Science and Culture

By Betty Kituyi (Coordinator Café Scientifique Uganda)

Mathew (Betty's son) at culture day at Daffodils Academy

Mathew (Betty’s son) at Daffodils Academy’s culture day

I recently (23 September to 4 October 2013) led a group of astronomers from the GaileoMobile project on an expedition in five of our Ugandan Café Sci secondary schools. This was a highly practical science experience for students and teachers as they learnt about planets, stars and observations of the sky through the telescope.

Who knew that astronomy could connect cultures just as we recently discovered on this trip. Not only were the GalileoMobile team members diverse in cultures coming from different countries across the world, they led by example and provoked our students to translate astronomy related terms in their local languages. The translation of astronomy into the numerous Ugandan languages became one of the most popular activities as students crowded around the boards, consulted and discussed with their peers about astronomy in Acholi, Luganda, Lugisu, Lunyankole etc! This was fun! The team members after recording the verbal translations of astronomy to Ugandan languages appealed to the students to keep their local languages alive!

By coincidence, at the time I was writing this post, it was my son’s culture day at Daffodils Academy. He dressed in a few assorted Bagisu cultural items for circumcision, imbalu, that included a hair band; coloured beads he wore on top of his t-shirt across the neck and running through the lower abdomen; a scuff tied around his waist to make it more flexible during the dance and a whisk which is a preserved monkey’s tail.

Matthew told me at the end of the day that the culture day was interesting. He said he represented the Bagisu tribe in his school by telling them about our greeting – Mulembe, Oryena, Bulayi … He said this in quick succession meaning peace, how are you and am well! When I asked him to describe other activities of the day, he said there was drama about circumcision by the Bagisu, a traditional wedding, songs and dances. He said he liked the Indian Dance so much he nearly cried! I pretended I hadn’t heard my son properly when he said this, so I asked him to repeat what he just said and he went, ‘I liked the Indian dance so much I nearly cried’. I was happily tickled by this sentimental side of my soon to be nine year old son! But he also liked the Kinyankole and Teso dances.

Celebrating culture days in schools is a good thing. The children not only find their identity, they connect with their emotions.

Just like in the recently concluded GalileoMobile expedition in Uganda, integrating local language in interpreting science related concepts may go a long way in influencing attitudes towards the subject and hence a wonderful way of culturally examining science.

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