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Published 31 May 2016 Referencing Hub media
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Early Māori relied on their detailed astronomical knowledge – tātai arorangi – to navigate the ocean, plant crops, harvest kaimoana and to tell the time. With the arrival of Europeans, a lot of this knowledge was lost or misinterpreted in Western retellings.

The Society of Māori Astronomy Research and Traditions (SMART), founded in 2009, aims to preserve and revitalise tātai arorangi.

Transcript

Dr Ocean Mercier

Māori have always been scientists, and we continue to be scientists. Our science has allowed us to live, work and thrive in the world for hundreds of years. My name is Dr Ocean Mercier, and I’m a lecturer in pūtaiao Māori at the Victoria University of Wellington. My job takes me all over the world to talk about Māori science and how traditional knowledge is being married with western science here in Aotearoa in order to find innovative solutions to universal global issues.

In this programme, we’re going to show you how these worlds of science are intersecting and how the paths to our future are being formed.

< Opening titles>

Dr Ocean Mercier

The numerous objects and events that can be observed in the night sky were comprehensively understood by our tūpuna. This astronomical knowledge, known as tātai arorangi, enabled our ancestors to navigate the vast Pacific Ocean and helped them survive the often inhospitable environments of Aotearoa.

Ko te mea pāpouri kē, kua ngaro tēnei momo mātauranga hohonu ināianei (Unfortunately, much of this traditional knowledge has been lost), but a diverse group of Māori enthusiasts and academics have joined forces to preserve and promote the information that remains.

Dr Pauline Harris

I became interested in science and mathematics from a very early age from before I was 10 years old. And this time, that was the period before the 90s, that is where a lot of the renaissance with Māori astronomical knowledge started. And I think just a lack of how much we were taught about things Māori, Māori traditional knowledge, we never heard of anything about Matariki or anything to do with Māori astronomy. We didn’t get taught anything about cosmology. I think I recall maybe doing a piece of artwork in high school, and that really had a significant impact on me in terms of my decision to go into cultural preservation and cultural revitalisation.

Dr Ocean Mercier

Kei te mātai whakamua, kei te mātai whakamuri hoki te roopu SMART – kei te whakakotahi i te tātai arorangi me ngā rangahau tuarangi o te wā. (This group, known as SMART, are looking to the future and to the past – combining the richness of tātai arorangi with the latest in cutting-edge astronomical research.)

No te whare wānanga o Wikitoria a tākuta Pauline Harris, kaiahupūngao kōkōrangi, ā, kei te kimi Aorangi hōu ia i te rerenga o Tama-nui-i-te-rā. Kei roto hoki a tākuta Harris i te roopu SMART – arā, Society of Māori Astronomy Research and Traditions. (At Victoria University, Dr Pauline Harris, astrophysicist, is searching for new planets outside our solar system. Dr Harris is also a member of SMART – the Society of Māori Astronomy Research and Traditions).

Ko tā rātou ko tōna hoa mahi i tēnei wā, he kohi i te mātauranga tātai arorangi e toe ana, hei tohatoha mā rātou ki ngā whakatipuranga-ā-heke. (She and her colleagues are currently engaged in a project to collate all that remains of tātai arorangi and share this rich body of knowledge with future generations.)

Dr Pauline Harris

Most of narratives will refer to the beginning of the universe coming from something called Te Kore which translates to the nothingness, and from that nothingness came aeons of time. That’s how I would interpret it, which are called te pō, and there’s many different te pō or the nights. And from the night, came the birth of Ranginui – the sky father – and Papatūānuku – the Earth mother.

Dr Rangi Matāmua

It’s not too dissimilar to the western scientific understanding of how the universe came into being with the Big Bang. They say that in the beginning, everything was condensed into this mass that was hugely dense and very hot, and then it exploded outwards. Well, in many ways, that’s the understanding that Māori have always had – that the sky and the Earth were pressed together in an embrace and everything that made up what we see, feel and touch existed within that space. But it wasn’t actualised because it was so condensed. The union – the first union of Rangi and Papa – produced the main gods – the pantheon, I suppose – with Tāne being an important figure who separated his parents. And there is a saying, when he separated them, light came into the world. Well, that’s probably the condensed version. The sky went upwards, the Earth stayed below but it was still dark until Tāne hung te whānau mārama or the family of light in the sky.

Dr Pauline Harris

Astronomical knowledge is really important for us and to a lot of our people, because when you talk about astronomical knowledge, that actually infused its way through much of Māori life and traditions – the fact that, when we look at how the universe was formed within our genealogies or our whakapapa, we actually whakapapa back to these stars. So, we fundamentally, within traditional belief, believe that we came from or are related to the stars.

Dr Ocean Mercier

Cosmological origins of the universe vary from iwi to iwi. Ngāti Awa believed the origins of the celestial bodies could be found in the union of Tangotango and Wainui whose tamariki included the Sun, the Moon and the stars.

Dr Rangi Matāmua

Tāne obtained these children, and with the help of Tamarēreti, headed into the sky and placed these objects in the sky. He wanted to adorn the chest of his father and bring light into the world, because while there was space on the separation, there was no light. And so it was only once these things were put in the sky that light came into the world and things came into being.

Dr Takirirangi Smith

The Māori knowledge framework was based around whakapapa kōrero, which were narratives that held a lot of philosophical and technical information. When Europeans analysed a lot of that kōrero, a lot of it was reframed into a historical sort of linear type of analysis so that a lot of those narratives got broken down and redefined as myth or history. So, it had to be historical, otherwise if there was no historical basis, then it must be myth.

Dr Ocean Mercier

Inā te huhua o te mātauranga tātai arorangi i mau ai i ō tātou tūpuna kia mōhio ai rātou ki ngā wā tika mō te whakatō kai, te hī ika, me te whakatere moana. (Our ancestors possessed a wealth of astronomical knowledge that they relied on to determine the passage of time, agricultural and fishing practices as well as navigation.)

E hāngai ana tēnei mātauranga ki tēnā iwi me tōna taiao, ki tēnā iwi me tōna, ā, he mea tuku iho mā roto mai i ngā waiata, ngā kōrero tawhito me ngā toi pērā i te whakairo. (This mātauranga, which was specific to iwi and the environment, was passed down in songs, stories and other art forms like carving.)

Nō te taenga mai o te Pākehā, ka ngaro tēnei mātauranga, ka hē rānei te whakamāoritia ake e ngā mātanga āhua-ā-iwi tuatahi ki tēnei whenua. (Following the arrival of Europeans, much of this knowledge was lost.)

Dr Pauline Harris

I don’t want to be disrespectful to the ethnographers. I think a lot of the work they did was really good and amazing, but in terms of being able to collate another culture’s belief system and another culture’s information in something like tātai arorangi or something else, they will always have a viewpoint and a world view from their own culture. So, you’re always going to have some sort of element that you’re missing.

Dr Ocean Mercier

Ahakoa te ngarohanga o te nuinga o te mātauranga tātai arorangi Māori, tērā ētahi maramara mōhiotanga e mau tonu ana i ngā kaumātua me ngā tuhinga a ngā mātanga āhua-ā-iwi tuatahi. (Although much mātauranga Māori of tātai arorangi has been lost, much still remains within the memories of kaumātua and the accounts of early ethnographers.)

Ko te hiahia o te roopu SMART, he kohikohi i ēnei maramara mōhiotanga nei, ka whakahurahura mai ai i te mātauranga pūtaio o roto. (The members of SMART want to gather together all these primary sources of information and unpack the scientific observations.)

Dr Rangi Matāmua

The stories may seem, I suppose, very fanciful, but there are some basic fundamental scientific principles that lie within those stories.

Dr Ocean Mercier

Tātai arorangi reveals the methodical and scientific approach that our ancestors took when observing the world. I tino whai mana tēnei mātauranga ki ā rātou mahi o ia rā. (And these astronomical observations had a profound influence on everyday life.)

Planting, fishing and other activities were influenced by their understanding of the heavens, and exploring the knowledge embedded within these activities is one way SMART are rejuvenating this lost knowledge.

Tātai arorangi was a detailed and comprehensive astronomical knowledge system that had enormous influence on the lives of our tūpuna. Unfortunately, much of this mātauranga Māori has been lost. But a group of astronomical enthusiasts and academics, known as SMART, are collating all that remains and sharing this with future generations.

Mā te mātauranga nei, ka mārama anō tātou ki ngā pūnaha mātauranga me te āhua noho o ō tātou tūpuna. (This valuable information sheds new light on our traditional knowledge systems and ways of life.)

Dr Pauline Harris

Our primary source is talking to our elders and getting the kōrero from them, and then also what we want to do and what we are doing is looking into trying to look at the original manuscripts. We try and find information or snippets of information around astronomical knowledge.

Te Wehi Wright

I read through manuscripts or just transcripts, whatever I can find that has reference to any cosmological or astronomical knowledge. It just shows how little we know about this kind of stuff. I mean, some of the stuff that I’ve been reading about, it would have just been basic or, you know, astronomy 101 to them. But for us, its information that’s been hidden away for so long.

Dr Rangi Matāmua

There was a time, I think, where your knowledge of your environment was necessary in order for you to survive. If you didn’t understand the movements of animals or the changing of the seasons, then, really, you didn’t last too long, and so that knowledge was very strong within all tribes. There were different names, different stories, and this gave Māori astronomy such richness, such depth.

Dr Pauline Harris

Since there’s been a long period of time since colonisation, there’s been a lot of effects that have been detrimental on traditional knowledge being carried on. So, in terms of astronomical knowledge, you know, there was a significant hit on just how much astronomical knowledge was passed on and how much is practised today. So, you won’t see a uniform spread of astronomical knowledge across the country. I’ve been to places that have hardly any, and then you go to other places and you talk to some people and they have significantly a lot more. I would rather reference the original people – our Māori philosophers – instead of referencing it to the ethnographers. And then before them, it would’ve come from someone else, right, but referencing it back to our Māori philosophers. 

There’s thousands of pages that we have to trawl through, and you know, once in a while, there will be, I mean, it’s hard to quantify just how often something pertaining to star lore will come up. It’s not very often and then it will come in clusters, like someone telling a whole story to do with the star Vega and it pertaining to Whānui – so there are some references: “That of all the Moons, That of all the stars, And that of all the Be-spaced Heavens!” So, yeah, once in a while, once in a blue moon!

Dr Takirirangi Smith

Ko te ahua o te whare whakairokei a ia he whakapapa he korero, ko te ahua o te whare ko te ahua ano tena o te rangi e tu nei, e piri ana ki te whenua ra o Papatuanuku e takoto nei, ko te ahua kei mua ko te rangi e tu nei. I nga ra o mua ka takoto nga whare hangai ana atu ki te runga o te ra, kia rere te ra ka rere ma te tahuhu o te rangi are te ara whanui o tane tetahi atu ingoa e orite ana ki te tahuhu o te whare nei, ko te ingoa whanui ko te tahuhu huru nui o te rangi. Na kia whiti mai te ra I te ata ka pa mai nga hihi o te ra kit e pare ka rere a hine nui te po ki roto I te whare ara ki te wahi pouri o te whare ara ki te tuarongo, a ka to te ra ki te rua ki runga ra katahi ano a Hine nui te po ka hoki mai ki tona nohoanga ki runga ra I te tatau.

(A carved house holds genealogy and history. The form of the house is like the sky above with its connection to earth – Papatūānuku. The area in front is like the sky above. In the old days, the house would be built facing towards the sunrise. The Sun will journey to the uppermost reaches of the sky known as Te-ara-whānui-o-Tāne. It is like the ridge pole of this house. The true name is Tāhūhū-hurunui-o-te-rangi. When the Sun rises in the morning, the rays of the Sun hit the lintel, Hinenui-te-pō enters the house to the darkest part of the house, the back wall. When the Sun sets, Hinenui-te-pō returns to her resting place above the door.)

Dr Pauline Harris

Astronomical knowledge is really important for us and to a lot of our people because we have cosmology, we have the way we used to plant, the way we used to harvest and also the way we used to tell the time or how we used to orientate our buildings.

Dr Rangi Matāmua

One of the very important aspects of Māori astronomy was the use of the stars to denote season and time, and this was done by viewing the various stars that rose in the morning just before the Sun. Because the stars rise 4 minutes earlier every day, the star that sits on the horizon will let you know what season it is. So, if it’s winter, Takurua will be the star that sits on the horizon. It comes up just before the Sun, and in the summertime, it’s Rehua. Similarly, the lunar calendar was a very important part of Māori astronomy, and the maramataka let Māori know what event could be undertaken on a particular day and what day it was. It varied from tribe to tribe, from region to region. Some maramataka have as many as 32 days. Others have 28, and inevitably they got out of synch, so they were reset with the rising of Matariki or Pleiades, and the full Moon after Pleiades became the new Moon, the full Moon and reset the Māori calendar.

Dr Takirirangi Smith

Kei roto i te whare, ara, kei te ngakau o te whare. Kei runga ra ko te tahuhu. Na, mai i te tuarongo tae noa ki te ihi o te whare kei te piki te tahuhu no te mea kei te tuarongo kei roto i te pouritanga ko te ahua ano tena o te timatanga aa ka piki ra ki te ihi o te whare kei reira ano a Pou-tere-rangi i roto i te roro o te whare. Ko te ahua ano tena o nga rangi tuhaha. Kei runga ra i etahi wa kei runga i te tahuhu ko te Ikaroa, me kii ko te Milky Way me one ahuatanga heoi kei te piki ano i roto i te rangi. (Inside the house is the heart of the house. Above here is the ridge pole. From the back wall to the front, the ridge pole is up high. The back wall is in darkness. That portrays the beginning. Coming to the top of the house, at times, Pou-tere-rangi is there on the porch of the house. That is the portrayal of the heavens. Above the ridge pole at times is the Milky Way and all that it is, but it climbs into the sky.)

Dr Rangi Matāmua

Māori astronomy has a very strong connection with planting and harvesting of crops. The bounty of the crops would’ve been predicted when Matariki rose. For these kūmara, they would’ve been connected to one of the stars within Matariki, within the Pleiades group called Tipu-ā-nuku. Tipu-ā-nuku means to grow in the ground. People knew that the food grown in the Earth – the kūmara, the taro – would be very bountiful. Various days were very good for planting crops, and other days were not so good. As an example, rākaunui, or the full Moon, was a very good time within my own tribe to plant crops because the Moon was thought to draw water nearer the surface, and when the seedling went into the ground, it was quick to take up that water that was closer to the surface, and the crop would grow a lot larger. So, these are important traditional science that many people of all cultures still use to plant today.

Dr Ocean Mercier

It wasn’t just our understanding of the times to plant that was defined by tātai arorangi. Our ancestors used this knowledge ki te whakatere i te whānuitanga o te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa, tae noa mai ki Aotearoa (to sail vast distances across the Pacific and eventually settle in Aotearoa). Unlocking this knowledge would be essential in gaining a greater understanding of tātai arorangi. 

The vast distances sailed by our ancestors across the Pacific ranks as one of the great achievements of human exploration. This remarkable feat was partly made possible by an indepth understanding of astronomy or tātai arorangi. By understanding the position and movement of the stars, the first settlers of Aotearoa were able to calculate their position and the direction they were headed.

Ko Hotu Kerr tētahi o ngā tohunga whakatere waka hōu, e whakaaraara ake ana i te mātauranga whakatere waka o mua. (Hotu Kerr is one of a new generation of Māori navigators who are reinvigorating this ancient method of navigation.)

Hoturoa Kerr

When you’re out on the ocean, you’re in the middle of a circle, and that circle is the horizon. It goes right around you, and so what you need to be able to do is to be able to tell where north, south, east, west are and any other directions relative to north, south, east and west, because that’s the kind of information that you need to know to be able to tell which direction your canoe’s travelling.

With the stars, they rise in the same spot on the horizon all the time, and they set in the same spot on the horizon all the time. So when you’ve learnt which stars rise in which parts of the horizon, what that does then has started giving you marks and clues on the horizon as to where such a particular direction is. So, if you see a star rising in one spot, you measure that or you take a reading relative to the direction that your waka’s sailing. That’ll tell you whether or not you’re sailing in the right direction or not.

Dr Ocean Mercier

Traditional Polynesian sailors developed a sophisticated system that enabled them to navigate from the relative position of the stars. Today, this system is called a star compass. A star compass is based upon a view of the horizon that places the waka at the centre of a circle and divides the horizon into 32 equally sized houses. These houses represent the known rising and setting points of specific stars. By knowing these constant points, navigators were able to estimate the direction in which their waka was sailing. To use the star compass effectively, our ancestors needed to memorise the precise order in which constellations rose and set.

Hoturoa Kerr

As a way of teaching and retaining the knowledge, what you can do is set up a storyline that starts with one star or constellation and moves through. And so through the process of the night, as the story unfolds, different stars start to come up over the horizon, different stars will start to set and so you have a sequence of events that are told by a series of stars as they rise, move across the sky and set. So if you know a story that aligns to this, then you’d use that and you’d show them, and then as time goes on, as that story’s being told, people know that, once one star comes and it moves out of the story, that in another part of the horizon, another star will be rising.

Dr Rangi Matāmua

Being on the ocean for months at end and having to trust in the different environmental changes, your knowledge of your environment and having to go back into the stories and the prayers and believe that they weren’t just stories and prayers but the names and the events that are recorded had a scientific principle that would get you from one point to the other.

Hoturoa Kerr

You know, our ancestors were great designers, they were great navigators, they were great astronomers and they knew what they were doing. And in effect, they were scientists, and so what happens is that, by the things that we do with the SMART Trust and, you know, not just the waka things but everything we do in terms of the traditional knowledge base of our people, it starts to show people that we don’t come from a history of superstition and ignorance, but we come from a history of science and knowledge.

Dr Pauline Harris

A lot of our old knowledge was written down by our philosophers from around about the late 1800s, and they’re really valuable resources because these are as close as we’re going to get to what we used to think in precolonial times. So, I mean, that’s really exciting, that raw information. At school, we’re only taught, well, when I was at school, we were only taught about Rangi and Papa, and that was it, if we were lucky. OK, and the sort of information in here, I mean, not all of it would be appropriate to teach our children, but I think a more indepth knowledge about how our ancestors viewed and theorised about the formation of the universe, that’s what I want my children to know more about.

So, I study the stars, and I study the planets, OK, which is really, really cool, like, I really enjoy it. But I also study our star stories and stars that our tīpuna used to believe in, OK. 

I think these days, you know, people are a lot more disconnected with the environment around them and also things to do with the sky. You know, in the old days, in traditional times or the old days, for many people around the world, they were more connected to the movement or to the sky – the celestial bodies – and they were also more familiar about how the sky moved, and that’s one thing that I’d really like to kind of recreate with our youth. To have that connection and that awareness about – not just with Māori belief – but also within scientific belief just how big the universe is. What sort of things are in the universe and even just being able to stand here at night time and be able to look at the sky and be able to tell how things move and how things change and just become a lot more aware of space and their surroundings.

Dr Rangi Matāmua

We’ve got people looking for new planets and new galaxies, and we need to be part of that. Now, our ancestors, if we look at our own traditions, travelled into the heavens to seek knowledge. They travelled into the heavens to place the stars. That’s part of who we are, and I don’t think that we should be just content perhaps just to maintain our traditional knowledge but understand that and also merge that together with a greater science community, because not only do I think that we have a lot to learn from mainstream science, I think mainstream science has a lot to learn from indigenous science. Together, I think, we can enrich the science field, and for me, I think a collective approach really will add value to astronomy in general.

Dr Ocean Mercier

By unlocking the knowledge of our tūpuna, the academics and astronomy enthusiasts of SMART are ensuring that the mātauranga that remains is preserved. Their mission is to ensure the survival of tātai arorangi through engaging a new generation with the knowledge of their ancestors. Perhaps one of these youngsters, inspired by this mātauranga, will be instrumental in expanding our understanding of space.

Acknowledgements
Video courtesy of Scottie Productions.
© Scottie Productions, 2013.