Thursday & Friday the 27th & 28th of August 2015
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
Here are two more links with more information on the activities at !Khwa ttu. The first one is about training and the second one gives more details about the activities and persons at !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.