If you were hoping for a brighter 2024 Philadelphia , well,  we are guaranteed to be in the dark this year (at least for part of one day.) 

Scientists announced that today will be the first time in forty years that Philadelphia and much of America will experience a partial eclipse of the sun producing over 90 percent totality on April 8th. At a few spots in the state, including Erie, the eclipse will be total. The East Coast of the United States won’t see an eclipse like this again until 2044.

In October 2023, over 80 vendors gathered in West Philadelphia for the One Africa! One Nation! Flea Market, which has helped African Economic development since before 2003.

Less than 24 hours before the Flea Market was  —  you guessed it, a partial solar eclipse over Philadelphia.

It was last spring when a section of Southwest Philadelphia was rebranded from “Little Africa” to become Africatown. The greater Philadelphia area is currently home to around 120,000 immigrants from both Africa and the Caribbean.

The African Cultural Alliance of North America Inc. or (ACANA) for short, together with ACBC, operates in the greater Philadelphia Region and focuses specifically on commerce with nations in both African and the Caribbean. It has an invaluable connection to the fast growing markets in both regions through its partner affiliations.

To the heritage of the people of South Africa, this is not the first important solar eclipse.

One hundred and 45 years ago in 1879, the British Empire invaded the African nation of Zululand in an unnecessary conflict meant to quickly subdue King Cestwayo’s Zulu people as England was already in a conflict elsewhere in Afghanistan.

British commander Lord Chelmsford — accompanying the centre invasion column into Zululand — marched his troops to the base of the sphinx-like mountain known as Isandlwana Hill. Operating under the impression that the Zulu people would avoid military engagement, Chelmsford split his forces and began a pursuit leaving 1,700 men to guard the camp at the foot of the mountain.

While scouting the hills around Isandlwana Mountain, soldiers from the remaining force guarding the camp accidentally stumbled across the main Zulu army, which was hidden a few miles from the camp. Over 20,000 Zulu warriors rose up and advanced on the British.

Using the “horns of the charging bull attack,” implemented by Zulu King Shaka decades earlier, the Zulu Impi exposed British extended firing lines, flanking, surrounding, and annihilating the English. 

January 22, 1879 is significant for another reason as well.

During the battle, Zulu accounts of the engagement mention the solar eclipse around 2:29 P.M. in which the path of totality crossed southern Africa. The temporary darkness was taken by the Zulus as a sign of certain victory and urged them on into the camp to finish the British in an incredible victory.

The Battle has gone down in history as one of the few examples of a native army defeating a colonial European force armed with breech-loading rifles, cannons, and a rocket battery. 

What made the victory so impressive was that by the late 1870s, Queen Victoria’s Empire was the largest and most formidable in the world including Great Britain, Africa, India, Canada, and Australia. In the first engagement of the Anglo-Zulu War, the Zulu were able to defeat the most powerful empire in the world.

Standing victoriously under the shadow of Isandlwana Hill, the Zulu nation had achieved one of the most unlikely military victories in modern history. 

The eclipse over Africa on January 22, 1879 is one of the more memorable connected to historical events. An eclipse was associated with the British King Henry’s death in 1133. During an impending battle in Turkey in 585 BC, an eclipse was seen as a sign for two opposing armies not to go to battle and negotiated a peace treaty. An eclipse in 1178 BC may be the one mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey.

In 1778  —  just days before the Battle of Monmouth in the American Revolution  —  an eclipse was said to have been a good omen for the American victory by the Continental Army. General George Washington, upon learning of the impending eclipse, warned his troops days before about the coming phenomenon. 

The eclipse was observed by Dr. William Smith and David Rittenhouse.

For the Zulu people, no eclipse will replace the importance of January 22, 1879, however, on a day when even a brief shadowing of the sun would not place darkness on a great Zulu military victory.

On April 8, 2024 , nothing will darken the promise of Philadelphia’s multi-cultural Africatown, either.

In 1879, Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said of the Zulu people, “A very remarkable people the Zulus: they defeat our generals, they convert our bishops, and who on this day have settled the fate of a great European dynasty.”

Michael Thomas Leibrandt is a historical writer living in Abington Township, Pennsylvania.

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