I flicker my torch on and off in the dark night and point it out to the sky just to see how far the light would go. It may not be pretty logical considering how far the sky is but in the moment it was worth passing my time in. The lights had gone off for some 30 minutes or so due to a faulty electric line. It was a cloudy night as far as I could tell and nothing much to look around at only for the passing cars and a group of children playing near the block. “One, two, three, four… nine and ten” all the children had scattered away to hiding and it was his turn to seek. I chuckled. “Funny how children can play hide and seek in the dark without the worries of this world,” said my neighbour as leaned on the barrier railing on the roadside.
This were the worst of my nights. My phone’s battery was critically low, I had not charged my laptop in the last two days and my favourite show was live on air. I felt as if I was being cut off from this world. “Got you, it’s now your turn” said the seeker. “Oh, look! Doesn’t it look amazing. I bet I can count more twinkling stars than all of you can,” he posed another challenge. I looked up and the clouds had broken through for the stars to be visible. Ten of them lay in a circle on the ground and they started counting, each of them pointing their tiny fingers to the sky.
“You see my ‘son’, over the years, man has advanced in many ways that they have forgotten the wonders in this world. You can tell the time by looking on the watch, seasons by referring to the calendars, travelling by locking the GPS on your phone or other electronic gadgets. That was not in my days,” he paused before continuing, looking at the stars as if he’s been caught by some Deja vu. ” In our time, we looked onto the night stars to know when it was the season to plant, harvest, go to war, hold a festival or even navigate our way away from home and back. We could travel great distances by looking onto the sky. I used to be the messenger in our clan.” He smiled.
He went back to the house and came back with a piece of paper and a pencil. He was an old man and he walked with a slightly bent posture. “I am an old man but it doesn’t mean am way beyond reasoning,” he laughed a little almost sounding as if he had a dry cough. “We didn’t have schools in our village, not like today where you can find them on almost every corner. School then… was for the rich in the society. But it wasn’t a shortcoming to me as missionaries came and I was lucky to be educated.” “But I heard many people were not all that welcoming to the system of learning,” I told him. “I had a strict grandfather who valued education and all it came with. He would smack me and I would burn the midnight lamp studying if he happened to see any signs of play with books. But that’s a story for another day,” he finally said.
He sketched some figures on the piece of paper and lifted it up for me to see. “This is what the Englishmen called Orion, to us it signified the season of hunting. You can see it just right above us. Other stars as these signified it’s time to plant, this one was for harvesting season, we held our festivals when we saw this kind of stars…” He showed me a couple of them, like 5 constellations, some of which had funny shapes. By how he talked passionately about the old days, I can say times have changed. More and more of the historical cultures are being forgotten. Technology has locked us to our screens, the night street lamps are brighter than the night sky. Who can blame anyone for not even noticing the stars?
As much as we’re all modernizing civilization, I can say it’s best to remember the traditional heritage. It’s what kept our ancestors going. Studying the sky was like studying an astronomical blueprint. It was that important to them. I can say, through their astronomical ventures, it is then that we came to know our world much better. Some of the festivals are still being performed in different parts of the world today, wearing the same costumes as they did. Astronomical structures they built then still exist today some dated back to thousands of years ago. Today they stand as museums, artefacts, or tourist attraction centres…all but to remind us of their great works. Let’s not blind the night sky.