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Astronomie et cultures autochtones

mbeall2

CHIN, Ottawa, Ontario

The Seven Sisters - Orion and the Pleiades

This is a story about a group of women, their dingoes, and the hunter who chases them.

Amongst the Pitjantjatjara people of the western desert in Australia the constellation depicts women, and a man chasing them. The women are called the Kungkarungkara and they keep a pack of dingoes as protection against the man Nirunja who is also a hunter and who chases them across the desert. Nirunja catches one of the women (the faint star in the Pleiades) but he is still not satisfied. Eventually the women turn into birds and fly into the sky to escape from him. But even then, he defies their dingoes and follows them across the sky where he can be seen, with his spear, in the stars of Orion’s Belt pursuing the Pleiades. The Pleiades appear in the dawn sky in autumn, which is the time of year when dingoes mate, so the Pitjantjatjara people sing the story and perform fertility dances for the dingoes.

This story tells of the dangers of living near the Australian coast where there are often tropical storms.

At Yirrkala, on the coast of Arnhem Land in Australia, Orion and the Pleiades are associated with the dangers of living near the coast where there are often tropical storms and cyclones. There, the constellation of Orion is said to be a canoe full of fishermen while their wives, the Pleiades, are in a second canoe. All have arrived from another land further east. On their way the men caught a turtle and the women two large kingfish, but as they were nearing the shore, a heavy storm overturned the canoes and drowned all the people who have now become stars to warn later generations of fishermen. The two canoes, the men and women, the turtle and the two fish (adjacent clusters of stars in the Milky Way) are all visible in the sky for the whole of the wet season. In its basic form this legend carries a warning against the dangers of fishing at a time of sudden storms, but in north-eastern Arnhem Land the local story also has a moral message: the fishermen are drowned as a punishment for catching the kingfish, which their tribe is traditionally forbidden to eat.
Canadian Heritage Information Network


© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003
Learning Object Collection: Sky Stories: Indigenous Astronomy
Learning Object: Indigenous Astronomy: The Australians
Institution: RCIP-CHIN