The Ariel school sighting
The Ariel school sighting has been revived and brought to the forefront in recent years, largely in part to several documentaries, and is well known in the UFO world. A Craft landed in a schoolyard in Zimbabwe, and small gray like entities were seen by dozens of witnesses, all reporting relatively the same thing. Today it is considered one of the best group sightings on record.
But the skeptical explanation used to explain it has remained the same since it first occurred – Mass Hysteria. Mass hysteria is the term used to describe a situation in which various people all suffer from similar unexplained symptoms. And while science is no closer to understanding how or why it occurs, they like to use it as a catch all explanation to explain away group sightings and events that don’t fit into the acceptable paradigm.
Mass Hysterias have occurred on every continent in the world, and have affected people of all ages, races, and cultural backgrounds. Women are oftentimes cited as being more susceptible to Mass Hysteria, but this is likely to be an out-of-date sexist model of thought carried over from the last century. But for some reason, these types of hysteria can often be found plaguing schoolhouses, with schools in Africa and Asia being particularly susceptible.
Scientific thinkers often point out that countries in these regions have deep cultural and spiritual beliefs, and they say that this is the main contributing factor to this condition. However, despite directly citing spirituality as the source of this phenomenon, they are always quick to flip it back around, claiming that everything occurring is simply a physiological reaction to said spirituality, and nothing else. I think there is an inherent racism at play here.
These types of cases are likely to end up on a paranormal TV show in the west, but when they occur elsewhere they are ‘exoticized’ and become the material of academic papers. I think the same is at play when it comes to the gendering of this phenomenon. A group of men experiencing hysteria is likely to be reported as an actual paranormal event, while women are dismissed as crazy or victims of ‘Mass Hysteria’. So with these factors in mind, let’s look at some of these reported cases of ‘Mass Hysteria’ reported in the same region as the Ariel school.
As far as Mass Hysteria goes, the Kalahari region has a fairly regular amount of these cases, that is compared to the rest of Africa, which on the whole has a pretty high level. Every few years a large episode seems to occur in a schoolhouse that garners international attention, although it rarely gets more than an odd couple of paragraphs. One of the most recent incidents from the Kalahari occurred in 2019 in the capital of Botswana, Gaborone.
This Hysteria came in the form of an undescribed illness. It was said that at the start of the year, a group of 67 students began showing ‘symptoms’, although these symptoms are not described in the report. By March local media was reporting that over 200 students had now been affected, and the school was forced to close. Village officials brought in priests and religious officials from the surrounding area to try and alleviate the hysteria, but this had little effect. As of January 2020, there has been no update on this story. This type of Hysteria is one of the most common, the spreading of a nonexistent disease. Other forms though can be even more startling.
The Namibia Case
Take this case from neighboring Namibia. It started with a single student. At around 10 one morning, this student began to scream. The screams were about a ghost that the student was claiming occupied the schoolhouse. The student was so distressed they began throwing desks across the class. Soon, four other students began to act strangely, in a similar manner to the first. They were talking in strange deep voices and were jerking about in an uncontrollable fashion. They began to laugh in this dominic sounding voice and started to call out the names of other students.
Parents were naturally upset. Many threatened to transfer their children, others blamed the church, as its services were being incorporated into the school at the time. The explanation of hysteria was met with skepticism from the parents. One parent was quoted as saying: “It’s not our children; it is the school that houses these evil things that enter our children.”
The pupils at Nemanwa Primary School
Countries that border the Kalahari are also plagued by these school-based maladies. In Zimbabwe, the Ariel School sighting is considered by many to be one such incident, but another occurred in 2009. The pupils at Nemanwa Primary School in Charumbira communal lands, Masvingo, were struck with visions of a bizarre nature. They reported seeing snake-like creatures as well as lions, hyenas, and crocodiles. These visions seemed to spread to about six students a day, and those afflicted would either scream wildly or behave like they were in a trance. This school was also church-sponsored, but in this case, they brought in priests of a different church to bless the school and declare it safe for use again. Despite this, many parents still transferred their kids.
Interestingly enough, it is South Africa where the majority of these reports seem to come from. This may be simply because of a much thinner language barrier present for these cases, as I believe to be the case with UFO sightings from the country as well. But it is interesting that this would seem to contradict the scientific claim that these events are dependent on a strong cultural belief, as kids in South Africa are much more likely to come from varying backgrounds and cultures. Yet these kids, like the Ariel students, seem to be experiencing the same phenomenon. How can this be rectified in the scientific explanation?
A high school in Umtata
One of these instances occurred in 1999, at a high school in Umtata, Eastern Cape of South Africa. It began with just a few female students, who passed out suddenly during the school’s morning prayers. They were taken to the nurse’s office and quickly regained consciousness and continued the day as normal. A few days later, once again during the morning prayer, 50 female students began screaming before falling unconscious. The girls were transported to local hospitals and clinics, but nothing physiological could be found as the source of the outbreak, and Mass Hysteria became the explanation.
Instead, at the principal’s behest, a psychological evaluation was conducted to search for a potential cause of this bizarre incident. The typical factors were blamed. It was noted that the most of the students afflicted came from difficult family backgrounds, that exams were around the coroner, and cited living in dormitory style housing as all contributing factors that might have made the girls ‘act up’. But it was also mentioned that a church nearby the school had become a source of Satanic rumors. The students and locals of the area had become convinced that the building was housing less-than-kocher rituals and there was a belief that this might have been the source of the hysteria.
However, while the principal of the school made the concession of improving the dormitories, he was strict about not moving the exams and dismissing any student who entertained any witchcraft theories. To his credit, this seemed to work as there were no further incidents reported after this crackdown.
Schools in Mangaung and Heidedal
Another incident in 2000 occurred at schools in Mangaung and Heidedal, in the Free State Province of South Africa. This one spread to nearly 1500 students, of both genders as well as teachers and independent observers who came to witness the spectacle. This one was much milder, however, as these schools seemed to be the source of an itching plague. Once on campus students would be afflicted with a strange itch and redness. This would only occur on the campuses, but students that had been affected became social outcasts, unable to play with siblings or ride in cabs. Eventually, after fumigation and reassurance, the case stopped, despite no physical source ever being found as the cause. Some suspected Satanism and others claimed to see pranksters leaving a white powder in the girls’ restroom, but none of these rumors were confirmed, and Mass Hysteria remains the official explanation.
A primary school in Kwa-Dukuza
In 2002 at a primary school in Kwa-Dukuza, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, a group of students were struck by convulsions and tremors. They would feel nauseous, begin hyperventilating, shiver, or be struck with tremors, and then pass out. This case seemed to be spread by line of sight, as one student would witness this and become immediately affected. 27 students were affected before it was contained. Once again, witchcraft and Satanism were at the top of the suspect list. All kids were better the next day, and Hysteria was once again claimed as the source.
A high school in Pretoria
In 2009 a high school in Pretoria was also struck. It started when one girl began screaming and having convulsions. Within moments, students all over the school, in various classes and grades, began to show the same symptoms. This time, the episodes were blamed on the suicide of a student which had occurred about two weeks prior to the incident. But oddly enough, this doesn’t explain two separate breakouts that occurred in the suburbs of Sunnyside and Laudium the previous week, where students displayed similar symptoms. These students were tested for narcotics, but nothing was found in their system, and once again the community pinned Satanism as the source.
Surely a number of these incidents are actual episodes of Hysteria, but why is more consideration not paid to the witness’s accounts? More importantly, why are we dismissing them? Let’s consider the Travis Walton case (Some may be familiar with the story from the film Fire in the Sky). For those who are not familiar with it, to sum it up; 7 white, adult, American, men saw their coworker zapped by a UFO in Arizona and sped off in freight to report it to the police. After a few days, Travis reappeared in a dazed and confused state. It is considered one of the best cases in Ufology. But I can’t help to wonder what would have happened if the case was slightly different. What if instead, it was 7, school-aged, black, African girls, who reported the same thing occurring in rural Africa, would it still have become the famous case it is today?