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Part 4 - Africa and Australia

Dreamtime Named after the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione in Greek mythology, the Pleiades are arguably the star formation with the most recorded star lore.

The star cluster is a prominent sight in winter in the Northern Hemisphere.

The Pleiades have been observed by humans at least since the Bronze Age.



The G//ana people of southern Africa consider Sirius (α CMa) and Canopus (α Car) the husbands of the Pleiades.

Source: ASSA - African Ethnoastronomy


The Maasai call May the Month of the Pleiades. The disappearance of the Pleiades from the sky signals the end of the rain season.

Source: Alfred C. Hollis


For the Nama, Orion's Belt represented three Zebras. One day, the Khunuseti (the Pleiades) asked their husband Aob, which is Aldebaran (α Tau) to shoot the Zebras. Aob fired his arrow (Orion's Sword) but fell short of his target. He did not dare to retrieve his arrow because of the fierce lion (Betelgeuse) which sat watching the zebras and he dared not return home because he had killed no game. Thus, there he sits forever, shivering in the cold night and suffering thirst and hunger.

Sources: Royal Museums Greenwich - South African star myths, Astronomy Blog and
Theophilus Hahn, Tsuni-llGoam: The Supreme Being of the Khoi-khoi


In Kiswahili, the Pleiades are called Kilimia, the Ploughing Stars or Digging Stars. The first appearance of the Pleiades in June is the beginning of the digging and growing season.

A Swahili proverb says: "If the Digging Stars set in sunny weather they rise in rain, if they set in rain they rise in sunny weather."

Source: Astronomical Society of Southern Africa - African Ethnoastronomy


In Sesotho, the Pleiades are called Seleme se setshehadi, meaning "the female planter". Their disappearance in April (the 10th month) and the appearance of Achernar (α Eri) signals the beginning of the cold season.

Source: Wikipedia


The Tuareg Berbers of the northern Sahara call the Pleiades Cat iheḍ or ahăḍ, meaning "daughters of the night".

Wikipedia translates a Tuareg proverb:

Cat ahăḍ as uḍănăt, ttukayeɣ ttegmyeɣ, anwar daɣ ttsasseɣ.
As d-gmaḍent, ttukayeɣ ttegmyeɣ tabruq ttelseɣ.

"When the Pleiades fall, I wake looking for my goatskin bag to drink.
When they rise, I wake looking for cloth to wear."

Sahara Night;
This refers to the season during which the Pleiades rise and fall. When they "fall" with the sun on the west, it roughly means the hot, dry summer is coming. When they rise from the east with the sun, the cold somewhat rainy season is coming. (Due to Precession, these meanings may fade in the future.

To many other Berber nations, the Pleiades are known as Tagemmunt. meaning "the group"

Source: Wikipedia


The Xhosa too call the Pleiades the Digging Stars - IsiLimela. The new year begins in June with the first appearance of the Pleiades.

Source: RMG - South African star myths


The Maya-Mayi

One of the most popular Aboriginal dream time stories circulation on the internet it the myth of the Maya-Mayi. Unfortunately, everywhere we looked, the story is referenced only as "Australian" without information of which of the 400 Australian Aboriginal nations can be credited.

Here is the story as we found it at Mother Goose Australia:

The stars we now call the Pleiades were once seven beautiful sisters called the Maya-Mayi. Every man who ever saw them wished that he could marry one of them.

One day the seven sisters were using their digging sticks to open up a nest of wood ants to eat the larvae. When they had done so they sat down to enjoy the feast, but they didn't realize they were being spied upon by a warrior, Warrumma.

Lonely Wurrumma had set out to look for a wife. He came into the camp and the sisters invited Wurrumma to share their campfire and meal. Next morning, Wurrumma left, pretending to continue his journey, but his plan was to capture a couple of the sisters and take them as wives.

Book cover

Warrumma crept close to the sisters. He quietly reached out his hand and took two of their digging sticks and then retreated to his hiding place.

The five sisters who could find their sticks continued to gather food, but the two who couldn't find theirs stayed behind. Warrumma jumped up from his hiding place and seized both girls around their waists, holding them firmly. They screamed loudly but no one heard. They struggled but Warrumma was so strong. When they had finally stopped screaming and struggling, Warrumma explained that he was lonely and that he would take care of them and that he wanted to marry them.

The two girls travelled with him, but always looked for a chance to escape. One day their chance came.... Wurrumma had stopped for lunch. ”Strip some bark from those two trees,” he ordered, “so I can build a fire.”

So each sister swung her stone axe into a tree. The axes stuck fast, and two trees began to grow. They quickly rose higher and higher with the sisters clinging to their axes until the trees had reached heaven.

Then the other five sisters appeared in the sky and helped the two in the trees to climb up and join them amidst the clouds. Those seven sisters turned into stars in the night sky, which are called the Mayamayi by the Australian Aborigines.

If you look closely at the constellation, you may see the two freed sisters, just arriving at their sister’s camp in the sky.

And as for lonely Wurrumma, why, he’s STILL looking for a wife.

Source: Mother Goose Australia
Seven Sisters
Source: Marlene Doolan


The Adnyamathanha in South Australia show two asterisms in their national flag: The southern part of Orion is called Mirarrityi, meaning The Saucepan and the Pleiades are Artunyi or The Seven Sisters. Mirarrityi (Orion) represents Miru Muda, the Men’s story line, Artunyi represents Artu Muda, the Women’s story line.

Adnyamathanha flag
Source: Flags of the World
They are both placed in the sky, called Ngiiarri, while the Sun is placed in the land, called Yarta.

A long time ago the Artunyi were the wives of an old Akurra, a giant creation water serpent who created much of the lands and waters upon the land. Akurra was very jealous because the Artunyi were all very beautiful women. One day, while his wives were swimming in an Awi-urtu (water-hole) some men (Yura Miru) came along, saw them and immediately fell in love with them and wanted to take them for their wives. The old Akurra snuck up on the Yura Miru. He then came up from beneath the water hole, swallowed all seven of his wives and immediately spat them out of his mouth high up into the sky, so that his wives would forever be out of the reaches and clutches of the Yura Miru.

The part of the sky where the Artunyi now reside is called Wali Vari, meaning home creek. The Adnyamathanha believe it is the spiritual home they return to when they die.

Source: Aboriginal Astronomy


In Boorong mythology, the Pleiades are a group of young women called Larnankurrk.

They are dancing with a group of young men called Kulkunbulla (Orion's Belt) to a beat drummed by an old man called Gellarlec, represented by Aldebaran (α Tauri).

Source: John Morieson: The Night Sky of the Boorong

Source: Aboriginal Art Library

Torres Strait Islanders

In the story of creation hero Tagai and his crew mates (see Centaurus), Tagai kills twelve of his crew mates in rage. But since his crewmates were spiritual beings, they could not die, but became stars instead.

Tagai hang six of them, on a seg. A seg is anything put in line on a string. He then sent them into the sky and they became Orion. (In his artwork, Tommy Pau calls Orion "Seg", while other publications use the term Utimal).

The other six were skewered and became Usiam (the Pleiades).

In an uncanny resemblance to the Greek story Tagai and his friend Kareg were then placed far away from their former mates in a canoe outlined by the stars of Scorpius.

Sources:, Wikipedia, Tommy Pau,
Hamacher et al.: Astronomy and Music in the Torres Strait

Six men hang on a seg (Orion)

Six men skewered (Pleiades)
© Tommy Pau


The Wurundjeri people in south central Victoria tell the story of the Karatgurk and Waa, the crow.

The Karatgurk were seven sisters who lived by the Yarra River where Melbourne now stands. In the Dreamtime, the Karatgurk alone possessed the secret of fire. Each one carried a live coal on the end of her digging stick, allowing them to cook the yams which the dug out of the ground. The sisters refused to share their coals with anybody.

Seven Sisters Dreaming
© Alma Granites
One day Crow found a cooked yam and, finding it tastier than the raw vegetables he had been eating, decided he would cook his food from then on. However, the Karatgurk women refused to share their fire with him and Crow resolved to trick them into giving it up. Crow caught and hid a number of snakes in an ant mound then called the women over, telling them that he had discovered ant larvae were far tastier than yams.

The women began digging, angering the snakes, which attacked. Shrieking, the sisters struck the snakes with their digging sticks, hitting them with such force that the live coals flew off. Crow, who had been waiting for this, gathered the coals up and hid them in a kangaroo skin bag. The women soon discovered the theft and chased him, but the bird simply flew out of their reach, and this fire was brought to mankind.

Afterwards, the Karatgurk sisters were swept into the sky. Their glowing fire sticks became the Pleiades star cluster.

Sources: Wikipedia, Mythology Wikia


The people on Millingimbi Island (part of the Yolngu language group) see the Pleiades as the wifes of three brothers, represented by Orion's Belt. The the brothers are part of the Yolngu myth of the Canoe in the Sky.

Source: Dianne Johnson p. 165

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