!Khwa ttu is situated on the R27, about 70 km north of Cape Town. This farm is called Grootwater in Afrikaans probably with reference to the view across the sea. The San name !Khwa ttu means an open expanse of water, like a pan, most likely referring to some of the many pans that collect in winter in the hollows created by the granite outcrops. . Go here to brush up your background on !Khwa ttu.
When Auke, Lynnette, Snorre and I left Brackenfell on Monday morning, the weather did not look promising for the stargazing we had planned to present in the evening. I was going to give a talk after lunch, in which I intended to stress the value of indigenous astronomy and in particular the San-related astronomy. My talk would also include tips and guidelines about presenting astronomy sessions to tourists or visitors in general. To get to !Khwa ttu though, we first had to contend with some serious traffic congestion on the N7. The first was caused by an accident just before the Bosmansdam turn-off and then, for some or other unknown reason, we were rerouted by traffic officials through Parklands down to the R27.
We arrived just before 12:00 and, after reporting to Ri, Magdalena and Shaun, we went over to the restaurant to have lunch. I should add here that Shaun Dunn is a direct descendant of the famous John Robert Dunn. If the name does not ring a bell you can brush up on your history by going here . You can also read more about the interesting modern day legal implications of John Dunn’s activities in this article.
In the foyer of the restaurant we met up with Michael, the MMWC at !Khwa ttu (MMWC = Main Man What Counts ) and just managed a few words before he had to shoot off elsewhere. Auke spent some time in the museum before lunch while Lynnette and I had coffee with Snorre relaxing in his favourite window sill next to our table.
After lunch we were introduced to the trainees and we also later introduced Snorre to the group, much to their amusement. I discussed the value of indigenous knowledge and specifically indigenous astronomy knowledge. I drove the point home that this knowledge had great value as a cultural possession and that it should never be seen as inferior to modern scientific astronomy interpretations. The ancient astronomy knowledge worldwide is the basis on which later knowledge was able to develop. It is imperative that they remember that overseas guests come to Southern Africa for an African Experience. Their unique cultural astronomy narratives are an intrinsic part of such an experience.
The African knowledge tradition is an oral tradition. However, the social fabric, within which it had efficiently functioned for millennia, has all but disappeared in modern times. This means that the oral histories are disappearing too, as the last bearers of that knowledge pass away. The trainees are in the unique position that they still have access, probably only for short while, to sources of these histories; the ageing storytellers. They have an individual and collective responsibility to collect and record as many of these stories as is possible, before they all became lost.
!Khwa ttu was hosting a large conference so all their accommodation was taken up by the delegates. Michael and Ri had booked us into Elly’s Place, a Bed and Breakfast with a Dutch touch in Darling. Go here to find out more about this interesting and hospitable place to stay. With Ri leading the way we headed for Darling to book in and to have supper. Ri and our host Elly, joined us for supper and after supper we went back to !Khwa ttu where Auke handled the evening session with the trainees.
The clouds had effectively cancelled any stargazing or moon watching so we had to fall back on Auke and Stellarium. Despite the disappointment of not being able to do any stargazing the session was a huge success. Auke and I had our pronunciation of San names neatly torpedoed by the polite giggles of the trainees so we have now submitted a list to Ri and asked her to have the trainees record the correct pronunciation and give us the proper translation at the same time.
After Auke’s session the trainees said thank you and goodbye with a traditional San song, which the three of us appreciated immensely. I say the three of us, because Snorre absolutely hates clapping hands and stamping feet so I had my work cut out to prevent him from heading for the hills during their tribute.
After the evening and the lovely musical send-off Auke, Lynnette, Snorre and I left for Darling. A good night’s rest followed by a hearty breakfast at Elly’s and we set off home via the R27, having been warned by the petrol attendant that the road to Mamre and Atlantis was not in a good condition.
The trip home was uneventful, unlike last year’s one which left us with a broken side-window on the Vito and a repair bill of over R8 000-00.
?Kabbo Academy graduation ceremony at !Khwa ttu San Training Centre.
Lynnette and I were quite surprised and more than a little chuffed when we received the invitation to this event. We accepted, site although we were a bit pressed for time because we had an outreach appointment with Zee and Ricky of KingdomSkies and their inflatable planetarium on the Saturday afternoon and evening in the Jack Muller Park in Bellville. Then, on the following Tuesday we were leaving for the Spring Southern Star Party at Night Sky Caravan Farm so things were pretty tight, but we went and we were not sorry we did either. It was a really a very special privilege to be part of the activities marking the end of the academic year at !Khwa ttu (visit their website by clicking here for more information).
We got off to a rather shaky start because we left our departure a tad on the late side. The first hint of trouble was when we found the traffic on the N1, at the Brackenfell on-ramp, to be almost stationary. The clock was ticking away, but we were still confident that we were just going to make it until we ran into the stop/go road repairs on the section past Morning Star, between the N7 and the R27. By the time we had cleared that hurdle we were definitely late, so I called in to report that we had been delayed. Most of us have had the experience that when things are not going well they can always get worse quite easily and, true to form, they did. There had been an accident at the intersection where the road from Mamre joins the R27. Traffic police, police, fire engines, ambulances and, of course, cars backed up in all directions. The vehicles were being let through in dribs and drabs by a rather lethargic, arm-waving traffic official. We eventually got to !Khwa ttu and managed to sneak into the back of the audience almost unnoticed, just before Mikal Lambert’s keynote address.
After the speeches at the reception centre and a rap-item by the graduates we all relocated to the ?Kabbo Academy’s training centre (go her to read more about this exceptional organization), where Ri thanked everyone who had contributed to the training programme during the course of the year. Ri also advertised the fascination domino sets depicting animal tracks that had been designed by the class of 2015. After Ri’s talk everyone went inside, where we were treated to a video slide show depicting the journey of the graduate group through their year of training. It is a noteworthy feat that these young people from rural, and very often poorly serviced and disadvantaged areas in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana come here to the ?Kabbo Academy where they are taught a wide range of skills during the course of an eventful year. Now they are ready to go out and test their newfound skills and the confidence their training has given them in the competitive environs of the tourism industry.
We all returned to the reception centre where Chris Low explained the origin of the idea behind the new exhibition, its growth and the ambitious plans for its future. The Dream Museum (go here to read more about this ambitious undertaking) was clearly a work in progress and after the ribbon had been cut we could all enjoy the new exhibition for a short while before taking our seats in the restaurant where the handing over of the certificates was to take place.
After the certificate ceremony and the speeches the meal was served and we could all relax get to know the other guests at our table.
Snorre’s trip started with a bang. As I was carrying him out to the Vito in his carry cage the handle broke. Snorre and the cage hit the brick paving with an almighty thump, which unclipped the top half of the cage from the bottom half. In the process the door fell off and Snorre bolted. I eventually found him under the trailer and he was definitely not a happy cat. It took a lot of coaxing to get him out of there and a plenty of convincing to get him back into the cage as well. Why did the handle break? Obviously it must have been shoddy workmanship because it could definitely not have been overloading!
This visit had been in the pipeline for a very long time. Michael Daiber, the CEO at !Khwa ttu and I met at a West Coast Tourism event in 2013. I steered the conversation in the direction of astronomy, as I always tend to do, and from there it didn’t take long for us to agree that we ought to arrange an opportunity for Star People to meet and interact with the trainee guides. However, as often happens with best intentions, all sorts of occurrences prevented the visit from taking place. I had a serious back operation and then Michael had to have even more drastic surgery but, eventually, life got back on even keel for both of us, so we started arranging again. Actually that is not quite correct, because somewhere along the line Ri Vermooten, the Programme Manager and Facilitator at !Khwa ttu, got involved and she set the ball rolling again. Go here to brush up your background on !Khwa ttu
!Khwa ttu is situated on the R27, about 70 km north of Cape Town. This farm is called Grootwater in Afrikaans and the name San !Khwa ttu also means an open expanse of water, like a pan. When Lynnette, Snorre and I left on Thursday morning the weather did not look promising for the stargazing we had planned to present in the evening. I also had to give a talk after lunch in which I intended to stress the necessity of integrating traditional astronomy’s mythology with the western (Greco/Roman) mythology and factual scientific astronomy, when interacting with visitors; especially overseas visitors. We hoped that the clouds might give us a few breaks to do some star gazing and constellation hopping that evening but the chances seemed slim.
We were met, welcomed and shown to our very cosy accommodation in the guest house by Magdalena Lucas. Magdalena is a ᵵKhomani from the small southern Kgalagadi settlement of Rietfontein. She came to !Khwa ttu to attend the guiding course, completed it successfully and stayed on to become one of their two trainee curators. Her fellow trainee curator at !Khwa ttu is Jobe Gabototwe, a Xhaikwe from Kedia near Mopipi in Botswana.
After lunch I set up a selection of our A-frame poster displays on the stoep of the training building. We were then introduced to the trainees and they introduced themselves to us after which we spent the rest of the afternoon interacting with them. We also introduced Snorre to the group, much to their amusement. We discussed the value of indigenous knowledge and specifically indigenous astronomy knowledge. I drove the point home that this knowledge had great value as a cultural possession and that it should never be seen as inferior to modern scientific astronomy interpretations. The ancient astronomy knowledge worldwide is the basis on which later knowledge was able to develop. It is imperative that they remember that overseas guests come to Southern Africa for an African Experience. Their unique cultural astronomy narratives are an intrinsic part of such an experience.
During the coffee break we were able to generate some interesting discussions around the poster display and after the break we discussed the problem, which the African knowledge tradition experiences in a modern world; it was an oral tradition. However, the social fabric, within which it had efficiently functioned for millennia, has all but disappeared in modern times. This means that the oral histories are disappearing too, as the last bearers of that knowledge pass away. The trainees are in the unique position that they still have access, probably only for short while, to sources of these histories; the ageing storytellers. They have an individual and collective responsibility to collect and record as many of these stories as is possible, before they all became lost.
The clouds, as is often the nature of clouds when one wants to do astronomy, were not going to go anywhere that evening. As a substitute, I spent two hours running through some basic astronomy in Stellarium and demonstrating that programme and the Virtual Moon Atlas. I discussed the use of the Sky Guide and also showed the group how to use the Southern Star Wheel which they had each been given. I was able to use Stellarium to illustrate to the group the fact that our southern skies were completely unknown to visitors from the Northern Hemisphere and that they should capitalize on this.
Two of !Khwa ttu’s full time guides, André Vaalbooi and André Antonio as well as Magdalena Lucas and Ri Vermooten also attended the sessions. André Antonio has elected to be known as André Regopstaan to distinguish him from André Vaalbooi.
After the evening session Lynnette, Snorre and I had supper and went to bed. The next morning, after breakfast in !Khwa ttu’s lovely restaurant, we said our farewells and left for home. On the way back we passed a group of municipal workers cutting the roadside grass with weed-eaters that were not fitted with stone guards. One of these infernal machines flung up a stone that hit the Vito right side window in the sliding door and shattered it. More than R8000-00 later it has been replaced (at our expense) but the saga with the municipality is still developing. I wonder if all the flag waving is to get motorists to slow down so they can take better aim.
Public astronomy outing in Jack Muller / Danie Uys park in Bellville (Boston).
Ricardo (Ricky) Adams and Zenobia (Zee) Rinquest approached Auke, Lynnette and I to join them for a public astronomy outreach in celebration of Global Astronomy Month 2015 which youcan read more about here. They had a venue all planned and were looking for fellow astronomy enthusiasts to enjoy the outing with them. Ricky was associated with the Iziko Planetarium for a long time and when he spoke to Theo Ferreira the MMWC at the Planetarium, Theo was kind enough to recommend us and also to arrange for support in the form of the Iziko bus with the three museum stalwarts, Temba Matomele, Sthembele Harmans and Luzuko Dalasile. You can read more about the Iziko outreach program here.
Ricky and Zee’s outfit, Kingdom Skies, boasts a portable planetarium and they had plans to put that up as part of the show. Read more about them here. Eventually they were unable to do that due to various logistical problems but mainly because of a whole lot of red tape. As it turned out their planetarium would have been a tremendous asset on the specific evening because the weather gods were there usual fickle selves and we had cloudy conditions on the evening in question.
Auke had a prior commitment for that weekend as he and Hans van der Merwe were off to Van Rhynsdorp with the rest of the crew to carry out one of their high altitude balloon launches. The base station was in Van Rhynsdorp and the launch site was at the top of Van Rhyn’s Pass. He was due back on Saturday morning but balloon launches, like the path of true love, apparently do not always run smoothly. This one was no exception and Auke did not make it back on time. There is a If you click here you will be taken to a photograph of the setup.
Lynnette and I were on site by 16:00, as was the Iziko bus with Sthembele and Luzuko. Ricky and Zee arrived a little later as they had to make a detour to pick up Temba, who was going to give a talk on Indigenous Southern African Astronomy later in the evening. Zee’s volunteers had disappeared but were later found waiting outside the Bellville Public Library.
Once we started setting up everything went quite quickly, although the amount of cloud overhead did not bode well for stargazing later in the evening. By 17:30 we decided to capitalize on the fact that the Moon was visible through gaps in the clouds and Zukile and I started showing it to the first guests. After the sun set we managed to show people Jupiter too before the clouds realized what we were up to and started closing up the gaps.
Temba gave his talk and Ricky was fortunate to have some stars when he gave a brief what’s-up tonight. I did a short talk on light pollution and emphasized the fact that everyone could help by ensuring that lights around our homes were astronomy friendly. By 20:30 it was clear that the clouds were definitely winning and we all started packing up.
All in all it was a very pleasant evening and I think the venue has a good deal of potential for events like this in the future. Thanks Ricky and Zee for inviting us along and it was a pleasant experience to work with you guys and the team from Iziko.
The October 2014 edition of MNASSA (Monthly Notes of the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa) is available on line. Below is the title page and list of contents. You may, however, go here, to download the full edition.
MNASSA DOWNLOAD PAGE
Monthly Notes of the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa
The workshop was aimed at school teachers interested in including “Astronomy, Indigenous Knowledge and Interpretation” into their classrooms. In view of the fact Lynnette and I have regular contact with schools when we do astronomy outreach, we decided that we also qualified as teachers. An e-mail to Kevin at the local IAU office was rerouted to the organizer of Oxford X, Dr Jarita Holbrook at the University of the Western Cape. Jarita very promptly replied that we were more than welcome to attend. Both Lynnette and I were rather exited at the prospect of the opportunity to interact with international and local scientists in this field. The workshop took place in the SAAO Auditorium and was facilitated by Dr. Sanlyn Buxner, Astronomy Education specialist, University of Arizona and Sivuyile Manxoyi, head of the SAAO Education and Outreach unit. This unit focuses on communicating and educating the public about astronomy and specializes in using indigenous languages and cultures to inspire the township based people in particular, to engage with and participate in astronomy.
Programme for day one – Saturday 12 July
Opening Welcome & Introductions
Mainstreaming Indigenous Knowledge Studies in South Africa
Motheo Koitsiwe (Mahikeng Campus, North West University, South Africa)
Working with the Cultural Astronomy Experts
Sanlyn Buxner & Sivuyile Manxoyi
Tea & Coffee
Clive Ruggles (Leicester University, UK)
Mainstreaming Indigenous Knowledge Studies in South Africa
In Motheo’s presentation he presented a case for placing Indigenous Knowledge on the same footing as what he refers to as Western Science in schools and academic institutions. He used the example of Traditional Healers who use a more holistic approach when treating a patient with, for example a headache, than Western Doctors. The latter he points out would only prescribe a pain killer for the actual pain and implies that they do not look any further for causes or relationships because Western Science teaches them to think in a compartmentalized manner and not see the broader picture. This in itself is a contentious statement, but he also intimated that including Indigenous Knowledge in educational systems would teach students to think for themselves and be able to work for themselves whereas, in his view, Western Science and Education methods did not achieve this, but rather created end products which could only work for others. His references to what he calls Western Science as being, amongst others things, unethical and dishonest are definitely contentious, if not in fact libellous. I can see, accept and support the merits of giving recognition to Indigenous Knowledge in general as an essential and long overdue recognition of cultural integrity. I also concur that involving indigenous knowledge specialists directly in classroom situations can be very useful and most instructive. However, applying negative descriptors such as unethical and dishonest in broad terms to justify this and, in so doing, discredit so-called Western Science, Knowledge and Methodology is certainly not going to gain much support to achieve this.
Working with the Cultural Astronomy Experts
This presentation was rather low key and I was left with the distinct impression that the presenters could have made a much stronger case for the acquisition and presentation of Indigenous Knowledge.
The speaker could have done considerably more with the topic and the material. Although the images were all pretty standard, the assumption that everyone in the audience knew all about astronomy was incorrect. Merely flashing through the images very briefly without any meaningful narrative to explain either the individual images or their context was not sufficient to qualify as a talk on basic astronomy.
Perhaps the contrast between this speaker and the previous rather lacklustre presentations contributed to my perception of this talk as being both exciting and highly informative. The presentation not only contained a wealth of information, but also encouraged one to question the current interpretation of knowledge on the subject. It is always a pleasure to listen to a knowledgeable person speak enthusiastically about their field of expertise, but for me, it also instils confidence in that person if they are critical of their own work and interpretations. Archaeoastronomy has come quite a long way in the last few years and much of this progress can, I think, be attributed to the efforts of people like the speaker and others of his calibre in the field. My take home item from this talk, was the cautionary comment that one should not read preconceived ideas (pet theories) into a site, but make every attempt to always read from it.
Programme for day two – Sunday 13 July
Setting the Intentions for the Day
Barbara Tedlock (SUNY – Buffalo, USA) & Jarita Holbrook (UWC, South Africa)
Cultural Astronomy Lessons from Hungary
Emilia Pasztor (Hungary)
Tea & Coffee
Cultural Astronomy Education in Australia
Duane Hamacher (Australia)
South African Indigenous Astronomy
Themba Matomela (Iziko Planetarium, South Africa) He was replaced by Thebe Medupe, (Associate Professor in Astrophysicist at the Mahikeng Campus, North West University, South Africa)
Building Lesson Plans
Sanlyn Buxner and Sivuyile Manxoyi
The interaction between the two presenters was a clear indication of two professionals who were entirely at home in their fields of expertise. The information about their respective research activities and also the brief histories of how they ended up where they are, was elucidating. In particular the information about Swainson’s Hawk’s migration and how that tied into the applied indigenous knowledge of the people along its migration route, was most interesting. I will certainly look at the Coal Sack Nebula with new eyes in the future. Probably the most valuable take home message from this talk was the prime necessity of a very close relationship with bearers of indigenous knowledge and the non-negotiable participation of the giver of information in the returns generated by that information.
Cultural Astronomy Lessons from Hungary
The speaker presented an interesting account of the finding and interpretation of astronomy symbolism in archaeological artefacts from the Carpathian Basin in Hungary. I found the methods used to introduce learners to astronomy and to these cultural artefacts very interesting. The pro-active efforts to generate an appreciation and understanding of the astronomical connectedness of past cultures, is an aspect one must take cognisance of in the Southern African context as well. Aspects which I know I often overlook are the weather phenomena which, although not astronomical in the strictest sense of the word, are most certainly an important part of the general body of indigenous knowledge.
Cultural Astronomy Education in Australia
The speaker’s computer problems reminded me of an erstwhile colleague’s admonition that one had to, like in cricket, inspect the pitch before one actually went out to either bat or bowl. The talk outlined the efforts and progress at a specific Australian University to include an indigenous knowledge component in all courses at the university. They also make extensive use of indigenous knowledge experts in presentations and carry out extensive filed work to expose students to indigenous knowledge cultures at grass roots level. The diversity of indigenous knowledge systems in the various areas of Australia emphasizes the need to recognize the regional nature of interpretations and also underlines the complexity of the issue. One of the objections raised against institutional recognition has been that it would be tantamount to sanctioning the teaching of creationism. This objection can be refuted because the spirituality aspect of indigenous knowledge is by no means dogmatically religious.
South African Indigenous Astronomy
I have attended talks by this speaker in the past and always enjoy his relaxed style. I like the emphasis he placed on cultural astronomy while, at the same time, stressing the need to create a bridge for modern day learners to gain access to mainstream (modern) astronomy. I have watched “Cosmic Africa” before, but listening to the personal accounts and interpretations of the person around whose experiences it was constructed, remains rather special. His narration of personal experiences at the various sites and the value these experiences added to his own life and to his teaching, are worth taking note of. The speaker is clearly well versed in modern computational astronomy, but also values the indigenous astronomy which forms an integral part of his own cultural background. This appreciation of his own astronomical cultural heritage also extends to that of other cultures, but he never loses his analytical scientific evaluation.
Building Lesson Plan
This presentation turned out quite differently to what I had expected. Nevertheless the exchange of ideas and opinions amongst attendees was insightful and will be useful. An important aspect that emerged during the discussions was the fact that in South African Schools, the curriculum requires some Astronomy, mainly covering the Solar System, to be taught by grade seven. Attendees, who are closely involved with educators and school curricula, confirmed my own observations during outreach events, that many of the educators are either poorly equipped or even not equipped at all to teach the subject. These same factors are, in my experience, also the reason that the small amount of material covering Geology and Fossils in the curriculum is either not taught or poorly taught. As far as Astronomy is concerned, this situation is exasperated by the fact that the specific module falls toward the end of the final term in the year, when educators are pressed for time. This results in the work being rushed and, in many cases, just not done. Educators have, in the past, also admitted to me that they do not understand the Astronomy section, so they do not teach it. At one end of the spectrum South Africa is planning and implementing astronomy related projects like SALT, KAT7, meerKAT and the SKA and at the other end learners are not properly prepared to make use of the opportunities afforded to them by these exiting astronomy developments in the country. This is a very sad state of affairs.
Like the infamous Curate’s egg, the workshop was quite good in parts. Useful information was made available and I certainly gained some valuable insights. Probably the most valuable part of the workshop was the opportunity it afforded one to make contact with key figures in the field and also to interact with them and exchange ideas.