Contact Us

African Sky Stories

African Sky Stories

Project Description

African Sky Stories 2 echoes the rich storytelling culture of the African continent that was introduced in the innovative and acclaimed first series. Each of the stories in both series has been told around fires under the African sky for countless generations.

In this series of 13 programmes, some of the stories are about the sky and the beginnings of the all that we know. Other stories are symbolic representations of bravery, good conquering evil, and the rewarding of honesty and compassion. Children are the central characters in each of the stories. Their exploits and adventures are entertaining and exciting for a young audience. The stories have a mystical and magical element with colourful and quirky animations that add to their visual appeal.

Andrea Dondolo, the vibrant storyteller, opens each episode by greeting a group of six 8-12 year old children in a magnificent rustic garden. The richly decorated set, complete with storybook, adds to the African magic that flows out of every story. Andrea’s expert delivery is a fine illustration of the African oral tradition. She takes us all on exciting journeys through our imagination as she skilfully unfolds each narrative.

Each episode focuses on only one story. This story illustrates a particular value or moral, such as responsibility, commonality, integrity, sharing, respect and tolerance. The storyteller gently points out the important message that each story contains. By illustrating this message in an age-appropriate and accessible way, the series aims to develop important values that can contribute to the building of families, communities, and the nation.

African Sky Stories 2 shows us just how wise, funny, and entertaining our stories are – not to mention how much we can learn from them.

For SABC Education for School TV on SABC 2
Children and Schools

Goal statement

With vivid re-creations of culturally diverse cosmic myths, this series will present simple and constructive lessons about the universe. South African children will understand the relevance of the stars, from stories passed through the ages. The vibrancy of the episodes, high production values and innovative presentation of stories will promote children’s interest in star folklore and the cosmos, well beyond the boundaries of the classroom.

The series can also form the basis for an image bank/archive of African starlore and therefore contribute to the preservation and sustenance of these oral traditions. Much of this material has never been collated or represented in this way.

African Sky Mapping


Throughout the world, diverse cultures of the past and present have observed, recorded, interpreted and made use of astronomy to structure their lives, determine their calendars and satisfy their curiosity about the universe. The values, traditions and geographical location of different cultures help shape their perceptions of how the universe works.
For rural South African peoples, whose livelihoods have depended on properly timed planting, harvesting and hunting, celestial bodies have long been a valuable source of information. Throughout Africa, people relied on the Pleiades star cluster to tell them when it was time to till the soil and when the growing season was about to end. Zulu and Xhosa peoples followed the moon’s phases and even postponed important decisions until the full moon, when natural forces were thought to be strongest.

In South Africa, oral traditions of storytelling, inspired by the cosmos and the sky have kept alive traditional wisdom and customs. These stories, which are centuries old, have often been passed on through times of extreme hardship. Stories of the moon and stars are frequently related to rural life, animals and the seasons.

The magical nature of such tales, inspired by the beauty and mystery of the skies provides ideal material for children’s educational television. For example, one story describes the origin of the sun. ‘The Sun was once a man who created daylight when he raised his arms with the powerful light that shone from his armpits. But as the Sun grew old and slept too long, the people grew cold. Children crept up on him, and threw him into the sky, where he became round and has stayed warm and bright ever since.’ Other programmes in the series will include fabulous African legends of the ‘beginning of all things’ and ‘why the sun and the moon live in the sky’.

This series of programmes recognises the importance of promoting ‘enquiry, imagination and storytelling’ in primary age schoolchildren. The vibrant tales from all over Africa will remind children of the importance of oral traditions.

Throughout this document the word ‘starlore’ is used to describe cosmic folklore.

The Series: Treatment

Each programme therefore will consist of 2- 3 (depending on story length) short animated tales, introduced by a colourful storyteller who will also serve as narrator on the programmes. Where possible, the use of repetition, rhyming and word play will be employed in the narrative, so that children will remember the stories.

At the start of the programme we will see the storyteller seated with a group of children, underneath a baobab tree (or some other vivid setting). The storyteller begins:
“Children, there is a big, big space above our heads! This space is full of stories. Stories from all over Africa – stories about the skies.
Maybe you have heard some of these stories from your mother or father or even your grandparents? Today I’m going to tell you some of these stories.
Look up!”

At this point, the children look up to the skies.
The programme will then cuts to an animated sequence illustrating the particular tale.
The animation will be simple, vivid and childlike and use shapes and images either created by children themselves or inspired by San and Rock art or indeed the artwork of Gavin Jantjes. For example the animation may use chalk against a dark blue or black surface or even luminous paint against a night black background.
Where necessary, indigenous music with strong appeal to young children will be used on the track. Instruments such as marimbas and thumb pianos can mirror the twinkling of stars, through sound.
After each animated tale, the programme will return to the storyteller. In documentary segments, children will offer comments and opinions on the story.

Another element to be incorporated into individual programmes, is the star lore inspired art of Gavin Jantjes and other artists. An example of his work is shown here:

For example, in one programme, the children will be shown an image such as Gavin Jantjes’ ‘Half the Sky’ in which the constellations have all been given prominent South African women’s names. Children will be asked:

“Why do the stars in this picture have women’s names?”
“What name would you give to a star?”

The open ended questioning is intended to provoke a spirit of enquiry and spark the storytelling imaginations of the children.

Indeed, throughout the series, comment on the stories will be sought from the group of children. These children and the audience will also be encouraged to devise their own stories based on the stars and retell myths and legends from their own families and communities.

It is possible for one programme to contain two completely different versions of a star story. Take for example African stories of the origins of the Milky Way. There is a story of the young woman who created the Milky Way by throwing ash into the sky so that her errant suitor could find his way back to her.

In another story however, a young girl is so angry that her favourite food is not yet ready that she grabs coals from the fire and throws them into the sky – thus creating the Milky Way.

Other types of star lore that will be included in the programme are:
‘the beginning of all things’ (creation myths),
Why the sun and the moon live in the sky.
Sun stories from all over Africa
Moon stories form all over Africa
Stories relating to important constellations and planets

The Teacher’s Guides will contain information on additional activities and also background information on each story used.

*There is a possibility that some Asian star lore may also be included in the series. The Parliamentary Millennium Project’s exhibition indicates ancient contact between China and Africa. In fact Zheng He, known as ‘Admiral of the Western Sea’, used stars to navigate. Between 1405 and 1453 he made seven voyages that took him as far as Kenya where he was given a gift of a giraffe.
The Series: Stories

The following is a summary of some of the varied star myths from diverse South African cultures. The series will include myths from all over Africa. Astronomer Dr Dave Laney who is based at the South African Astronomical Observatory, a leading expert in this field, has agreed to act as advisor for stories to be included in the series.
Legends of the Khoikhoi and the San

A girl child of the old people had magical powers so strong that when she looked at a group of fierce lions, they were immediately turned to stars. The largest are now in Orion’s belt.

A strong-willed girl became so angry when her mother would not give her any of a delicious roasted root that she grabbed the roasting roots from the fire and threw the roots and ashes into the sky, where the red and white roots now glow as red and white stars, and the ashes are the Milky Way. Dornan. The Bushmen (1925).

According to the Namaquas, the Pleiades were the daughters of the sky god. When their husband (Aldeberan) shot his arrow (Orion’s sword) at three zebras (Orion’s belt), it fell short. He dared not return home because he had killed no game, and he dared not retrieve his arrow because of the fierce lion (Betelgueuse) which sat watching the zebras. There he sits still, shivering in the cold night and suffering thirst and hunger.

The Sun was once a man who made it day when he raised his arms, for a powerful light shone from his armpits. But as he grew old and slept too long, the people grew cold. Children crept up on him, and threw him into the sky, where he became round and has stayed warm and bright ever since.

The Sotho calendar

Canopus was called Naka (the horn), or E a dishwa (it is carefully watched). Sotho men would camp in the mountains, where they made fires and watched the early morning skies in the South. It was believed that the first person to see the star would be very prosperous that year, with a rich harvest and good luck to the end of his life. In olden times the chief would give the lucky man a heifer. The day after Naka was sighted was the time for the men with divining bones to examine their bones in still water, to predict the tribe’s luck for the coming year.

Among the Venda, the first person to see Nanga (Canopus) in the morning sky announced his discovery by climbing a hill and blowing a sable antelope horn (phalaphala). Among the Mapeli, the first person to see the star would begin ululating loudly enough to be heard in the next village, which would then join the noisemaking to warn other villages, each in turn until all knew Canopus had been seen.

The bright stars of the pointers and the southern cross were often seen as giraffes, though different tribes had different ideas about which were male and which were female. Among the Venda the giraffes were known as Thutlwa, ‘rising above the trees’, and in October the giraffes would indeed skim above the trees on the evening horizon, reminding people to finish planting.


For the Tswana, the stars of Orion’s sword were `dintsa le Dikolobe’, three dogs chasing the three pigs of Orion’s belt. Warthogs have their litters while Orion is prominent in the sky — frequently litters of three.

Some believed that after sunset the sun travelled back to the east over the top of the sky, and that the stars are small holes which let the light through. Others said that the sun is eaten each night by a crocodile, and that it emerges from the crocodile each morning

Sotho, Swazi, Nguni

The sun’s `summer house’ and `winter house’ (the solstices) were important to the traditional calendar as in many other parts of the world. To the Xhosa these were `injikolanga’, `the turning back of the sun’. As late as 1921, governors of royal Swazi villages trusted traditional observations more than printed calendars.

According to Credo Mutwa, the Southern Cross is the Tree of Life, `our holiest constellation’.


Among the Baronga each moon is regarded as a new birth after the death of the old one. At the appearance of the new moon, recently born children (third month) are `shown their moon’. The mother flings a burning stick toward the moon as the grandmother tosses the child in the air, crying `This is your moon’. The baby is then made to roll over in the ashes. Children lacking this rite would grow up stupid, and dull children are told, `You have not been shown your moon’.

Another Moon Legend

In Bushman legend the moon is a man who has angered the sun. Every month the moon reaches round prosperity, but the sun’s knife then cuts away pieces until finally only a tiny piece is left, which the moon pleads should be left for his children. It is from this piece that the moon gradually grows again to become full.

Educational Background : Overview and Objectives

In the Government’s ‘Outcomes Based Education’ (OBE) system known as Curriculum 2005, the ‘Natural Sciences’ is one of eight learning areas in the new curriculum and covers all sciences. The learning area itself is broken down into four ‘themes’, one of which, ‘Earth and Beyond’ is subdivided into four sub-themes: Under the Earth’s Surface, On the Earth’s Surface, Above the Earth’s Surface and Beyond the Earth’s Surface. The latter contains a great deal of astronomy (Dept. of Education 1997).

It has long been recognised that the stimulation of childhood imagination via storytelling and imagery is key to developmental education and can provide children with a basis to understand a range of ideas in many different subjects.

This series of programmes is intended to stimulate ‘a spirit of enquiry’ and ‘storytelling imaginations’ in children from an early age.

Teaching Objectives

With a little help, school children can understand that varied cultures interpret and use the same astronomical phenomena in different ways.

Through these simple stories, passed down through diverse oral traditions, children can begin to comprehend how the skies have been central to the organization of many economic, social and religious activities.

The cyclical nature of the universe has produced observable celestial events, such as moon phases, eclipses, day and night cycles, and seasons, which are observed by people all over the world. Over the years, humans have recorded, analyzed, and classified these events as predictable and unpredictable, and they have passed this knowledge on to their successors.

In this series of programmes, South African children’s comprehension of simple facts about the cosmos will confirm the value of stories told by their parents and grandparents.

The intention of the series is to stimulate and promote children’s interest in the cosmos and in the world at large via stories, African starlore and art.

Background Information for Teachers

A series of Teacher and Learning Guides will be available to accompany the series. These will contain:

• additional storytelling activities
• additional background information such as cultural origins of each story
• useful resources

Learning Outcomes

There are a number of important learning outcomes of the series. Children will:

• Become familiar with many terms relating to the cosmos.

• Recognize and be able to name key planets and constellations mentioned in both the stories and the lessons.

• Learn vibrant and culturally diverse stories and fables about the stars and from these and be inspired find out more starlore from their own families.

• Be inspired to recount the myths and stories they have learned or heard in the series as well as be inspired to devise and create their own fables and myths based on observation of the stars.

• Have a greater interest in observing the skies and recognizing star formations and constellations.

• Have an increased interest in cosmology and why things are as they are

• Have an awareness of different cultural starlore interpretations.

• Through viewing art and animation, understand ways in which the cosmos can provide meaning and magic,

• Develop a spirit of enquiry that will remain with them for life.

Organisations /Links/Research

Penguin Films have made contact with the following people and organisations for the purpose of sourcing additional material, possible location filming and linking educational programmes.

• ‘Friends with the Universe’ project which formed part of South Africa’s first year of Science and Technology, YEAST, in 1998. The aim of Friends was to use astronomy as a vehicle to promote science amongst the diverse communities in South Africa.
This project is based at the South African Astronomical Observatory.

• South African Astronomical Observatory
PO Box 9, Observatory, 7935, South Africa
Tel +27 21 447-0025 / Fax +27 21 447-3639


Contact: Dr Dave Laney

• Parliamentary Millennium Project
Contact: Zubeida Shaik:
• Cape Town Planetarium
• Artist: Gavin Jantjes
creator of Zulu and cosmos inspired art, currently resident in Oslo. Gavin has given his permission for all his sky lore inspired work to be used in these programmes. Many of them are currently in the collection of the Smithsonian institute in the US.
• Jill Joubert: 021 683 2720 / Colin Stevens: 021 788 8464
Ibhabhathane Project based at Frank Joubert Arts Centre, Newlands, Cape Town.
(facilitators of African Sky mapping art education for children from previously disadvantaged communities in Cape Town)

Project Details

Tags: TV, Documentary

Production Company: Penguin Films

Episodes: 23

Seasons: 2

Year: 2005 - 2007

Back to Top

Warning: Trying to access array offset on value of type null in /home/iviupen/public_html/wp-content/themes/jarvis_wp/functions.php on line 120