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Southern Hemisphere Astronomy

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    Posted: 20-Apr-2008 at 03:18
The people down under, or the Southern Hemisphere, have a long legacy of astronomical observation. The sky they observe is not the same most of mankind see at night. It is the mysterious southern cosmos, dominated by the Southern Cross.
My intention opening this thread is to show all the traditions of sky observation by Southerners in Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific, Southern South America and Southern Africa.
Let's start with the Australian Aboriguin Astronomy, which found an emu (Australian ostrich) in the sky. Curiosly enough the Mapuches of my country saw a bird similar to the emu in the sky: the nandu or American ostrich. Just a coincidence, of course Wink
This comes straight from Wikipedia. However it seems interesting enough, I guess, to recall it here.
Australian Aboriginal astronomy is a name given to the indigenous Australian cultural traditions of astronomical study. There is a diversity of traditions in Australia, each with its own particular expression of cosmology. However, there appear to be common themes and systems between the groups.
Many have stories of a female Sun who warmed the land, and a male Moon who was once a young slim man (the waxing crescent Moon), but grew fat and lazy (the full Moon). But then he broke the law, and was attacked by his people, resulting in his death (the New Moon). After remaining dead for three days, he rose again to repeat the cycle, and continues doing so till this day. The Kuwema people in the Northern Territory say that he grows fat at each full moon by devouring the spirits of those who disobey the tribal laws.
Some Aboriginal Australians use the sky as a calendar to tell them when it's time to move to a new place and a new food supply. The Boorong people in Victoria know that when the Mallee-fowl constellation (Lyra) disappears in October, to "sit with the Sun", it's time to start gathering her eggs on Earth. Other groups know that when Orion first appears in the sky, the Dingo puppies are about to be born.
The stars are also law-books, telling people how to live on Earth. The Yolngu people of Arnhem Land say that the constellation of Orion, which they call Julpan, is a canoe. They tell the story of two brothers who went fishing, and caught and ate a fish that was forbidden under their law. Seeing this, the Sun sent a waterspout that carried the two brothers and their canoe up into the sky where you can still see them.
When Yolngu people die, they are taken by a mystical canoe, Larrpan, to the spirit-island Baralku in the sky, where you can see their camp-fires burning along the edge of the great river of the Milky Way. The canoe is sent back to earth as a shooting star, letting their family on Earth know that they have arrived safely in the spirit-land. At a beautiful and important ceremony, the Yolngu people gather after sunset to await the rising of Barnumbirr, or Morning Star, which Europeans call Venus. As she approaches, in the early hours before dawn, she draws behind her a rope of light attached to Earth, and along this rope, with the aid of a richly decorated "Morning Star Pole", the people are able to communicate with their dead loved ones, showing that they still love and remember them.
The Pleiades also figures in the Dreamings of several language groups. For example, in the central desert region, they are said to be seven sisters fleeing from the unwelcome attentions of a man represented by some of the stars in Orion. The close resemblance of this to Greek mythology is believed to be coincidental - there is no evidence of any cultural connection.
Two contemporary painters from the Western Desert, daughters of the late Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, have the seven sisters as one of their Dreamings. Gabriella Possum and Michelle Possum paint the Seven Sisters Dreaming in their paintings. They inherited this Dreaming through their maternal line.
Another astronomical story which is widespread in Australia is that of the "Emu in the Sky", which has a black head (the Coalsack, next to the Southern Cross), and a body and dark legs trailing our along the Milky Way to Scorpius. Unlike European constellations, this constellation consists mainly of Dark Clouds of dust in the Milky Way.
Just North of Sydney, in the Kuringai National Park, are extensive rock engravings of the Guringai people who used to live there, including representations of the creator-hero Daramulan and his emu-wife. On autumn evenings, the emu in the sky stands directly over her portrait, just at the time when it's time to gather emu eggs.
Many other stories exist where the heliacal rising or setting of stars or constellations are used to tell Aboriginal Australians when it's time to move to a new ground in time for a new food source.
An interesting question is to what extent Aboriginal people were interested in the precise motion of the Sun, Moon, planets or stars. While there is not yet a definitive answer, it has been suggested that some of the stone arrangements in Victoria may have been used to track the equinoxes and/or solstices.
The Emu in the sky
The "Emu in the sky", a 'constellation' defined by dark clouds rather than the stars. A western interpretation would recognise the Crux or Southern Cross, on the left Scorpius. The head of the emu is the Coalsack.
Another article

Theres an emu in the sky?


Australians have rich heritage of stories about the stars, the Sun and the Moon. Aboriginal Australians knew all the stars, had stories to link with their history and beliefs, recognised the phases of the Moon and identified new arrivals, such as comets, in the night sky.

Many people are familiar with Greek and Roman stories about the major constellations (groups of stars seemingly in the shape of a person, animal or object), but very few Australians know about one of the largest shapes in the sky, the Emu.

This dark shadow has been of great importance to Aboriginals for thousands of years. It influenced the stylised forms of the emu on rock art, the design of some ceremonial sites and its orientation at certain times of the year acted as an indicator to when these ceremonies should be held.

The male emu was of great significance to Aboriginal Elders. Just as the male emu plays a vital role in producing young emus by sitting on the eggs, the Elders play a major role in initiating boys into manhood.

This important object in the night sky is the blackness between stars and the bands of the Milky Way it is a shadow caused by the dust and gas clouds of space.

The faint enormous figure can be seen only in areas well removed from the polluting lights of our cities and large towns. The Emus head is the dark shadow called the Coal Sack that sits next to the Southern Cross Its neck passes through the Pointers, and its body lies across the constellation Scorpio. The Emu is most easily seen from May to September.


Edited by pinguin - 20-Apr-2008 at 03:23
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gcle2003 View Drop Down


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  Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20-Apr-2008 at 10:06
It's unusual to have a female Sun and a male Moon, though grammatically it's that way round in German.
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  Quote Sander Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20-Apr-2008 at 21:13
can we keep it more specific? Africa , Americas and Oceania are 3  large different continents/regions with their own forums here.
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  Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Apr-2008 at 00:33

We could continue with the Pacific in here.

I found just short references about Maori's idea that the Southern Cross was the anchor of a boat (the Milky Way), and that the "pointers" were its rope.

In other islands though, the Southern Cross was a bird heading South.
Any more information about Polynesian astronomy. I couldn't find anything clear.
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