The world's first Swahili clock
February 25, 2008 8:01 AM   Subscribe

The Kamusi project, an online Swahili-English dictionary site, has created the world's first clock that tells Swahili time. Not to be confused with the conceptual clocks of Tibor Kalman, like the Five O'Clock Clock, or Kalman's jumbled time clock tower The Swahili clock reflects an actual conceptual change that takes place for Swahili speakers. In Swahili culture the day starts at sunrise (unlike in the Arab world where the day starts at sunset, and in the Western world where the day starts at midnight). Sunrise in East Africa, being exactly at the Equator, happens every day at approximately 6:00 a.m. And for that reason, 6:00 a.m. is "0:00 morning" Swahili time. So the hands of a watch or clock meant to read Swahili time would always point to a number opposite to the number for the actual time as spoken in English. That is, the Swahili time anywhere in the world (not just East Africa) is delayed by 6 hours.

Therefore 7:00 a.m. is "1:00 morning" (saa moja asubuhi) Swahili time; midnight is "6:00 night" (saa sita usiku) Swahili time. 5:00 a.m. is "11:00 early morning" (saa kumi na moja alfajiri) Swahili time.

Note also that the Swahili time doesn't use "noon" as the reference as in a.m. (before noon) and p.m. (after noon). The time is spoken using "alfajiri" which is the early morning time during which the morning light has started to shine but the sun has not risen yet; "asubuhi" which is the morning time between sunrise and a little before noon; "mchana" which is from around noon to around 3:00 p.m.; "alasiri" which is from around 3:00 p.m. to sunset; "jioni" which is the entire time period from around 3:00 p.m. up to a little before 7:00 p.m.; and "usiku" which is the entire time period from around 7:00 p.m. to early morning.
posted by derangedlarid (26 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
sawa sawa - asante!
posted by Dr.James.Orin.Incandenza at 8:11 AM on February 25, 2008


I don't understand the practicality of either the Swahili or Arab clocks. Let's say it's Swahili Thursday. I got to bed at 3:00 night ST (Swahili Time) aka 9 pm US. I sleep for 8 hours. I wake up at 23:00 night ST aka 5 am US (if I've done that right). It's still Swahili Thursday. After an hour, it's Friday.

Isn't it a little inconvenient to have the day change while you are awake? Like, let's say later in the afternoon someone asks me if I've had breakfast "today".
posted by DU at 8:21 AM on February 25, 2008


It probably works better in the tropics than the Northern hemisphere. And in Iceland or Norway it would be a real nuisance...
posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:28 AM on February 25, 2008


Step 1. Rotate clock 180º
posted by iamkimiam at 8:31 AM on February 25, 2008


Azimio la Kamusi ni zuri sana. Nimelitumia kwa darasa la Kiswahili.
posted by anansi at 8:36 AM on February 25, 2008


Isn't it a little inconvenient to have the day change while you are awake? Like, let's say later in the afternoon someone asks me if I've had breakfast "today".

Um, I stay up past midnight all the time and it's never been a problem for me.
posted by delmoi at 8:42 AM on February 25, 2008


Step 1. Rotate clock 180º

It's 210 degrees.

Also, DU I just realized your example Like, let's say later in the afternoon someone asks me if I've had breakfast "today". is as silly as your asking if it's inconvenient. Obviously their vernacular would be built around this time system, so you wouldn't ask someone a question that means "Have you had breakfast at some point during this calender date?" you would ask "Have you had breakfast since waking up?"
posted by delmoi at 8:46 AM on February 25, 2008


The MetaFilter clock is extremely convenient.
Remember all those throwaway comments? I just wanted to know the time.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:50 AM on February 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm not familiar with something, therefore it must be useless and inconvenient!
posted by anansi at 8:57 AM on February 25, 2008


210?

Obviously my question was merely supposed to be indicative of the problem. They also wouldn't be asking the question in English.

My point is that it is practically simple to have a (typical) period of wakefulness not cross a day boundary. Otherwise you need a second concept, as you demonstrate. There's the "real" day length concept + the "since you woke up" day concept.

Of course, there are plenty of things we have that are practically non-simple.
posted by DU at 8:57 AM on February 25, 2008


I was thinking they had designed a clock that knew its latitude, and therefore struck 00:00 at precisely the moment of sunrise on that given day. Yeah, near the equator it doesn't move much, but it does move some. That'd be an interesting clockwork problem.

All these yahoos did is print the numbers in funny spots. I'm a little skeptical about this being some amazing world first innovation.
posted by Nelson at 9:04 AM on February 25, 2008


(Latitude alone wouldn't be enough, since the Earth doesn't have a perfectly circular orbit. Sidereal day *waves hands*)
posted by DU at 9:06 AM on February 25, 2008


All these yahoos did is print the numbers in funny spots. I'm a little skeptical about this being some amazing world first innovation.

I think that you are misunderstanding this. In Swahili speaking East Africa, time is told differently. This is not a new invention, its just the way that they do it. The Kamusi project is an online Swahili resource/dictionary. They have added this Swahili clock to their website.
posted by anansi at 9:09 AM on February 25, 2008


Why do you need a special clock for this? You just set the time to the local swahili time on a regular clock.
This assumes that 'noon' and 'midnight' are always at the top of the circle. I don't see why this need be so. You could just use a normal clock, and have sunrise be at the top.
posted by signal at 9:22 AM on February 25, 2008


210?

I'm guessing delmoi meant "270", and by that he meant "assuming you're wearing some wacky watch that has a 24-instead-of-12-hour dial". He's dead on about the vernacular aspect, though; "did you eat breakfast yet" nicely collapses the problem.

Also, people who are up late in the US don't really seem to have a problem with "see you in the morning" or "see you tomorrow", even when it's after midnight but before sunrise—it's as if there's actually some commonsensical context-specific grounding for the idea of dawn-as-morning or something.
posted by cortex at 9:35 AM on February 25, 2008


Also, people who are up late in the US don't really seem to have a problem with "see you in the morning" or "see you tomorrow"...

Actually, I always *do* have exactly this problem. I'm always thinking 'wait...do you mean TOMORROW or just after we wake up?" But that's because I operate on the cold logical parameters of a Vulcan. Damn this green ice-water I call blood!
posted by DU at 10:04 AM on February 25, 2008


Forgive me. "People who are up late in the US and who are capable of interpreting based on context and, when necessary, clarifying statements..."
posted by cortex at 10:31 AM on February 25, 2008


Fools. Anyone who's not educated-stupid knows that there are 4 corner simultaneous 24 hour Days within a single 4 corner rotation of Earth. Sheesh.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:41 AM on February 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


Hah! Take that, U2.
posted by Eideteker at 10:48 AM on February 25, 2008


Midnight was not always the standard beginning of the day in the West. See Canonical Hours — these were based on the ancient Roman method of keeping time, in which prime was around daybreak, terce around 9AM, sext at noon. I wish I could find a picture link, but I believe that there are several surviving medieval clock towers in Europe that have what we would consider to be rotated faces.
posted by Araucaria at 12:02 PM on February 25, 2008


When I'm up late, my ability to interpret based on context and, when necessary, clarify statements suffers badly.
posted by wtdoor at 2:26 PM on February 25, 2008


Vicious cycle.
posted by cortex at 2:58 PM on February 25, 2008


Swahili time is more authentic and human than the American way of telling time.
posted by elmwood at 3:37 PM on February 25, 2008


I'll go with universal (objective) GMT, plus a local (subjective) offset. That's authentic enough for this human. That has all of the advantages of the Swatch Beat without the downsides.

I predict that as time goes by, the practice of specifying local time without declaring locality (and hence GMT offset) will become less and less common in record-keeping, formal communication, and electronic devices. Without saying where, "3:00pm, November 12, 1994" only narrows the window down to 24 hours. For something like a picture or an email, that could be important.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:30 PM on February 25, 2008


Seeing how Swahili is heavily influenced by Arabic, and hence Muslim culture, there's another important reason for why this clock makes sense; it lines up so nicely with the five prescribed Muslim prayer times. Now, I can't explain why Islamic "days" start at night instead of the morning, but isn't it entirely logical and practical that the first thing that you do (along with everyone else in your society) synchronizes with the first hour of the day?
posted by HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal at 8:27 PM on February 25, 2008


Despite China being a vast country geographically, spanning several time zones, the whole of China operates to a single Standard Time (GMT+8) all year round.
http://wwp.greenwichmeantime.co.uk/time-zone/asia/china/time/

Which must also create some interesting problems.
posted by emf at 9:58 PM on February 25, 2008


« Older Another day, another Ankylosaur   |   Seems like everyone is ****ing around Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments