Oral Presentation Astronomical Society of Australia Annual Scientific Meeting including HWWS 2013

Cultural Astronomy in the Torres Strait (#66)

Duane W. Hamacher 1
  1. University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Torres Strait Islanders are a Melanesian sea-faring people whose traditional country comprises 48,000 km2 of shallow waters and roughly 100 islands between the tip of Queensland and Papua New Guinea. Islander laws and customs are informed by the story of Tagai – a creation deity represented in the sky as a constellation spanning across the Milky Way. The story of Tagai encompasses four themes for governing the Islander way of life. The first is that Islanders are a sea-faring people who share a common way of life. Stellar navigation is such an important component of Islander culture that a navigation star was incorporated into the Islander flag. The second theme links the stars of Tagai as custodians of knowledge for future generations. The third relates to the laws and customs that are instructed by Tagai. And the fourth theme discusses the cycle of life as a period of time and renewal based on the rising and setting of particular stars. Thus, astronomical knowledge was recruited, structured, and weaved into oral traditions and material culture that informed Islander morals and values. Despite this, many aspects of Islander astronomy are not well understood and little has been researched or written on the subject in the last 100 years. My current research on Islander astronomy is helping to fill this gap through ethnographic, archaeological, linguistic, and historical studies of Torres Strait Islander people and culture.