Duane Hamacher spent ten years working with Elders and Knowledge Holders to develop an understanding of how First Nations people read the stars. In The First Astronomers, he offers a systematic overview of First Nations astronomy, proving that “these living systems of knowledge challenge conventional ideas about the nature of science and the longevity of oral tradition”. The wonderful team at Allen & Unwin were kind enough to send me a copy for review.

As per the foreword from Professor Marcia Langton AO:

The First Astronomers is so much more than academic salvaging of past traditions. This is an account of historical and living Indigenous sky knowledges.

Foreword to The first Astronomers (Emphasis mine)

This knowledge, typically transmitted through culture (story, song, and dance) has historically been dismissed by Western scientists. And yet, as Hamacher demonstrates, these ways of knowing are powerful, crossing generations and geographies.

Even though Hamacher dumbed it down as much as he could, I’m sure, a lot of the content of The First Astronomer went over my head. I was more interested in how First Nations people applied what they observed, using the stars to predict weather, navigate, encode Law, etc. Hamacher mentions these applications, but his focus is more on what they saw and why/when they saw it (“star X moved 12 degrees when viewed from Y latitude four thousand years ago” type stuff).

Proper stargazers – amateur and advanced – will enjoy The First Astronomers and get a lot out of it. Readers like me might need a few more for-dummies guides first, though.

The Elders and Knowledge Holders named as significant contributors to The First Astronomers are:

  • Ghillar Michael Anderson
  • John Barsa
  • David Bosun
  • Ron Day
  • Segar Passi
  • Alo Tapim

Oh, and one more awesome thing: all royalties from The First Astronomers go to charities supporting scholarships, community projects, and educational programs for First Nations people. Deadly Science, one of my favourites, gets a shout-out in the epilogue – #PayTheRent