Friday, July 6, 2012

Winter solstice

When I got off the train in Laingsburg, I was headed for the sheep farm of David Luscombe - a giant patch of arid land with merinos and damaras roaming more or less freely on it. The farm house had a warm fireplace and - for a change - working hot water, but no electricity. David arrived a few hours after I did, and I spent the next two days learning all about sheep farming. Apparently merino sheep are a bit dumb, and tend to get eaten by jackals, so they decided to switch most of their sheep over to the much more goat-like damara sheep. Those don't give wool, but nice meat, and because they sleep in one big flock at night, the jackals can't really get to them.

The plants wer enjoying the rain

Unfortunately it started pouring rain on my second day there, and both the local workers and the local sheep didn't like the unusual weather in the least, so the herding halted. I settled next to the fireplace with a headache and a fever (for a while I thought I had caught the malaria, but in hindsight it was probably just the flu), and waited for the main attraction of my stay: the winter solstice workshop of Dr. Cyril Hromnik.

CH taking pictures of the solstice sunset lining up with a person seated in an ancient worship site

I met Cyril a few months ago through his son - he's a historian studying pre-European African civilizations, and is particularly interested in certain stone structures found in Southern Africa. David's farm has got lots of heaps of rocks, little walls and strange man-made enclosures all over it, that no one was able to explain for a long time. Cyril noticed that all of these stones line up with the movable sky, i.e. the trajectories of the sun, moon and planets. His explanation? Indian gold traders moved down the Eastern coast of Africa long before the year 0, began mixing with the local population and brought with them their religion - the resulting culture he calls "Kenna".

Adjusting the marker for a solstice sunrise observatory

Apparently very similar structures are found in India. And once Cyril started looking for patterns in the temples, as he calls them, he discovered that some of them form shapes from ancient Indian mythology, for instance Rama's bow and arrow. To further corroborate that idea, lots of African languages turn out to have Dravida (i.e. old Indian) words in them!
For the last decade or so, Cyril has taken groups of interested people to David's farm to observe solstices and equinoxes from the old temples. About 5 of them showed up there last Friday, and together we spent the weekend clambering over rocks and staring wide-eyed at beautiful sunrises and sunsets over distant mountain peaks and between little monoliths.

Since the weather remained cold and wet (Desert? Lies!), the traditional South African Braai was moved to the fireplace in the living room. Yup, cooking over open fire can be very civilized!

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