What image of Africa might aliens have?
In 1977, NASA launched Voyager 1 and 2 to study our solar system. These probes since drifted into outer space, making Voyager 1, the farthest man-made object from Earth and the first to enter the interstellar medium. A Cornell University team, led by astronomer Carl Sagan, coded information about Earth onto phonographic discs known as The Golden Record, to be discovered by aliens.
The Voyager Golden Record includes natural sounds such as animal calls and wind, human sounds including footsteps and laughter, and an hour of human brain-waves. A sampling of the world’s cultures through photography, music and language is also present.
Of Voyager’s 116 images, two are from unspecified African locations: one depicts men building a house, and the other shows women sitting in front of a house.
The music on the Golden Record lasts 90 minutes, with two songs from the continent: “Cengunmé,” a percussion piece by the Mahi musicians of Benin, and “Alima Song,” folk music from the Mbuti people of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Golden Record also contains 59 human-language greetings. Six are African, recorded in !Kung, Zulu, Sotho, Ila, Nyanja and Ganda. They include:
Siya nibingelela maqhawe sinifisela inkonzo ende.
We greet you, great ones. We wish you longevity.
—Zulu (isiZulu) by Fred Dube
Mulibwanji imwe boonse bantu bakumwamba.
How are all you people of other planets?
—Nyanja by Saul Moobola
Musulayo mutya abantu bensi eno mukama abawe emirembe bulijo.
Greetings to all peoples of the universe. God give you peace always.
—Ganda (Luganda) by Elijah Mwima-Mudeenya
Though they tried to represent most of mankind’s major languages in the interstellar greetings, the team was limited by whose native speakers were available to record messages. Linda Sagan, artist and coproducer of the Golden Record later wrote, “there are some regrettable omissions – Swahili is one.”
By Nnenna Onuoha