Have you ever seen the Milky Way as it curves around the night sky like the softest cashmere blanket? If you live in the industrialised world the answer is probably not, as light pollution acts as a stellar dimmer switch. Yet, desert living people such as the Berbers still look skyward and see the glory of the heavens around them.
On a visit to the Sahara a Berber tribesman commented to me as he pointed upwards ‘See, we have the best widescreen television in the world’. As I gazed at the heavens I had to concede he had a point. The desert sky is awe inspiring. The Berbers seem to have a special relationship with the firmament; they often travel at night navigating by the stars to avoid the desert sun. The Berbers are particularly interested in the Pleiades which the Tuareg Berbers call Cat ihe or Cat aha (Daughters of the Night), but which other Berbers know as Amanar (The Guide) or Tagemmunt (The Group). They use this constellation as a guide to the seasons and the Tuareg Berbers have a saying:
When the Pleiades fall, I wake up looking for my goatskin bag to drink. When the Pleiades rise, I wake up looking for a cloth to wear.
This means when the Pleiades fall with the sun in the West, the hot season is coming but when they rise in the East with the sun the cold season is due. As I looked at the Berber men with their bright blue robes I couldn’t help thinking, they might be a desert people but they could just as easily be called a people of the sky.