Tātai Aroraki – Māori Astronomy

Culturally, the night sky records and anchors our traditions and history. Every people has its stories of the night sky, its practices based on the rising and setting of stars, planets and constellations.

In the early days of European settlement in New Zealand, it was acknowledged that Māori possessed astonishingly detailed knowledge of the night sky and celestial navigation. The movements of constellations, the heliacal rising of stars, the arrival of comets, the phases of the moon and many other astronomical phenomena were noted and examined by them.

This detailed astronomical knowledge resulted in Māori having a precise understanding of the seasons and enabled the ancestors of the Māori people to deliver their waka across the largest expanse of water on the planet using stellar navigation. Astronomical observations regulated the cycle of the Māori year.

The teachers and specialists of Māori astronomical knowledge were known as tohunga kokorangi and tohunga tātai arorangi. Although communities had a general knowledge of tātai arorangi, only a select few were ever taught the more indepth information and given the responsibility to hold and use this knowledge.

In recent years Māori have begun to recover some of that ancient knowledge, and the recently enacted Matariki public holiday is beginning to bring some understanding of that to the attention of the wider public

“Māori looked to the sky for numerous reasons; they read it like a roadmap, not only to mark places and understand where they were, but also to mark time and seasonality. They read the sky to predict the weather patterns, to determine when fish would run, when birds would be big and fat and when the soil would be fertile and ready for planting”

It is our belief that the enjoyment,  understanding and commitment to our Dark Skies will be significantly enhanced by sharing this knowledge and the accompanying stories, and learning in particular aboujt the many locations on our Peninsula that have a deep connection to Tātai Aroraki.