VIEWING THE SKY, A MULTICULTURAL EXPERIENCE Lara Albanese Osservatorio di ArcetriThis year Arcetri Observatory is presenting the exhibition “Skies of the World”at the Festival della scienza di Genova (25 October – 6 November 2007). (Firenze)
The sky overLara Albanese (coordinator), FrancescaBrunetti, Antonella Gasperini, Daniele ChinaGalli, Filippo Mannucci, Guia Pastorini,Franco Pacini, Eleonora Sani (INAFOsservatorio Astrofisico di Arcetri ) Discovering the sky using Chinese myths and legendsThis work has been supported by:Consiglio Regionale della Toscana, Comune diFirenze, Assessorato alla Pubblica Istruzione,Istituto Comprensivo Statale Gandhi-Florence,Comune di Firenze ,Centro diAlfabetizzazione Gandhiin the framework of the Universe Awareness-UNESCO program of the InternationalAstronomical Union (IAU) We thank also Duccio Ricciarelli e HZ Movie for “We are all citizens of thethe DVD., Mariano Dolci- puppeteer sky” Camille Flammarion
The exhibition has 3 parts:1.The Sky over China Discovering Chinese mythsand legends in the travelling planetarium.(This part has been used in a Florenceschool, but My Africa and Stories in theSky are new)2. My Africa Illustrated talk for childrengiven by Thebe Medupe, an astronomerwho has worked extensively in researchand outreach projects. He also made thefilm Cosmic Africa. The talk showschildren the sky over Africa and showshow an African child like Medupehimself can become an astronomer.3. Stories in the Sky Interactive atelier wherechildren can make up their own storiesthat take place in the sky.
This project introducednursery and primaryschool children to mythsand legends from Greek-Roman and Chinesetradition. These were thenacted out.The project was based onthe fact that children canask questions about, andreason about, the worldaround them, especiallywhen they are stimulatedand emotionally involved.Children all over theworld, from every cultureand social class, will alwayslook up at the sky and seethe moon and the stars. The sky over China Discovering the sky using Chinese myths and legends
The Gandhi school is in theBrozzi area of Florence, aculturally rich part of thecity. The children come fromdifferent parts of the world.Cultural differences are animportant resource whichmade it possible for us to usemyths and legends fromdifferent countries.About a quarter of thechildren come from Chinesefamilies; Brozzi is full ofChinese shops and businesses.Most of the children did notknow the Chinese myths andlegends, and only a few ofthem knew the Western ones.So myths and legends were animportant part of thediscovery process.
The wonder of the starry skyand the desire to understandhow the world works are stimulifor all children. They may notall become scientists, but ithelps them to make their ownindependent decisions andjudgements.In this project, children weretreated as having the ability tomake up and tell new storiesand myths to describe andexplain the sky, the stars,constellations and the moon.Most informal educationalactivities for children used inscience education are “handson,” but you can’t touch the skyand the stars. This is a basicproblem, and it meant thatrather than children’s love oftouching and feeling objects, wehad to involve their emotionsand desire to see.
The Gandhi MulticulturalLiteracy CentreCollaboration with thiscentre was fundamental. Itmainly works withchildren and youngsterswho have recently arrivedin Italy and who need tolearn Italian as quickly aspossible in order to takepart in school activitieswith their peers.The length and intensityof the learning processdepend on first language,school background andpersonal factors, but ingeneral courses aredesigned to take up aslittle time as possible soas not to disruptattendance in normalclasses. Children followas many activities wherelanguage skills are notindispensable aspossible (Physicaleducation, art, music,English.)
Phases of the project! There were three main phases in the project, which lasted for one year." lesson on Chinese legends about the sky given by astronomers from the Arcetri Observatory." classroom acting out of Chinese myths and legends using different techniques of expression and dramatisation. Guided by teachers, cultural mediators and astronomers from Arcetri." realisation of a new play in the Starlab travelling planetarium using
Phase one was the lessongiven by Arcetriastronomers to nurseryand primary schoolchildren.It was given in the Starlabtravelling planetarium attheir own school.Astronomers showed themhow to recognise differentconstellations as recognisedin the West and in Chinaand described the relatedmyths and legends .
The first aim of this phaseis to narrate myths andlegends of ancient andmodern China, and thesecond is to bring children,youngsters and theirteachers into contact withthe planetarium, so that inthe next phases they canplan a show orperformance themselves.
Phase 2This phase exploited the fascinationthat the night sky holds for childrenall over the world. It also used theunifying effect of the idea that it isthe same stars that shine down oneveryone, everwhere. The childrenin Brozzi, from different culturalbackgrounds, used both theirimagination and their scientificknowledge to describe the sky overtheir heads as they saw it. Usingdifferent techniques of expressionmeant that each child was able tofind for him/her self the best way ofexpressing, telling and re-telling thestories.Techniques included narration,drawing, and drawing usingoverhead projector. The mostsuccessful technique was Chineseshadows.
Help from the Arcetrilibrary was fundamental tothis phase. The librarycarried out the necessaryresearch and suppliedinformation for the project.They selected the mythsand legends and storiespublished for children andyoung people in both Italianand the original language.They also prepared a file ofmaterial on Chinese mythsand legends and astronomyand distributed it to theteachers. The library alsofiled and stored thechildren’s work ready forthe last phase of the project.
There are many Chinese myths andlegends about the moon and seasons,but we chose to use another verywell-known story, ‘The PrincessWeaver’ because it involvesdifferent constellations. Vega is nearthe northern vertex of the smallparallelogram of stars known as theLyra, invented in Greek mythologyby the god Hermes (Mercury.)In ancient China, Vega was knownas the “Weaver’s star.” The periodthat Vega shines high in the skycoincided with the period thatChinese women worked very hard atweaving. It was the time of yearwhen many weddings took place,and every bride needed a weddingdress. So the legend tells of Chi – Chi - Niu, the daughter of the Emperor of Heaven,Niu , the princess weaver, and her was a very expert weaver, and she sat every day bybridegroom, the keeper of the oxen the heavenly loom, the small parallelogram next toin the heavens. Vega. The princess was expert at weaving the colours of the dawn and the sunset.
Thanks to the assistanceof cultural mediator LaoSan, we were able to linkthe potential of Chineseshadows with thepotential of theplanetarium. Theplanetarium can projectover 360 degrees ratherthan simply onto a flatsurface. This is a verypositive characteristic andis potentially interestingfor narration of any typeusing shadows, not justastronomers. It makes Chinesechildren and spectators ingeneral feel extremely shadowsinvolved in the story.
In ancient China theshadow theatre wasoriginally used for theveneration of gods andalso to chase awayghosts and monsters. Itsubsequently became aform of entertainment,as it still is today.
The children in Brozziproduced the shapes for theshadows in many ways. Someused black card. Some usedcut out photographs ofthemselves to give a profile.Some used the overheadprojector to make theshadows move on amazingcoloured backgrounds.Of course, with childrenfrom other cultures, othertypes of performance orshow may be preferable.This method is particularlygood for recounting mythsand legends from differentparts of the world.
We believe that tellingstories from differentcultures helps to make thesky even morefascinating. It is also away of drawing attentionto the differences betweencultures and appreciatingthose from far away. Wehope that children will bemotivated to look up atthe sky with interestedeyes, ready to make newand exciting discoveries