Dogon Star, Mali
At the edge of the Sahara desert, out Timbuktu way, is a series of houses and granaries carved into the cliff face of the Bandiagara Escarpment. Scattered around the houses, crammed into every available nook and cranny and perilously clinging to the cliff edge, are gardens and vegetable plots happily sprouting green things. For brown thumbs who can kill a plant at twenty paces just by looking at it, this grow-factor is a minor miracle. But the Dogon, who live on the escarpment, have even greater surprises up their boubous.
Every 60 years the Dogon take part in the Sigui Festival, a celebration which marks the single orbit of a tiny dwarf star around its primary star - it's this small, seemingly insignificant bit of cosmic dust that controls the Dogon's agrarian calendar. So far the system seems to be working a green treat.
But even more amazingly, although the Dogon have used the star as their sow-and-reap index for over a thousand years, it is so small that it wasn't 'discovered' until the 1970s when high-powered telescopes came on the market. Western astronomers refer to it as Sirius B, but the Dogon name for it (Po Tolo) translates as 'the smallest seed of a star'; they also claim that it's the heaviest star around. Curiously enough, this mirrors contemporary description of it as a 'white, dwarf star'.
Ask a Dogon about this uncanny astronomical talent and you'll probably get a very vague reply; sacred rituals and tribal knowledge tend to be carefully guarded. This much they will say: the knowledge of Po Tolo was brought to them by a group of amphibious extraterrestrials called the Nommos.
These aliens were more fishlike than human and had to live in water most of the time and their name meant to 'make one drink'. They were also known as Masters of the Water, the Monitors, or the Teachers, and Dogon mythology, or rather the interpretation of that mythology, has it that the Nommos will return to the earth one day, this time in human form.
Sceptics say the Dogon's prescient astronomical knowledge is the type of 20/20 vision that comes with hindsight, and that knowledge of the star came directly from western sources and was retrospectively incorporated into Dogon mythology. Supporters of the Dogon insist that their knowledge of the star preceded modern day telescopes. Fence sitters are doing an awful lot of stargazing and waiting to see if 'Emme Ya' turns up. Emme Ya is the name given by the Dogon to a third star in the Sirius system - a red dwarf star - that they insist is also up there in the sky, orbiting Sirius A.
So far nothing has turned up but if it does the sceptics are bound to take a hammering.http://www.lonelyplanet.com/theme/twilight_zone/zone_dogon.htm