") who was one of the leading generals in the whole Zulu army. These big men were mounted on horse-back, but the soldiers were always on foot.
Early on the Sunday (sic) morning, just as the sun was beginning to light up the tops of the hills we heard firing. We listened for a while and then said to ourselves: "There is going to be no fighting to-day because we hear that the white men never fight on a Sunday, and also because there is no moon. Being hungry we took no more notice of the firing, but started to collect the mealies we had been cooking over our fires. It was decreed though that we were not enjoy eating them because while we were gathering them one of our indunas arrived and told us to arm ourselves and get ready for the fight. While we were doing so the white men were already fighting with the Ukandempemvu.
As soon as we were all armed the impi advanced in the formation of a new moon up the Nqutu. We heard firing on the top of the rise and as soon as we got on the top we saw the Ukandempemvu and the white men at grips with each other. We were then brought round to get into line with the Ukandempemvu. While we were going round we met four mounted men. I then told our induna and said: "Let us make ready now for here are the white men." He replied: "No those are just the horses belonging to our indunas." These horses then disappeared into the donga and almost immediately a whole lot of mounted men belonging to the English came out with long spears in their hands. We had then surrounded the white men.
After that we were all sitting down and saw some white men coming along quite near us. Our induna wanted to kill them, but we said: "It is early in the day. Give them a chance. Let them get away." So they got away.
We then saw that the Umbonambi had begun to fight with the white men, who soon after that came into touch with our regiment. One of my brothers was very excited and shouted out with a loud voice to make us very strong, "This is the King's day." Then we all got mixed up together and drove the white men out of the donga on to a big flat of about five miles long on which was nothing but ant-heaps. About the middle of the day we started to creep towards the enemy on our hands and knees, but they shot us so badly that we came back to get our hearts again.
Then we got up and chased the white people who were retiring from the Ukandempemvu and drove them back on to our own people. We then saw some mounted men who were retiring to the Little Isandhlwana so we pursued them and closed in on them, shutting them up inside a circle. The white men then got into a kneeling position to shoot at us. There were big flames coming from their rifles every time they fired.
We then got our big general to give the regiments the order to eat the white men up. He did so, so we rushed in and killed all the white men with our assegais and also all the kafirs they had with them.
We took what we wanted from the camp of the white man and among the other things we found a lot of bottles that we thought had "canteen" (spirits) in them. We drank from them and were very cross when we found it wasn't "canteen" but paraffin.
We had another fight at Mahlabatini the next Saturday and were beaten there because your white people had made a round fort there with a lot of holes in the walls through which they stuck the mouths of their rifles. If it had not been for that protection we could have eaten up the white men there too. The Umxapo was wiped out there by the English.

The Natal Mercury, Tuesday, January 22nd 1929.
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Dawn


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 610
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
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Dare I jump in here?

Keith says the New Moon was at 1.52pm on 22 Jan.

Mike interpreted it as 1.52am on 22 Jan.

Which is it?

Dawn
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Paul Bryant-Quinn
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John:

Thank you - your post has solved a long-standing puzzle for me! In *Rope of Sand* p. 222 (my edition), John Laband starts the first full paragraph on that page with the bald statement that ‘Sunday 22 January 1879 was the day of the new moon’. He then goes on to discuss how unlikely it would have been that so large a force as the Zulu impi could have maintained the advantage of surprise ‘... until the more auspicious Monday dawned’.

I had always wondered how it was that this careful scholar had failed to note on which day of the week 22 January fell in 1879: presumably the quote you give from *The Natal Mercury* must have been in his mind at the time of writing?

Paul
Peter Quantrill
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Dawn,
It was 1.52 p.m. 22 Jan.
Julian: Am following up with AMAFA. John Laband describes the date as a time of " umnyama" when evil influences would overtake an impi to its enemy's advantage.Nor would any business be conducted that day. However there were instances when this belief was disregarded. Am also getting David Rattray's views.
DEAD MOON - BIT OF PRECISION NEEDED?
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