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Māori Astronomy

a pahiCredit: taimaui.org, courtesy of Herb Kawainui Kane

 

 

There is little doubt that throughout human history, the Tangata Pasifika were the most excellent celestial navigators. They had to be! While living on such tiny specs of islands in the middle of a vast ocean that spans one third of the entire planet, navigation at sea was an essential survival skill.

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globe oceania

Stars and constellations were intensively used for this purpose at night and the Sun during the day. They had other means as well such as ocean currents, prevailing winds, reflection waves, cloud formations and the occurrence of seaweeds, behaviour of sea birds, etc. But celestial navigation must have been the core of their skills to find their destination, and even more importantly, the way home.

 

The rising or setting of celestial objects, depending on the time of year gave directions on the horizon. Among the circumpolar stars and constellations, the Southern Cross gave a direction, depending on the time of year and how it was oriented in the sky.

 

Celestial objects were also important as markers of the seasons, and the heliacal rising of the Pleiades (Matariki) or Rigel (Puanga) were the key objects that related to identifying mid-winter or the beginning of the Māori New Year.

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starsocean pleiades fs
Southern Cross (Mahu-tonga)
above horizon (centre of image)
Matariki
"Eyes of God"

 

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