When Colonizers and Indigenous People Fought Each Other With Eclipses

It’s all very dark — literally
When Colonizers and Indigenous People Fought Each Other With Eclipses

If your go-to media aggregator includes a section for “sky news,” you’ve probably received several warnings about the solar eclipse that’ll roll up on us on April 8, 2024. While admonitions regarding traffic congestion around the eclipse’s path, shortages in the areas and the dangers of driving in sudden darkness should be heeded, it’s hard to think of our friendly celestial neighbors as much of a threat, fake eclipse-viewing glasses notwithstanding. There was a time, however, when eclipses were used as ammunition between enemies, or at least the other party’s ignorance of them. In this case, it was the lack of knowledge that was the most powerful weapon.

It all started in 1503, with the Exploration Age’s principal fuckboi, Christopher Columbus. He ran aground in Jamaica and immediately started Columbusing up the place, trading “trinkets” for food and water with the indigenous population and generally bringing mayhem to the island. To be fair, he’d forbidden his crew to venture out into the island, but they eventually went rogue, and you can guess how they treated the residents, who soon put an end to their business arrangements with Columbus. Regardless of his orders, he was the one who brought those jerks, so fuck him, too, they reasonably concluded.

Faced with looming death at the hands of either starvation or pissed-off islanders, Columbus had to improvise, and he landed on a winning strategy when he remembered a lunar eclipse was coming up. Taking the gamble that the islanders didn’t know what that was, he told them, “The God who protects me will punish you,” as “this very night shall the Moon change her color and lose her light, in testimony of the evils which shall be sent on you from the skies." When that happened, the islanders further reasonably shit themselves, and Columbus lived to fuck shit up another day after promising to talk to God on their behalf if he could get some plantains up in there.

It was a sneaky move by one of history’s sneakiest sneaks, but don’t worry, the indigenous people of another land avenged them 300 years later. In 1806, the Shawnee leader Tecumseh was butting heads with future president William Henry Harrison, who challenged Tecumseh’s brother’s claims of being a prophet. Specifically, he mockingly suggested he should “stop the Sun in the sky” to prove his powers. Ironically, this turned out to be almost divinely fortunate for the fam, as they’d heard about an upcoming eclipse from other, more informed colonists. As a result, when Tecumseh’s brother commanded the sun to “go dark,” Harrison had no choice but to shut up and everyone in the vicinity got behind Tecumseh. 

It didn’t do too much in the grand scheme of the fight against colonization, but it was an effective clapback.


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