The sea-faring cultures of the Torres Strait Islanders have always relied on sophisticated understanding of the stars, seasons, weather, winds and currents both for navigation and for appropriate times to gather, nurture or avoid food plants and animals.
These knowledges are retained by Elders in the Torres Strait, and some basic elements of the knowledge can be shared with non-Indigenous people.
The seasonal calendar shows key elements of the changing seasons in the Torres Strait, such as weather patterns, and key behaviour of marine and terrestrial plants and animals.
The zugubal are also important in the turning of the seasons. These are powerful spirits who influence the seasons, winds and waters, and who can be seen in the sky as stars (constellations). Zugubal are very important to Torres Strait Islander’s lives, governing when to plant, when to hunt and when to hold certain ceremonies.
The best known of the zugubal is Tagai. His form is huge in the sky, and includes stars from several different Western constellations – Crux (Southern Cross), Centaurus (centaur), Lupus (wolf) and Corvus (crow). Tagai’s position heralds seasonal changes, including the monsoon, and is an aid in navigation.
The position of the Milky Way is also used to gauge currents, critical to survival in the Torres Strait. Below is a star map, where zugubal are shown with well-known constellations. The image is of the skies at 10pm on 1 April 2005. Note the orientation of the star map.
These images were produced in 2007 by Education Queensland’s Indigenous Schooling Support Unit (ISSU), Far North Queensland, as part of the Mura Gubal Gedira Torres Strait Cross-Cultural Framework. The calendar was designed by Steve Foster, with additions by Jeff Aniba-Waia and Steve Grady, and all images are reproduced with kind permission.