The Stories of the Stars
By: Evan Upchurch
If there is any question as to the extraordinary miracle of life on Earth, all we must do is wait until nightfall and look up to the stars flickering light-years away to remove all doubts. It’s in these moments of total awe that we naturally contemplate our place in the universe and how we came into existence amid such immensity.
Throughout history, cultures stretching the globe have looked to the stars in search of meaning, connecting us unknowingly in unlikely ways. This innate curiosity for what lies above has stimulated the human spirit and intelligence, resulting in elaborate creation stories, exceptional navigational tools, calendars of time, and outstanding works of art.
At Habitas, we believe in tapping into the mesmerizing beauty of nature and the cosmos. We look to their wonders for inspiration and to feel oneness with our planet. It is not by chance that our Homes around the world are found in environments perfectly apt for stargazing. From AlUla, Saudi Arabia, to Bacalar, Mexico, our locations sit under vast and endless night skies unpolluted by city lights, sounds, or smog, allowing us to sit in silence and observe that which makes us feel amazingly small.
We decided to take a closer look into the history and stories of the stars woven into the cultural fabric of our different Homes. By speaking with experts connected to our global family, we were able to develop a deeper understanding of the important role stargazing has held in these destinations over time.
First, we spoke to Perry Uatokuja, one of our knowledgeable rangers at our Home in Namibia. When it comes to the stars, Perry has a wealth of knowledge ranging from ancestral stories of local tribes to seasonal phenomena. Not a night passes when he’s not enthusiastic about sharing all that he has learned throughout his life. He says, “The indigenous people of Namibia include the San, Nama, Ovahimba, Ovazemba, Ovatjimba, and Ovatwa. Together they represent around 8% of the country’s total population. When it comes to those tribes, they mainly use the constellations for storytelling around household fires before and after dinnertime.”
Perry recalls the stories he has learned over the years: “Let’s take the Southern Cross, for example, which is only found in the southern hemisphere’s night sky. The San saw the two bright pointers (Alpha & Beta Centauri) as male lions. As the story goes, these lions were once men, but a magical girl cast them into the sky as stars. The San also saw the three brightest stars of the Southern Cross as female lions.”
Next, we traveled to the night skies of AlUla to speak with local star enthusiast Mishary, who told us about the importance of the cosmos for ancient navigation. He says, “Back in the day, nomadic Bedouins and land-crossing merchants would traverse the vast open desert-scapes at night on horseback, camels, and in caravans, only using the constellations and stars as a guide to navigating their journey.”
Today, the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) recognizes the natural and cultural significance of stargazing and is taking measures to safeguard the night skies for generations to come. Their concrete action steps include developing a Dark Sky Zone Strategy, which will ensure the installation of all lighting has a minimum impact on the sky, and designating Dark Sky Discovery Sites throughout AlUla’s 22,561 square kilometers.
Last, we learned about the stars’ connection to the Maya civilization with Fabian Rios Machado, who leads ceremonies and rituals at our Home in Tulum. He tells us, “The Riviera Maya has a privileged location for observing the stars. Across the Yucatán peninsula, the Maya established ceremonial and astronomical observation centers. They are a culture known for being excellent astronomers with great precision.”
Fabian continues, “Ancient Maya culture considered astronomy to be of vital importance. They could use the stars to calculate eclipses and planetary alignments with precision, at which times many sacred festivities took place. They identified 13 of their own constellations named after animals from the region, like the turtle, bat, deer, and so on.” In today’s world, Maya descendants who work as farmers and loggers still look to the stars and moon for guidance when searching for the optimal time for harvesting crops or cutting wood.
To look up at the stars is to connect to the generations of people and cultures who have done the same. As we learn to appreciate the night skies, we come to the conclusion that we may be of different beliefs and ways of living, but are always united in the feelings of awe and wonder provoked by our natural world. Let us continue to envision our stories and those of the stars.