Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Before the arrival of global influences and colonizers, early Filipinos governed their lives in unique and interesting ways. Much has been written about our different ethnolinguistic groups and the ways that they have built their lives and expressed their culture, yet not much seems to be known about our interest in astronomy.
The National Planetarium’s new exhibit, “Ethnoastronomy and Space Science,” on Philippine ethnoastronomy reveals that our ancestors were just as enamored by the heavenly bodies as the rest of the world. And as an archipelago of more than 100 different ethnolinguistic groups, our stories and observations about the stars, the moon, and the sun vary vastly.
The exhibit advises that though these beliefs are now viewed as outdated and unscientific, we mustn’t look down on them — “It must be regarded as an important part of our culture. Those indicate that our ancestors’ practice of astronomy was part of their daily lives and embedded in their traditions.” Indeed, these beliefs encompass the use of the heavenly bodies in navigation, farming, and telling time.
Listed below are five interesting ways early Filipinos allowed astronomy to play a part in their lives, mostly referenced from the exhibit, “Ethnoastronomy and Space Science,” as well as Dr. Dante L. Ambrosio’s book, “Balatik: Katutubong Bituin ng mga Pilipino.”
We had different names and stories for constellations.
Dr. Dante L. Ambrosio was considered the “Father of Philippine Ethnoastronomy” and wrote about the different ways in which early ethnolinguistic groups around the Philippines interpreted celestial bodies and their movements.
In “Balatik: Katutubong Bituin ng mga Pilipino,” he writes that the constellation Orion — the hunter with a sword and shield raised — is one of two prominent star groups in our skies. It was called “Balatik” by groups like the Tagalog, Maguindanao, Bikol, Antique, and the Bagobo, for the balatik was a hunting trap which the they thought resembled the cluster.
For the Teduray, another group from Mindanao, Orion was called “Seretar,” whom they also believed to be a hunter. The group saw Seretar’s body in Orion’s belt, his right hand in Betelgeuse, and his left hand in Rigel. Orion’s Sword was interpreted as Seretar’s itak.
For the Sama, a seafaring group from Tawi-Tawi, the Big Dipper was referred to as “Bubu,” for it resembled the bubu, a cage-like fish trap that they used.
We used the stars to determine when it was time to farm.
The Planetarium’s ethnoastronomy exhibit houses a small section on the ways our different groups turned to the stars for help in their livelihood, from farming and hunting to fishing and seafaring.
For the Bagobo, the appearance of Balatik in the night sky in December signaled the beginning of kaingin — the slash and burn method of preparing land for farming. Then in April, when they'd see Marara, another constellation which they describe as resembling a man with only one hand and one foot, it would mean that the planting season may commence.
The Teduray also turned to Orion, or Seretar, to determine when they could start planting, but they needed more than simply an appearance. The group believed that the highest point in the sky was called “kemuda,” or “riding the horse.” They imagined a circle of about 20 degrees in diameter surrounding the kemuda, which was referred to as “ranga” or “chicken’s nest.” When Seretar enters the ranga, this signifies the beginning of farming season.
We also used the stars to determine the best conditions for fishing and seafaring.
In Tawi-Tawi, the Big Dipper was more than just a constellation resembling a fish trap. The Sama people turned to this to determine whether fishing will yield bountiful results. For example, if they found many stars within the “cage,” weather conditions would be appropriate for fishing. Another part of the Big Dipper that was significant to them was the handle, or in the case of the bubu, the rope. If it was facing east, the Sama believed that the current was going to be strong.
When it came to navigating the seas, the Sama also looked to the stars, particularly Polaris, the North Star, or Mamahi Uttara in their language, as well as the Southern Cross, Alpha Centauri, and Beta Centauri, or Bunta, Anakdatu, and Sahapang. For the Sama, this cluster resembled a fishing scene wherein the fisherman Anakdatu catches Bunta (a pufferfish) with his Sapahang (spear).
We dedicated rituals to certain planets.
The exhibit also mentions how different cultures turned to the planets and celestial bodies for guidance and luck in other areas of their lives. Whereas the Romans designated Venus as the planet of love after the god Aphrodite, the Kankanaey in Sagada offered drinks or live chickens before rituals like funerals.
Meanwhile, the Tausug in Sulu revered the gas giant Jupiter, referring to it as Bituing Maga. They believed that when a Tausug women would become pregnant, rituals would be offered in its honor in the hope that her child would turn out beautiful.
We had our own time-tracking systems.
Humans around the world developed their own unique methods of timekeeping, from measuring the passage of time through candles and water, to erecting massive structures to map out their shadows at certain times in the day.
Here in the Philippines, the Kankanaey of Sagada and the Besao of Central Mountain Province developed a gadagap or a form of sundial, which helped aid the rice-planting culture of the people there.
The gadagap were markings made on their main meeting halls (or dap-ay) at certain times of the year. When the rays of the sun align with specific gadagap, it would signify the time to plant the first seed of the season.
“Balatik: Katutubong Bituin ng mga Pilipino” by Dr. Dante L. Ambrosio
The “Ethnoastronomy and Space Science” exhibit of the National Planetarium