1st Essay Competition Winner – Omari Joseph on ‘How astronomy can positively impact Guyanese culture’

Author: Omari Joseph

The greatest achievement and the greatest pursuit of humanity is “discovery.” Sit and imagine. Before there was Guyana there was just empty land and the people who discovered a place they could call home. Centuries later, many of Guyana’s wonders remain undiscovered. Not just by tourists, but also by us, Guyanese.

“Guyana’s wonders…” Maybe you thought of diamonds, gold, flora, fauna or even Kaeiteur. What if I told you that there was another treasure? A treasure that opens the door to endless discovery. I’m talking about the little diamonds which simultaneously inspired nursery rhymes and incredible architecture. These diamonds rest in a treasure chest just beyond our reach, the sky. Regardless, humanity has curiously scoured and studied the sky for all of history. That curiosity gave birth to astronomy, the oldest natural science.

The impact of astronomy is visible throughout history, especially in ancient civilisations. For many ancient civilisations, their gods lived in the sky and studying celestial objects was one way to divine the will of the gods. No matter how far apart they were, ancient civilisations were all occupied by the wonders of the sky. This occupation led to the discovery of other planets in the solar system and the establishment of a basis for time measurement. The surviving records of ancient civilizations show that they understood that celestial bodies moved in a fixed and predictable pattern (Fabian, 2010).

Evidently, astronomy was more than just a curious obsession. It shaped and impacted the cultures of every society, including those of the indigenous peoples. Through archaeoastronomy, it was discovered that the Taíno people of Antigua created intricate stone arrays to track the movement of celestial bodies. These arrays “regulated the organization of all social and economic exchanges between groups and determined how they observed time. The rising of Ursa Major behind two western stones in the array indicated the coming of the hurricane season…Their knowledge of celestial bodies allowed them to also navigate by the stars” (Imbert, 2010). “Astronomy has enriched the understanding of our own culture, history, and potential” (Haque, 2018). This proves that the application of astronomy in historical studies can help Guyanese develop a clearer picture of our past and deepen our understanding of indigenous culture.

Even after the times of early astronomy, the skies and celestial bodies have impacted many aspects of culture. The night sky certainly inspired Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” The moon and stars have historically been the perfect backdrop for many romantic scenes in art and life.

Astronomy today is more advanced and technologically driven than ever before. There are professional observatories scattered all over the world using cutting edge technology to observe and record celestial objects and events. Simultaneously, there are many amateur astronomers simply looking up at the sky as a hobby.

Unfortunately, in the developed societies where astronomy is at the technological apex, amateur astronomy is becoming more and more difficult due increasing light pollution. British Astronomer Andy Fabian laments that “most people are not as aware of the night sky now as they used to be” (Fabian, 2010) Even NASA admits that “the hard part is finding dark skies that are conveniently located” (Dunbar & Watanabe, 2007).

Guyana may not be as technologically advanced as many developed societies. Some may perceive this negatively, however, for I would strongly argue that because of this Guyana has immense potential to develop astronomy. It would be ill-advised to quantum leap into the future and talk of grand observatories and monitoring stations. Such a move would ignore the lessons left to us by those curious ancient societies. Great discovery and cultural transformation begins at the grassroots level.

Guyana does not have the light pollution problem that many countries do. As such, there are many places where Guyanese can go and engage in amateur astronomy. Observation with the unaided eye is something that cannot happen in big cities around the world. Many outside of Georgetown can do it right from their backyard in Guyana. Open fields all over the nation can become prime locations to place a telescope and observe the stars. Guyana is located near the equator, providing a unique vantage point for viewing northern and southern celestial objects (Pedro, 2018).
Guyana’s art and culture has been shaped largely by colonialism, if we simply reach inside the treasure chest that is the sky we can discover and explore new areas for expression. Maybe the brilliant night sky on the Rupununi Savannahs might inspire an amazing work of literature. Maybe the electric display of stars on a peaceful Essequibo river can inspire a Guyanese painter. Astronomy can help us to rediscover, redefine and advance our current art and culture.

The skies inspired notable sites like the Stonehenge and the Pyramids… Aren’t you interested to discover what the skies will inspire Guyanese to do?

Dunbar, B., & Watanabe, S. (2007, November 7). Amateur Astronomy. Retrieved from NASA: https://www.nasa.gov/vision/universe/watchtheskies/stars_hobby.html
Fabian, A. (2010, June 1). The Impact of Astronomy. Astronomy & Geophysics, 51(3), 3.25–3.30.
Haque, S. (2018, May 7). The Impact of Astronomy. (O. O. Joseph, Interviewer)
Imbert, M. P. (2010, April). The Possible Influence of Astronomy on the Culture of Ceramic-Age, Pre-Columbian Inhabitants of Greencastle Hill in Antigua. History in Action, 1(1). Retrieved from http://uwispace.sta.uwi.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/2139/11062/Article%206%20-%20astronomy_Cerami.pdf;sequence=1
Pedro, F. F. (2018, March 27). Astronomy has great potential in Guyana. Retrieved from Stabroek News: https://www.stabroeknews.com/2018/opinion/letters/03/27/astronomy-has-great-potential-in-guyana/

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