Written by: Clarissa Hughes
Dawn’s Heart was a hunter, a very early ancestor. As a person he had come down to earth, fallen in love, and taken as his wife, the Lynx, who was also at that time a person.
One day when the Dawn’s Heart was away hunting, the she hyena bewitched the Lynx by taking perspiration from her armpits and mixing it with Bushman rice. Immediately the poison took effect. Lynx’s ornaments fell from her. First her earrings, then her bracelets and anklets. Then her skin-cloak unloosened itself and slipped down, her skin petticoat did likewise, and finally the thongs that tied her sandals to her feet broke. Naked and screaming she ran away to sit among the reeds at the water’s edge.
With great difficulty her sister coaxed the demented and lonely Lynx to come out and suckle her child. For a time the two sisters fought desperately against the growing power of hyena’s spell, while the power of the child to entice the mother to come from the reeds and suckle, is diminished. At last hyena, certain her time had come, moved confidently into Dawn’s Heart’s hut pretending to be Lynx.
Lynx’s sister, in a desperate attempt to avert disaster, intercepted Dawn’s Heart and told him of Hyena’s grand design. He went into action at once driving his spear at hyena, but missed her. Hyena ran away and in her panic ran through the fire outside the hut, burning her feet. That is why the hyena still limps with a slinky gait because its feet are still blistered by the burns of the fire.
The night sky of southern Africa offers some of the best stargazing on the planet. Consequently, the indigenous people of the subcontinent have been exposed to a cosmic clarity since time immemorial, developing complex knowledge systems in the process.
Legends of failed hunts, of Lynx losing her jewelry and moonwater pouring out of the sky are interspersed with common practices such as: why the chief awarded a cow to the first person to see Canopus, and why Achenar’s rising was a time to avoid getting married. The introduction of a child to the moon exhibits the kind of intimacy that existed between people and the celestial bodies and highlights the sense of participation in universal events that our forebears acknowledged – one that I, as the author of a new book titled Flowers in the Sky, maintain is useful in facing the challenges of the twenty-first century .
Why are the Digging Stars called by that name? Why was their dawn rising a significant event on the annual calendar? What do they represent in the minds of the people? And how does this relate to scientific discovery? The explanation of the symbolism is often inspiring, at times confirming scientific discoveries in the exquisite language of metaphor.
Flowers in the Sky is a collection of stories that provides insight into our traditional cosmologies. African culture reveals an intimacy with the natural environment that can provide an essential key to retrieving a global sense of kinship with nature. In other words, the sense of dis-ease that results from a spiritual separation from the cosmos may be repaired by exposure to these cultures.
“In the world of conservation, science has long been able to have its say, but there has been a lack of the authentic indigenous voices. Those of us who have had the good fortune while out in the bush, or in the deserts of the Kgalagadi in Namibia, have gazed with wonder at the blaze of southern stars. It is no wonder that indigenous cultures who have been staring into the heavens at night have created wonderful stories of the doings of the stars. Clarissa Hughes has travelled far and wide and gathered many of these entrancing stories; her book adds a completely new dimension to star gazing… I agree wholeheartedly with Clarissa Hughes where she says, ‘In the West’s pursuit of the rational and the scientific, we have forgotten what we once knew – that all knowledge is interconnected,’ and how in Southern African star tales, religion is told in relation to nature… This is a book not to be missed for those of us who seek deeper meaning in the stories of the indigenous culture.” – Dr Ian Player