Ad Wer (Story of the Stars) – Tommy Pau
Ad Wer is a body of work by Tommy Pau on constellations used by eastern Torres Strait Islanders. The body of work is lino prints relating to eastern Torres Strait astronomy. There are other star constellation used by Torres Strait Islanders in the west and central regions, but the ones here are specifically used by eastern Torres Strait Islanders.
Ad Wer is: sacred star stories. The work is about Torres Strait Islander’s science of astronomy. The methodology of the Islanders was the result of careful observation over thousands of years. Each observation was carefully etched into memory and stored. These memories are bought forth by nature’s timely calendar and passed down visually and orally as they happen in real life. This real life experience is what gives the memory or oral culture its validity as nothing is as lasting to a person’s life and memory as real life experiences. Minute comparison of natural seasonal timestamp changes are mentally documented as supporting evidence to predict present and future planning for agriculture and hunting.
The work is not meant to be an astronomy study. However, great care has been taken to accurately match western constellations with Torres Strait Islanders constellations for comparative study. Some stars, such as the two sister stars: Waisu or Mune (virgina) and Adud Wer (Evil Star) have not been identified with their western counterparts. The speculation given here is that they are stars from Libra.
The work’s intent is to preserve, educate and provoke future studies on the science of stars Torres Strait Islanders used. This work visually documents Islander’s astronomy in an attempt to preserve and maintain the Ad Wer. This knowledge is fast disappearing as reliance on modern technology and modern methods are taught and a lack of interest in old ways by the contemporary generations. Haddon even noticed this decline of knowledge in 1888, when he first came to the Torres Strait. Haddon, in my view, preserved Torres Strait Islanders existence in his ethnographic records. In his words,
I spoke to them about their past and soon found that the young men knew extremely little about it and they always referred me to the old men. I had previously found that practically none of the Europeans in the islands knew or cared anything about the customs of the natives or their former beliefs.. … I therefore considered it my duty to record as much as was possible (Haddon, 1935. vol. 1, p.vi).
Only a very fragmentary account of the astronomy of the people was obtained. It is not easy in a short time to map out the sky completely according to native ideas, and in both parts of Torres Straits the difficulties were increased by the fact that the natives were forgetting their star-lore and were uncertain about the identity of stars which we know to have been of the greatest importance in the old life of the people. (Haddon,1935, vol. 4, p. 218).
The amazing and comparative connection revealed is how cultures look at the same objects and give their own explanation. Thus Indigenous knowledge should be a valuable reference as Torres Strait Islanders were not wrong in their interpretation but used their own myths to explain their cosmology as did great cultures like the Greeks.
Careful observation of stars by our Lu Giz (ancestors) guided Islanders to understand and acquire the knowledge of nature’s time and temperament to aid them in their pursuits of life. Studying the symbiotic relationship of space and nature enabled them to tell the time to plant, harvest, hunt and to perform ceremonies guided by the stars. The Islanders observed the rotation of constellations and gave them names related to their world. So the Milky Way is explained by the western Islanders as sand kicked up by a shovel nose shark feeding in the sea (see the Wer Tik linocut where the direction of the Milky Way tells Islanders which direction the tide is running and if the tide is high or low). Thus Islanders were able to read nature to their advantage and work with nature for sustainability of their island cosmos.
Growing up we were awakened early to observe the rest of the day’s event by looking at the sky for signs and begin our chores before going to school or meet with cousins and friends to play. As in olden days, old men woke early to observe the sky and stars to tell what kind of day it will be. They also did this at the evening watch to predict what tomorrow will be like.
My father told me a story about Darnley Islanders working off Lockhart River, in North Queensland. Late in the afternoon one of my Great Uncles died and the skipper, Kailu George of the Dalasa, a lugger owned by the Sailor families, knew it was his duty to take the body back to Darnley Island. So he plotted a course using the stars, matchstick and matchbox, for Darnley Island. That afternoon they set sail from Lockhart River using the stars and the crude navigation instrument taught to them by the Japanese, avoiding the hundreds of reefs that lay between Lockhart and Erub. They sailed all night to drop anchor at Medigee harbor in the early morning next day for the families to come and take the body ashore. This is a modern example of Islanders utilising their knowledge of the stars and mind maps of reefs and passages to navigate the waters they traverse expertly and safely.
The references used to create this body of work were sourced from casual conversations with elders, present, elders past and ethnography works on the Torres Strait. I would like to acknowledgment those that imparted their knowledge of TS constellation and the memory of those that have given me the knowledge to create this work:
• My wife, Edith Pau
• Ettie Pau, OAM, (Deceased, 19– -1997), ex-serviceman and Human Rights proponent
• Paul and Wendy Satchell, collaborator and financier
• Bill Young, printer
• Gecko Studio Gallery, Fish Creek
• Umbrella Contemporary Studio, Director, Vicky Salisbury
• Dr. Gretchen Stolte
• Dr. Duane Harmucher
• Patrick Whap, Mabuiag elder and Linguist
• William Saylor, 2014 Erub elder, Skipper and ex-serviceman and
• Others who have contributed to this work not mentioned here.