Episode 28: Under a Shared Sky
with Prof John Parkington
This week we take a step back and explore the intimate roots of astronomy here in South Africa. We are joined by retired Emeritus Professor John Parkington, a senior research scholar at the University of Cape Town’s Department of Archaeology.
We take part in his journey to communicate and celebrate the ‘Intimate Cosmology’ of the indigenous people of South Africa and the close relationship they had with the night sky. We discuss the importance of preserving these stories for future generations and we learn that perhaps the only difference between the land and night-sky is how hard you throw something.
John talks about his work with the Shared Sky exhibition, which was launched to commemorate the awarding of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) to both South Africa and Australia. Although separated by great distances, we share more than we think.
We also showcase the work Dan has been involved with in trying to preserve these stories as animations, alongside linguist Dr Kerry Jones and her company African Tongue. Enjoy a first-hand experience of one such animation below, called “Moon’s Message”.
This week’s guest
A still from the animation “Moon’s Message”. We see Moon as she is about to deliver her message. Credit: NRF/SAAO.
- Moon’s Message video: English, Afrikaans, Khoekhoegowab, isiXhosa
- SKA’s Shared Sky Exhibition: https://www.skatelescope.org/shared-sky/
- Dr Kerry Jones’ African Tongue consultancy: https://www.facebook.com/AfricanTongue/about/?ref=page_internal
- Bleek and Lloyd Collection: http://lloydbleekcollection.cs.uct.ac.za/
Show notes by Timothy Roelf. Social media by Liantsoa Randrianjanahary and Sumari Hattingh.
Jacinta: [00:00:00] Welcome to The Cosmic Savannah with Dr. Jacinta Delhaize
Dan: [00:00:08] and Dr. Daniel Cunnama. Each episode, we will be giving you a behind the scenes look at the world class astronomy and astrophysics happening under African skies.
Jacinta: [00:00:15] Let us introduce you to the people involved, the technology we use, the exciting work we do, and the fascinating discoveries we make.
Dan: [00:00:22] Sit back and relax as we take you on a safari through the skies.
Jacinta: [00:00:35] Hi, welcome to episode 27? 27? 28? What are we up to? 28. All right. Welcome to episode 28 everyone.
Dan: [00:00:44] It’s hard to keep track sometimes. Yeah. So today we have different episode for you. We mentioned it last time. We will be talking a little bit about ethno-astronomy and we are joined by Professor John Parkington who is a professor in archeology and hunter-gathers.
Jacinta: [00:01:00] Yeah. So Professor Parkington has spent much of his very extensive career studying the hunter-gatherer people of South Africa. And as we said, he’s an archeologist. He also has a strong interest in anthropology.
Dan: [00:01:13] Yeah. And he kind of got into a bit of astronomy and the ethno-astronomy through this Shared Sky exhibit, which was commissioned by the Square Kilometer Array when it was first getting proposed and the sites were getting selected.
And the idea with the Shared Sky exhibit was to try and collect this cultural heritage of both sites, Australia and South Africa, and try and record the wisdom of the indigenous populations and their knowledge of the skies. And obviously the reason it was called Shared Sky is, again, that same theme where we were all under one sky and in particular, Australia and South Africa sharing the SKA and sharing the sky.
Jacinta: [00:01:55] Yeah. As Dan said, the Square Kilometer Array telescope that’s going to be built partly in Southern Africa based in the Karoo region, and also part of it will be built in Western Australia where I’m from. The indigenous people of these countries have a wealth of knowledge and history related to the night sky, which as John mentioned in his talk he gave at the recent SAAO 200th anniversary symposium. We mustn’t ignore this knowledge. This is essential to incorporate into our present and into our future.
Dan: [00:02:28] Yeah. And obviously we don’t represent the indigenous population and we’re aware of that.
Jacinta: [00:02:33] And we acknowledge that. Of course.
Dan: [00:02:35] And I think that, chatting to John, firstly hearing his talk, which was inspirational. The really cool thing was that he was an archeologist who in studying his archeology, and he explains it in the interview but I’ll mention it briefly here, is that he realized that there was so much more to the story than just what you could tell by the rocks and artifacts that he was finding. And that there was this cultural heritage and it’s just a really nice story of how he got interested in this and got into his work.
Jacinta: [00:03:09] So you and the SAAO and your team here in the public engagement sector are also interested in these stories, these indigenous stories.
Dan: [00:03:18] Yeah, I think it’s something very important. I think that there is an incredible amount of knowledge and history and stories, which have been collected over the years and they were passed down from person to person through story. This knowledge of the skies.
And a lot of that is getting lost these days. And it’s very difficult to hold onto as people are westernized and more disconnected from nature both on land and in the sky. So a project I’ve been running recently at the observatory is the development of some animations of these stories. So there are various stories which have been collected over the years.
Some of the most notable ones were the Bleek and Lloyd Collection, which were collected in the late 1800’s by a couple here in Cape Town by interviewing some of the indigenous peoples and talking to them about their knowledge of the skies, naming stars and that was kind of how I got interested in it, because in our new visitor center, we are planning to install an installation of the night sky, but with indigenous constellations rather than western ones.
Jacinta: [00:04:31] Oh, fantastic.
That’ll be fascinating.
Dan: [00:04:34] Yeah. So I was paging through the digital versions of the Bleek and Lloyd Collection and trying to find out where these constellations, which have been described before, but where they were in the sky. So I rolled back Heavens Above to the 23rd of January, 1874, when they were taking these notes and worked out where in the sky they were looking and what they were looking at.
For example, one of the really cool ones is Taurus, which is obviously not Taurus, but it’s the Eland. Which is a big antelope here, which makes complete sense. But until you actually make that connection, you’re like, well, oh yeah OK. So that was really cool. So that was kind of how I got interested in it and with the Bleek and Lloyd Collection.
And then we started this project with a company called African Tongue and Dr. Kerry Jones, who is a linguist and speaks many indigenous languages here and has done her PhD on those topics. She’s also very interested in these stories and so we started picking out some stories of the night sky, which had been collected over the years and we decided to make animations of them.
So we’ve got community artists from those communities, and we’ve collected them together. We’ve made a series of animations. We’ve got three animations so far, and then we’re trying to spread those stories as far as we can. So obviously not just in English, but we’ve also translated them into isiXhosa, and Afrikaans, and then Khoekhoegowab.
And Khoekhoegowab is one of the indigenous languages here in South Africa from the indigenous Khoi San. And there are still about 200,000 speakers. So, we wanted to record these stories and then share them with those communities in their language so that they can feel some ownership over it. And yeah, we keep these stories going.
So yeah, it was a very interesting project and we’ve released the first of the animations in all four languages. We released that on the 200 year anniversary and it’s on YouTube. So we will share it on this episode’s blog. And you can take a look and see what you think.
Jacinta: [00:06:46] Shall we play one of them right now?
Dan: [00:06:48] Yeah. This one is called Moon’s Message and well, we’ll let you hear it.
Jacinta: [00:06:53] It runs for about three minutes.
Dan: [00:06:55] Enjoy!
Narrator: [00:06:58] Moon’s Message.
In the beginning, Moon lived on earth with all the other beings. She was wise and respected by all. One day, she had an important message for man, but who could be her messenger? Chameleon was nearby. So she asked him to deliver the message. “As I wither and renew so will you too.”
So chameleon set off to deliver this important message. “As I wither and renew so will you too.” But chameleon was slow and hare overheard him talking in the velt.
What are you doing?
I am delivering an important message from Moon to man.
You’re too slow, I will do it.
And before chameleon could say anything further, hare ran off with Moon’s message. “As I wither and renew so will you too.”
Hare arrived where man lived and shouted “I have a very important message from Moon.”
“Well, what is the message?”
“I will wither and renew but not you”.
Giving no time for frightened man to reply, hare dashed off back the way he came.
What a fast and clever messenger I am!
He hurried back to Moon. “Moon! Moon! I delivered your important message!”
“And? What was the message?”
“I will wither and renew but not you.”
“What!? You careless creature! You have delivered the wrong message!” exclaimed Moon as she swung at hare with her walking stick. Moon’s stick struck hare’s top lip and it split open.
To this day, hare has a split upper lip to remind him to slow down and watch his words. And Moon now lives in the sky, shining brightly, providing a constant reminder of her message to all. “As I wither and renew so will you too.”
Jacinta: [00:10:04] That was great. And there’s more of these coming out soon.
Dan: [00:10:07] Yeah. So we’ve got a couple more already and then we will obviously try and share these as far as possible. So the next part of the project is actually translating them into even more languages. So in South Africa, we’ve got 11 official languages and particularly in the Khoi San community, there are many, many more. So the Khoi San community, it’s a catch all term for the indigenous peoples of Southern Africa. They obviously represent many, many smaller populations with many, many different languages.
So Khoi San is a term for all of those indigenous populations, but there are many different smaller populations comprising. And obviously with many languages and some of them, like I mentioned Khoekhoegowab, has about 200,000 speakers still. But others have two speakers. So these languages are nearly extinct and some of them are extinct. And if we can translate these stories into those languages too, it would be a wonderful way to try and keep those languages going, firstly, but keep the stories going and try and share.
Jacinta: [00:11:16] Yeah. And I guess we also heard from Tshiamiso Makwela in one of the episodes during our inter-season break. That episode was called “But how does astronomy benefit humanity”. And Tshiamiso was telling us a little bit about the stories that she’s heard from her community growing up about the night sky. So if you’re interested, check that out.
Dan: [00:11:35] Yeah. We
Jacinta: [00:11:35] should probably hear from John.
Great. Let’s hear from John.
Dan: [00:11:38] Alright. I’m joined by Professor John Parkington. John, can you just introduce yourself and your role?
John: [00:11:51] I’m Retired Professor, Emeritus Professor of archeology at UCT, and I’m a senior research scholar in the Department of Archeology and the Science Faculty at UCT.
Dan: [00:12:02] Great. Thank you John for joining us on The Cosmic Savannah, we really appreciate your time.
And you’ve just given a talk here at the SAAO 200 virtual symposium about ethno-astronomy and your book about the Karoo sky. And for me it was incredibly interesting just to hear the stories you’ve recorded over the years, trying to communicate these to people.
Where to start? It’s something I’ve been interested in for a very long time and something I’ve been working on in my role at the observatory. We just watched the animation Moon’s Message, which was part of the unveiling of the national heritage site yesterday.
And in your talk you mentioned the story of the moon sending a message about continual renewal and the hare getting the message and making a mistake. So, maybe we can just start there. In your knowledge, where did the story come from and how did it, how did it come about and how has it sort of changed over the years?
John: [00:13:03] Well, perhaps I’ll start by talking about the archeological record because the archeological record is a material record. So when we excavate or record things that have survived from the past, it’s very material. We get a lot of artifacts. We obviously get rock paintings and engravings, but we don’t get stories.
There are stories and there are stories behind the artifacts and behind the engravings and behind the paintings and so on. But stories are something, sound if you like, in general is something that is not there in the archeological record. And yet people didn’t paint on the walls of caves or engrave boulders in the Karoo without a lot of singing and dancing.
So we know as archeologists that we’re getting a very partial record of what was happening in the past. And so it’s very important wherever we can to try and bring in these other elements to try and find the stories, find the singing, find the dancing, and remember that those were parallel manifestations with somebody making a painting on the wall of a cave or chipping stone by the side of a stream.
My expertise really is in those material things. And so we have to make alliances with folklorist and anthropologists and other people to try and enrich our record with those other records, those records of sound and movement and dance. It’s very clear when you actually see the paintings that people are dancing in the painting, or people are clapping in the paintings.
You can’t do that without sound. You can’t have someone clapping without the clapping. And yet that’s what we’ve got in the archeological record. We haven’t got the clapping and the singing and the movement.
Dan: [00:14:54] And how do we go about collecting these stories then? You mentioned in your talk, the Bleek and Lloyd Collection and they interviewed a lot of indigenous peoples and tried to capture these stories very early on. And obviously over the years, the number of indigenous speakers of some of these languages has dropped drastically and some of the languages are even extinct. I mean, are we trawling through old records or are there still speakers out there today who know these stories and we can record them?
John: [00:15:22] Yeah. That’s the exciting thing. Of course, it’s easy to think as an archeologist with this kind of material bias that it’s all gone. But if you talk to a folklorist, it’s not gone. It’s still there. These stories are passed down and are still there. And so at the tail end of the archeological record, if you like, of the last few hundred years, you might be able to put back in the stories and the dances and the non-material things that went with the material record that we excavate.
As you go further back in time, it’s going to become more and more dangerous to assume that those things were there and were not changing. It would be a bit unrealistic to think that stories can survive and dances and songs can survive unchanged for tens of thousands of years. They might survive relatively unchanged for hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years.
But it’s very hard to investigate that because we don’t have a fossil record of singing. We don’t have a fossil record of storytelling. So it’s really difficult and what we can manage to do with the archeology of the last few hundred years, it’s much more difficult to do as you go further back in time.
And the paintings and the engravings are a very valuable bridge between the material record of the stone artifacts and the food waste and the fireplaces that we can dig up. And we can make a lot of those. They’re a kind of bridge between those things and the non-material aspects of people’s lives, which must have been there but we can’t dig them up.
Dan: [00:17:04] And how do these stories relate to astronomy?
John: [00:17:07] When we met with Bernie Fanaroff he wanted us to put together an exhibition for the South African side of a South African – Australian joint exhibition to celebrate the awarding of the SKA to both South Africa and Australia. We realized that the telescopes were going to go up in an area where from which we had a lot of 19th century stories and we knew of course already that many of these stories actually did relate to the sky. You see those /Xam speaking San hunter-gatherers of the Karoo spent just as much of their time looking up at the dark sky as they did looking up at the bright daylight sky.
They spent an awful lot of time lying there, looking at the sky, they knew it backwards. They knew its patterning. They knew its variability. They knew its relationship to seasonal changes to weather and so on. So it was very obvious to us that among the stories, there are lots of stories that we had and some that we could still collect.
But many of those stories told us about the /Xam speakers as astronomers, as people who had the same kind of interest that we have in explaining what those mysterious objects and their movements up in the sky are. And we also realized pretty quickly that the distinction between the land and the sky was much more mutable, if you like, much more ephemeral in /Xam thinking.
The /Xam ontology is what’s called a relational ontology. It’s very mutable. They’re not always trying to sort things out. Is it A or B? Maybe it’s A and B. Many of the divisions: nature, culture, man, people, animals, are not as firm in /Xam way of thinking as they are in ours. And so land and sky is another example.
So events that start happening on land end up trailing off into the sky and are reflected in the constellations that are interpreted by San people in the sky. When the Australian ethnographers and the historians were doing their side of the exhibit, it was pretty clear that the same was happening there.
The Australian Aboriginals are also looking up at the sky and it was a shared sky. That’s why the whole project was called Shared Sky. It was originally, interestingly, called Shared Skies. But very soon we realized, no this is Shared Sky. They share the sky and they not only share the sky, but they share an interest in it. And in many ways they share a style of interpretation about it.
In both cases it’s what David Morris called an intimate cosmology. It’s very intimate. It’s almost within reach. It’s just beyond reach. So people have to throw things for them to end up in this. But they can’t put them there, they have to throw them.
So there’s a lot of throwing of things into the sky and there’s a lot of movement of animals or groups of animals. So a constellation is thought of as a small herd of female kudu, for instance. Well, obviously in Australia that would be emu or some other animal from their universe that was, that was reflected in the sky.
So it’s very intimate, things were moving back and forth between sky and land. And it was not all about the almost unmeasurable. It was about the very measurable, the very understandable, the almost tangible.
Dan: [00:20:55] Yeah, it’s a very intimate, as you say, a very intimate relationship with a sky. Something which these days we don’t have at all almost, with lights and houses and things.
We have a very loose relationship with the sky. I mean, even as astronomers we’re quite removed looking through computers and things.
John: [00:21:12] And you see what goes with intimacy is responsibility. If you believe that these are massive objects that are so far away, you can hardly imagine it, moving at speeds that you can hardly imagine, then there’s nothing to do about that. Right?
/Xam people knew there were things you could do about it or believed that there were things you had to do about it. So the /Xam people had a responsibility to that landscape. An involvement with the landscape’s continual functioning that we, I think unfortunately, have lost. And it can lead to an irresponsibility and lead to a lack of care about that landscape. /Xam people felt an enormous responsibility to the other organisms and even the inorganic parts of that landscape, to which they often ascribed agency. You know, water, wind, cloud.
These were agents that could do things and you had to be responsible in relation. So the whole thing is a relationship between people and their environmental context of responsibility. Not of helplessness. I could easily imagine that if you believe in these very large objects, moving at amazing speeds you’d think well, not my problem. What can I do?
Dan: [00:22:31] For sure. And I mean it just speaks to exactly what you were saying too, there wasn’t this disconnect between the land and the sky, which we have now, which is a very clear disconnect. The land we have, we are having issues and climate change and we do feel some responsibility, although we are somewhat disconnected. But the sky’s almost completely foreign, as you say, there’s nothing we can do about it.
And in these cultures, there was no distinction between land and sky. So you can have that same sort of relationship with a sky. This deep, deep relationship, which we don’t currently have.
John: [00:23:09] Yes, the horizon was just a kind of accidental boundary between the two arenas. If you like. And many of the things that happened in the one also happened in the other or originated in the other. The stories are wonderful like that.
Dan: [00:23:25] And then once we have these stories, then, it becomes quite important to share them. Right? Firstly, we want to record them before they’re lost any further. As the languages are lost and wane, then we lose a lot of these stories. So obviously recording them is important in itself. But I think there’s probably more to it than that. And that’s something which at the observatory we feel quite strongly about, and myself. We’ve been working on this animation and we’ve created the animation in four different languages: in English, Afrikaans, Xhosa and Khoekhoegowab, which is as you know, spoken by about 200,000 people still. And I think that the same disconnect between land and sky is happening in these cultures too. I mean, as everyone has been westernized over the past century or more, these cultures have lost that too. So I think that we have an opportunity here to try and share these stories with the people who they originally belonged to and try and keep them going and keep this relationship.
John: [00:24:28] Yeah. No, it certainly, I was going to use the word ironic, but it’s much more serious than ironic that many descendant communities have lost the stories. Jose and I have a slight disagreement about this. I have tended to think of the /Xam thinking as residual now. In other words, it was once powerful, everywhere, and full. But it’s now reduced by colonialism and apartheid to traces.
He believes that there’s much more of it than that, and it’s wrong to call it residual. More of it is there and surviving, but either way, there are certainly communities who may not claim to be descendant communities but would probably have a perfect right to if they wanted to, for whom these stories and this notion of relatedness to the landscape, has gone.
Unfortunately, what happened to those /Xam people in the Karoo is they very rapidly, well there was a lot of genocidal killing of people. Those who survived became farm laborers and domestic servants or small town dwellers in the tiny villages that were beginning to pop up around the Karoo. And in all kinds of ways, their way of thinking about the world had to change.
Some things were lost very quickly. Probably language went pretty quickly and gradually people became Afrikaans speaking. They became Christian. The only things that survived or often the only things that survived were real basic survival issues. Like which of the planets can you eat and what will make your tummy better if you’ve got a bad stomach. Or what can a woman do if she’s giving birth and she’s got pains and she’s a long way from a chemist or a pharmacist, what can she do? So obviously certain cultural strands are going to survive, but many of them disappear quite quickly. Some of them disappear more slowly.
Those Bleek and Lloyd records that we have from the 1860’s, they were already on the way out. That was an almost unique opportunity to collect that kind of information. When Dorothea Bleek, Wilhelm Bleek’s daughter went back about 50 years later to try and find the informants or the children and descendants of the informants of her father and her aunt, she could hardly find it.
The process of transformation was picking up pace. So there’s not a lot left. And in many ways being descendant community now means reviving rather than remembering. And that’s very sad because it’s really valuable information. It’s a wonderful way of thinking about the world.
I mean, I’ve been studying hunter-gatherers my whole archeological life and I’ve realized how sensible hunter-gatherers were. They were responsible. They thought of themselves as stewards, as looking after things, passing them on to the next generation. Not owners. And they have relationships with one another and with the landscape and with the resources. They recognize the agency of other animals. It’s a really valuable way of thinking about the world that you have to live in and not damaging it.
Dan: [00:27:55] It’s a difficult question, but as two males of European descent talking about this, what is our role? How can we, how do we relate to this? I mean, obviously I have an interest. You have a deep interest and a lot of experience in this. But what are your thoughts on that?
John: [00:28:14] I’ve been running a project in Clanwilliam for many years, the Living Landscape project. And I think our job is to recognize these traces of the past and to communicate it and to celebrate it. Obviously it’s up to people to decide whether they are descendant communities and what their relationship is with the past or particular groups of people in the past.
It’s obviously a decision that people have to make for themselves. But if you can put the potential decisions like that on the table, and then become, if you like, a source of information as to how one could think about the past and people from the past and what happened in the past and how the past became the present and the terrible things that turned the past into the present.
I think of it as just putting this stuff on the table. We’ve excavated in that area. We know quite a lot about the pasts of people in the Cederberg or in the Western Cape. It’s our job to talk to the potential descendants of those people about it, rather than, or as well as, the journal editors through whom we publish.
So for the first half of my career, I spent my time doing what an academic has to do. You know, I went out there and collected information and then I wrote papers on it and the university expected me to do that. And that was fine. But from the 1990s onwards, it was very clear that I needed to be talking to other people as well.
I needed to be communicating what I thought we had found out to other people who might have a different kind of interest in it from a journal editor. A personal interest in it. And it was really interesting in Clanwilliam to see young men and young women who I thought could be descendants of the people who made the paintings and made the stone artifacts and so on, to see them pick up that notion and do what they wanted with it. Possibly even make a living out of knowing about it.
Certainly, I imagine, being able to rethink their notion of self and who they were, and certainly look back on these appalling caricatures of people in the past with a new set of eyes and realize that the people to whom they may want to claim some relatedness were high achievers. Their knowledge of plant edibility, medicinal value of plants, their knowledge of how to live sensibly and sustainably in a landscape was enormously higher than the colonists.
Their ability to paint, to develop poisons, to do chemistry basically to make poisons and mastics and paints out of various components was admirable. Now, I don’t know and none of us can really determine how those notions or thoughts will be taken up by people. But one just hopes that it will have some positive value on people’s thinking about themselves and their past and their future.
Dan: [00:31:20] Thank you, John. Thank you very much for speaking to us today. I really appreciate it.
John: [00:31:24] Pleasure.
Jacinta: [00:31:36] Wow. That was really cool. That was very, very different, a hugely different perspective and really interesting. I really loved hearing about how the indigenous Australian people had stories that were kind of in parallel to the indigenous South African people. And John spoke more about this during his presentation at the symposium. How there’s this story from Australia about emu eggs in the sky and the story from South Africa, of course, about ostrich eggs in the sky.
Dan: [00:32:04] Yeah. I mean, it’s fascinating. Like it makes you wonder about all sorts of things, the history of the world. But yeah, I mean, I thoroughly enjoyed that conversation. You probably heard it in my voice.
I just thought it was fascinating. Just the whole concept of it and some of the concepts he brought up. I loved the fact that the earth and sky weren’t separate that the sky was not this distant thing, which it is now. I mean, for us we talk about astronomy all the time, but it is distant.
You know, we don’t have any control over it. We understand that we don’t have any control over it, but in doing so it’s distant.
Jacinta: [00:32:45] Yeah, exactly. And like John said, it’s this concept of shared sky, of responsibility and preservation. Just kind of like what Susan and Chu were saying in the last episode, like what Vanessa was saying in episode 26. I liked this concept of the intimate cosmology, as opposed to the infinite cosmology that the SKA will study.
Dan: [00:33:07] Yeah. And it made me want that connection to seek that connection.
Jacinta: [00:33:12] I mean, we’re so removed from it, particularly when we’re living in cities and we can’t even see the night sky at all. It makes you wonder how different the experience would have been to live like these people and to see these night skies.
Dan: [00:33:24] Yeah. And just that cultural connection, we have this striving still to feel at one with nature. I mean, most people do. You want to go camping and you want to really get in touch with nature. But to see the stars as something that is the same. It’s something that you can really get in touch with. You can have an intimate relationship with these stars, even though they’re very, very far.
Jacinta: [00:33:48] Yeah, that’s right. And I also liked how John was saying that this is a way to communicate and celebrate the traces of the past. And you were sort of asking Dan what your role, what our role is in this. Because of course we fully acknowledge that we are both white, euro-descended persons, so that our point of view, and now our representation of all of this is probably going to be eurocentric.
And you were asking, what is the role that people like us will play in telling these stories? Do we have a right to tell these stories? Do we have a right to share it? Of course we must be including other people in this conversation. So, what did you think about John’s response to that question?
Dan: [00:34:33] Yeah. I mean, I think it is a different, good question. And I think that he’s right in many ways that these stories are being lost and being able to record them and offer them to populations who may feel some connection to them so that they can then choose whether this is something that they want to incorporate in their culture. But again, you don’t want to do it in such a way that I’ve collected this story and here it is for you.
And that’s kind of why I asked the question is because it is really tricky. I mean, for example, a tangible example is we’ve made these animations, right? And we’ve worked with indigenous people to make the animations. And we can translate them into indigenous languages. But is that enough?
And is that actually achieving the goal of empowering people to feel some ownership over these stories and this culture and this wisdom?
Jacinta: [00:35:35] I mean, I guess we have to constantly, we should constantly be worrying that we’re, I mean, I guess the expression is white saviourism.
Dan: [00:35:42] Exactly.
Jacinta: [00:35:44] We want to participate and celebrate, but not take over.
Dan: [00:35:49] Yeah. I mean, you can take the approach of, Oh it’s interesting and that’s a good enough reason. I’m not going to try and do anything with it. I’m just interested. But I think that there’s so much more when I think that trying to celebrate indigenous knowledge and incorporate it.
I mean, for me, the one reason I really really am interested in it and do like to incorporate it as much as possible is because it reaches people. And that’s kind of what John was getting at. If you can reach people on something that they feel close to, then the experience and the interaction is so much more rich.
Jacinta: [00:36:25] And relevant to their lives.
Dan: [00:36:27] Yeah. Rather than walking into a school or an open night or something and just saying, well here’s Orion. I mean, who knows what Orion is? Orion isn’t an African constellation. And so I think that even taking small steps in those directions help. You know, I think that it does allow people to feel a little bit closer to the skies and feel that they have some connection with it.
Jacinta: [00:36:56] Yeah, I guess it’s this ontology that John was talking about. We did have to look that up, what that meant. That’s really moving away from our area of expertise. So ontology is a branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being, which is much more philosophical than the conversations we usually have, but it makes sense, right? The sky is part of our sense of being.
Dan: [00:37:22] Yeah. And I mean that’s it, right? It’s so much more. And we talk about it often that the sky, there’s a cultural connection to it and it makes you feel humble and all that. But there’s so much more. And historically in the past, there was even more and we’ve lost a lot of that and trying to rediscover some of it. And particularly in your own culture, it’s very powerful.
Jacinta: [00:37:48] Yeah. So I guess, again, we can only bring our own perspectives to this conversation at this time, but we want to hear your perspective. So we’d love to hear from listeners how you feel about all of these topics, what you’d like to hear more about.So please do reach out to us on social media or via the contact page of our website.
Great. Okay. Well, that was a very, very different episode, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and I hope that you did too.
Dan: [00:38:14] I did.
Jacinta: [00:38:15] You did. I was speaking to the listener. [Laughs]
Great. Okay. Well, that’s it for today as always. Thank you very much for listening and we hope you’ll join us again for the next episode of The Cosmic Savannah.
Dan: [00:38:28] You can visit our website, thecosmicsavannah.com where we’ll have the transcript, links and other stuff related to today’s episode, including the animation. You can follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @cosmicsavannah. That’s savannah spelled S A V A N N A H.
Jacinta: [00:38:43] Special thanks today to Emeritus Professor John Parkington for speaking with us.
Dan: [00:38:48] Thanks to Sumari Hattingh for social media and transcription assistance and Andy Firth for show notes preparation. Also to Mark Allnut for music production, Janus Brink and Michal Lyzcek for photography and Lana Ceraj for graphic design.
Jacinta: [00:39:01] We gratefully acknowledge support from the South African National Research Foundation, the South African Astronomical Observatory and the University of Cape Town Astronomy Department to help keep the podcast running.
Dan: [00:39:12] As always, you can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. And if you’d like to help us out, please rate and review us and recommend us to a friend.
We’ll speak to you next time on The Cosmic Savannah.
[Bloopers] Hello. Hello and welcome. [Jacinta laughs] Come on! What was wrong with that?
Jacinta: [00:39:43] I was trying to beat you to it.
Dan: [00:39:45] Oh right! [Laughs]
Ok. Ah. Hello and welcome to episode 28. Um, yeah, so…shall we get right into it? [Jacinta laughs]
I don’t know. I’m all over the place!