IYL—Elucidating light (3)
Structural evidence of early astronomical activity, survives in the form of ancient observatories, commonly called “Stone Circles” (often, “Calendar Circles”). As with artificial fire, the world’s oldest observatory is also in Africa—at Nabta Playa, in southern Egypt.
“The site,” reports NASA’s Technology Through Time: Issue #20, “…is between 6,000 and 6,500 years old, or about 1,000 years older than Stonehenge [Britain’s oldest Stone Circle]”. DNA studies show that blacks, from below the Sahara, built the observatory.
There are more than 1000 Stone Circles in Africa. They include Kenya’s famous Namoratunga complex—with its associated lunar-stellar calendar—and several Sun-centered Circles in Cross River State, Nigeria (which I studied for nearly six years, before funding was cut).
The investigation of astronomy-related artifacts comes under “Archaeoastronomy”. It should also be thought of, as the “Archaeology of Light”: And made the focus of commemorative forums, along with pre-historic fire-making in Kenya and South Africa.
Sub-Saharan Islamic communities can tap into abundant historical resources. In Timbuktu, Mali, for instance, Thebe Medupe, the distinguished South African Astrophysicist, and his collaborators, found a veritable treasure trove of manuscripts, on astronomy, mathematics and geography.
As far back as four centuries, they wrote, in African Cultural Astronomy, scholars in the Mali and Songhay empires, “were studying mathematical astronomy in their schools in Timbuktu…”
Nor was this anomalous: Setting aside Colonial propaganda, with its emphasis on black “savagery” and “ignorance,” mathematics, engineering and astronomy were highly developed in early West Africa—which the presence of Stone Circles, particularly in Nigeria, attests to.
Indeed, had Medupe’s team ventured here, they would have seen much to marvel at: Not least being a cache of several thousand manuscripts on Astronomy and other subjects, written in Arabic and Ajami (local dialects, derived from modified Arabic).
Says Salisu Bala, of* Arewa House Center for Historical Documentation and Research, Kaduna: “Astronomy is one of the most significant fields of sciences that received a tremendous attention by… Nigerian Scholars since the late 15th and early 16th centuries”.
A surprising revelation is that, among these writings is “several works…on Astronomy” which, according to Bala, Sheikh Uthman dan Fodiyo—fabled Jihadist of 1804—authored.
Northern Nigeria’s rich astronomical heritage may help explain the little known fact that Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa, the first head of state, was an avid amateur astronomer and the owner of at least two telescopes.
Bala applauds the pioneering initiative of the late Professor K.O. Dike, a renowned historian, who collected many Arabic/Ajami manuscripts and archived them at the University of Ibadan. Pressure from the scholar, he notes, prompted the British to create a Public Records Department, with Dike as head.
Paying court to Einstein and Maxwell, during IYL, is proper. But, as black people, we have our own Heroes of Light, to whom homage is equally due.
One is Professor Eni Njoku (now late), the first Vice-Chancellor at the University of Lagos. His seminal experiments with plants and light, at the University of Ibadan, gave Nigeria an indelible global presence in botanical literature.
Another is Professor S. James Gates, an African American theoretical physicist at the University of Maryland—feted internationally for his work on, among other things, superstring theory. His equations indicate that binary (2-digit) information codes permeate cosmic reality.
Intriguingly, Gates’ research team has adopted the adinkra, a complex symbol from the culture of the Akan people of Ghana and Ivory Coast, to represent its mathematical model.
Meanwhile, Prince Tonye Princewill proposes local IYL forums, featuring Medupe and Gates. “I hope they’ll visit Kalabari,” he offers, “so the Elders can explain the Sun-Shrine and elucidate our cosmology— in which the life-sustaining power of light is fully appreciated”.