Cosmic Africa

Gibt es was schönerers?

Weit ab von den Lichtern der Stadt, den Kopf in den sternklaren Himmel einer lauen Sommernacht gereckt, sieht man die Sterne.

Da funkelt die Milchstraße. Einzelne Sternbilder sind zu erkennen – der große Wagen, das Band des Orion – dessen mittleres Juwel mir einmal von einer guten Freundin geschenkt wurde – Ach die Sterne.

Sehnsucht ist das WORT das mir beim Gedanken an die Sterne immer einfällt. Den schönsten Sternenhimmel habe ich in Afrika gesehen. Genauer gesagt, bei einem Jagdausflug mit den San, den Buschmännern der Kalahari in Botswana. !Nate – einer der Jäger, ist einmal zur blauen Stunde auf einen niedrigen Baum geklettert, hat es sich in einer Astgabel bequem gemacht, und studierte den Himmel und die Sterne. Was ihm wohl durch den Kopf gegangen ist? Welche Geschichten erzählen ihm die Sterne? Wie sieht ein Afrikaner, dessen Volk seit mehr als 8000 Jahren die Kalahari durchstreift den Kosmos?

Eine Antwort auf diese Fragen könnte Cosmic Africa liefern. Pamela Grossman erzählt.

MAFIKENG, South Africa

THEBE MEDUPE explores the cosmic heart of Africa “If it’s in my ability” is a phrase 30-year-old Thebe Medupe uses often—a modest expression that he employs when others might say “I hope.” Looking at the facts of Medupe’s life, one realizes just how modest this habit is: Born and raised under apartheid in a small South African town, with no running water or electricity, he pursued his fascination with astronomy to the achievement of a PhD in astrophysics. Currently, he works at the South African Astronomical Observatory in Sutherland and oversees the budding theoretical astrophysics research program that he started at North-West University.

Beyond all this, he’s the central figure in Cosmic Africa, a groundbreaking documentary that explores the ethnoastronomy of Africa: the ancient cosmological beliefs held by Africans across the continent. Medupe was always intrigued by the night sky and the stories of the cosmos told by the elders of his village. At the age of 13—spurred by the passing of Haley’s comet through our solar system—he built a working telescope out of a plumbing pipe and some lenses he borrowed from school. During that time, anything connected to his own culture or people was being reliably excluded from his formal education. “In the books I was shown, they always talked about the ancient Greek culture, the European culture,” he remembers. “But there was no mention of African stories. As a young boy, I used to wonder why.”

The apartheid system was beginning to break down by the time Medupe was applying to college, and he became the first black astronomy student at the University of Cape Town, ultimately continuing there for his master’s and doctoral degrees. It was during his PhD studies that he was approached to work on Cosmic Africa, a natural project for him given his dedication to astronomy and to exploring African culture. He signed on to help with research for the film, but the filmmakers—codirectors (and brothers) Craig and Damon Foster, producer Carina Rubin, and executive producer Anne Rogers—recognized in him the perfect anchor for their story. Eventually, he accepted this role, in large part to redress long-standing cultural wrongs: “Growing up under apartheid, we were told that our people were incapable of using nature to our benefit, and that we were never interested in anything other than the basic things—how to get food, things like that. Some people still do believe that. It was a fresh difficulty even to state that our people are very much connected to stars.”

Connected they have been, Cosmic Africa makes clear, for millennia. The film’s team watched a partial solar eclipse with a shaman in Namibia; stayed in Mali with the Dogon people, who use information from the stars to determine optimal planting and harvesting times; and visited a circular stone structure in southern Egypt that represents the earliest known solar observatory—and predates Stonehenge by a thousand years. Medupe serves as liaison and subject, learning about aspects of his own history as he hears the various tribes discuss theirs. Upon completion of the filming and of his doctorate, Medupe turned to another of his major goals: attracting young black students to science, in Africa and around the world, and supporting them in their studies. “[The film] made it easier for me to do that,” he says, “because I’d had experiences with the relationship between African cultures and cosmology. And that really changed my life, how I could tell these stories to young people.” He is currently helping to organize an outreach-and-support fund aiming to introduce young Africans to the possibilities of science careers and to offset the costs of their education and research. Additionally, the fund will support the research and documentation of Africa’s indigenous astronomy. “I feel that Africa has given a lot to the world,” Medupe says. “And to thank Africa, I think, is the least we can do.”

—Pamela Grossman-

Und dann noch eine kleine Geschichte zum Thema Afrika & die Sterne.

The Dogons and Sirius

Dogon mythology seems to describe the white dwarf star Sirius B, which orbits Sirius The brightest star in the sky; in Canis Major, but is not visible without the use of a powerful telescope. Some of the information given by Dogon natives on the Sirius system was recorded before it was discovered by Western science in 1862.

The Dogons call Sirius B Po Tolo. This star was the seed of the The galaxy containing the solar system; consists of millions of stars that can be seen as a diffuse band of light stretching across the night sky. According to the Dogon mythological explanation of the universe, they describe the universe as „infinite, but measurable“, and filled with many yalu ulo, or spiral star system , including the one with our own sun. According to the Dogon perception of the universe, most of the universe is part of the „external“ star system, while The 3rd planet from the sun; the planet on which we live is the „internal“ star system. The stars in the „internal“ system include many that they claim affect the lives of people of Earth.

The tribe neighboring the Dogon, the Bozo, have a similar mythology about Sirius in the sky and refer to it as the „Eye Star.“

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