Like almost all of the scientific corpus of the peoples of Africa, the history of African astronomy and cosmology has either been destroyed, relegating Africans, in the racist imagination, to people without knowledge of the world around them, or copied then falsified to be integrated into the Western corpus! Do you know the names that Africans gave to the stars? Did you know that NASA scientists regularly source information from traditional knowledge from the continent’s hinterland? Elimu reveals several millennia of hidden ancestral knowledge!

I. What is astronomy?

Astronomy is the science of observing the sky. Since its origin, it has been associated with cosmology and cosmogony. By definition, cosmology is the knowledge of the Universe, its origin (cosmogony), its structure and its future. Peoples of the Earth, trought their sciences, mathematical calculations, physical observations but also their myths, metaphysics and philosophical speculation, they have made it possible to develop, over time, a corpus relating to this knowledge of the Universe.

For the San people (one of the oldest in the world), heaven is the home of all the divine beings and spirits of the dead. The “things of heaven” generally do not influence or reflect the affairs of man, nor do they affect the weather, the growth of vegetation, or other conditions of the earth; they are in a field of their own. For the Tswana of southern Africa, the traditional idea is that the stars are holes in the rocky vault that is the sky. The Ibibio of Nigeria picturesquely referred to the stars as the “sand of the moon”. The Dogon are renowned for their knowledge of the sky, long before the use of the telescope. Many peoples also speak of their Ancestors as people who came from the sky to inhabit the Earth (Ancient Egyptians, Dogons, Fulani, Banyarwanda, etc.)… Anyway, Africans have always wondered about the nature of astronomical phenomena and cosmic, these sciences being as old as Humanity and that this one was born in Africa.

We cannot give here an exhaustive list of the names of the stars in all the languages of the continent, but we will try to highlight the long astronomical tradition of the peoples of Africa.

II. The observation of the Sun and the Moon at the origin of the calendar

You may be aware that the calendars that we still use today have their origins in the observations of the lunar and/or solar cycles. It is not for nothing that in most African languages, to designate “a month” we use the word of the moon!

Officially, astronomy originated with the Chaldeans, the ancestors of the Sumerians. But it seems, however, that this is another attempt to shift the origin of civilization to Mesopotamia, supposed to be “white”. Despite, this does not prevent the Chaldeans like the Sumerians (who are of African origin), from being a dark people…

The solar year, which is the basis of the contemporary calendar, comes from Ancient Egypt which, in addition to Kemetic countless inventions, offered the world its first calendar. It was therefore in Africa that humans began to locate themselves in time by observing the two largest stars visible in the sky. No offense to the revisionists of History!

Humans also used the stars to locate themselves in space and especially in places without visible terrestrial indicators such as the desert or the ocean. It is in this way that Africans left Africa to populate all the other continents and in particular the remote islands such as those in the Indian Ocean, those of Melanesia or even Easter Island.

III. Planets, stars and constellations in the African imagination

The peoples of Africa have in many ways demonstrated their ability to observe and draw the best from Nature. A process that began at the edge of human history, the observation of the stars requires a specialized methodology and above all extends over the long term (rotation of the stars, symmetry and relationship between the constellations, etc.).

The “Centaur”

The constellation known as “Centaurus” in Western astronomy and the two luminous pointers Alpha and Beta Centuari are probably the most recognizable of the southern stars, and they hold a prominent place in African star lore. It is the closest constellation to ours.

In the Sotho, Tswana and Venda traditions, these two stars (Alpha and Beta Centuari) are Dithutlwa (“The Giraffes”). The shining stars are male giraffes and the two pointers are females. The Venda call the fainter stars of the Southern Cross, Thudana, “The Little Giraffe”. They also say that the Khubvhumedzi month begins when the crescent moon can be seen for the first time and, the lower two Giraffe Stars are just below the horizon and the upper two are just visible. Sotho lore says that when giraffe stars are seen near the southwestern horizon just after sunset, they indicate the start of the growing season.

The San considered the two pointers to be male lions; they were once men, but a magical girl turned them into stars. The three brightest stars of the Southern Cross are seen as female lions. To the Khoikhoi, pointers were known as Mura, “The Eyes,” of a great celestial beast.

The long axis of the Southern Cross points to a bright star called Achernar. This star is called Senakane (Sotho, Tswana) and Tshinanga (Venda), which means “The little horn”.

The Scorpion”

The so-called constellation Scorpius with its thin row of curved stars is famous for the bright reddish star Antares. This star was called by the San, Xu! “The Fire Finishing Star” because not only does it have a reddish color, but (at certain times of the year) it sets very late at night when the camp fires are out.

Along the curved body of the scorpion, just before the tail section, is a close pair of stars, which the Khoikhoi called Xami Di Mura, “Lion’s Eyes.”

The “Big Dog”

The so-called “Major Dog” constellation is known in particular thanks to the brightest star in the sky (after the Sun of course), Sirius. The ancient Egyptians called it Sopdet, in Uganda it is called Kyabihembezi and the Banyarwanda call it, Rusiza. It was the Dogon, people of West Africa who informed Westerners of the particularity of the Sirius system. In fact, it is composed of

Sirius A, named Sigi Tolo (the “sigi” star).
Sirius B is named Po Tolo. It revolves around Sirius A and its revolution time is about 50 years. It would be the most important of all stars, even before Sirius A, since they consider it the center of the stellar world. Po Tolo means the Star of the Beginning. It is the egg of the world for the Dogons. They regard it as the reservoir, the source of all things.
Sirius C is named Emme ya tolo, (the female sorghum star). However, if Sirius A and Sirius B are attested by modern astronomy, the existence of Sirius C remains hypothetical.
Here are some names of stars in Runyankore:

Turumwabashatu (constellation of Orion)
Kakaaga (constellation of the Pleiades)
Rumaranku (star Aldebaran in the constellation of Taurus)

Here are some names of stars in Kinyarwanda:

Mboneranyi (the planet Venus)
Nyamuheshera (the planet Mars)

It is obvious that we could not make an exhaustive list of the names of the stars in African languages, do not hesitate to complete in the comments!

When our history reveals to us the richness of African thought

Although this is disturbing information for those who claim to have the exclusivity of “Human Rights”, the first true declaration of universal right to humanity in history comes from Africa, from Mali exactly with the charter of Kouroukan Foura or Donsolu Kalikan (hunters’ oath). It dates from the 13th century (Common era), officially proclaimed during the advent of Sunjata Keita, founder of the Mali Empire in 1236. His successor will be the famous Mansa Musa, the richest person who has ever existed in the story. In 2009, the United Nations listed it as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity. Here is the text:

The Manden was founded on understanding and love, freedom and fraternity. This means that there can be no ethnic or racial discrimination in Manden. This was the meaning of our fight. Therefore, the children of Sanenè and Kòntròn make, to the address of the twelve parts of the world and in the name of the entire Manden, the following proclamation:

Chapter 1
Hunters say:
All [human] life is life.
It is true that one life comes into existence before another life.
But a life is no more “old”, more respectable, than another life.
Just as one life is not superior to another life.

Chapter 2.
Hunters say:
All life being a life,
Any wrong done to a life requires reparation,
Let no one attack his neighbor gratuitously,
Let no one harm his neighbour,
Let no one martyr his fellow man.

Chapter 3.
hunters say:
Let each watch over his neighbour,
Let everyone venerate his parents,
Let everyone educate their children properly,
Let everyone “maintain” in other words provide for the needs of the members of his family.

Chapter 4.
Hunters say:
Let everyone watch over the country of his fathers.
By country or homeland,
We must also and above all listen to men;
Because any country, any land that would see men disappear from its surface would immediately become nostalgic [would experience sadness and desolation].

Chapter 5.
Hunters say:
Hunger is not a good thing;
Slavery is not a good thing;
There is no worse calamity than these things
In this world.
As long as we hold the quiver and the bow,
Hunger will no longer kill anyone in Manden,
If by chance famine were to occur;
War will never again destroy a village in Manden
To take slaves there;
That is to say that no one will now place the bit in the mouth
of his fellow
To go and sell it,
No one will be beaten either,
A fortiori put to death,
because he is the son of a slave.

Chapter 6.
Hunters say:
The essence of slavery is extinguished this day,
“from one wall to another” of the Manden;
The raid is banned from this day in Manden;
The torments born of these horrors are over from this day in Manden.
What an ordeal is torment!
Especially when the oppressed has no recourse.
What degradation is slavery!
The slave enjoys no consideration,
Nowhere in the world.

Chapter 7.
the people of old tell us:
man as an individual,
Made of bone and flesh,
Of marrow and nerves
Of skin and hair covering it,
Feeds on food and drink;
But his “soul”, his spirit lives on three things:
See who he wants to see,
Say what he wants to say,
And do what he feels like doing;
If one of these things were to fail the soul,
She would suffer
And would surely wither away.
Accordingly, the hunters declare:
Everyone now has their own person,
Everyone is free in their actions,
In respect of the “prohibitions”, of the laws of the Fatherland,
Such is the oath of the Manden,
For ears around the world.

Source: Youssouf Tata Cissé, based on an account by Fa-Djimba Kanté

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