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One Eye on the Heart of Sky and One Eye on the Heart of Earth

Presentation #336.04 in the session “Collaboration with Integrity: Partnerships with Indigenous Communities in the Americas and Polynesia”.

Published onJan 11, 2021
One Eye on the Heart of Sky and One Eye on the Heart of Earth

The Ki’kotemal School, or “School of Happiness” in the K’iche’ Mayan language of Guatemala, is a community-focused learning space involving youth and elders from the K’iche’ and Mam areas of the Guatemalan highlands. The astronomical knowledge of our Maya ancestors is alive today in our calendar practices that are tied to food sovereignty and cultural teachings. The cosmos, with its manifestations and cycles of Earth and sky, continues to be a source of cultural as well as scientific information. Our grandparents traditionally utilized their knowledge of the Universe at macro and micro scales to interpret integrated ecological systems. In collaboration with elders, the goal of the Ki'kotemal School is to engage Maya youth in science and culture by “putting one eye on the heart of the sky and another eye on the heart of the Earth (“U Wach U Kaj, U wach Ulew” in the K’iche’ Mayan language). This approach is intended to build capacity in our youth to understand the influence of the cycles of the Sun, the Moon, the planet Venus in particular, and the 13 Maya constellations on our traditional agricultural processes. We place emphasis on observation-based astronomy to time the optimal moments for planting, growth, and harvest of our native foods such as maize, beans, squash, and chile, as well as medicinal plants. We will share a workshop experience that brought together western astronomers and indigenous knowledge holders to build the capacity in youth and elders in astronomy and microscopy. The workshop design used telescopes and microscopes to observe the world at multiple scales, encouraging participants to select culturally relevant foods and celestial bodies as the focus of study. Such culturally based approaches honor the scientific legacy of our ancestors, celebrate the knowledge of our elders, and strengthen the indigenous identify of our youth.

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