Dr. Rangi Mātāmua hopes to revive Māori astronomy

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

Astronomer Te Kōkau Himiona Te Pikikōtuku's account of his people's Matariki tradition has been recorded by his great grandson Dr Rangi Mātāmua in his new book Matariki, The Star of the Year.

The Waikato University academic took on the challenge of publishing the 400-page manuscript he inherited from his father Timi Rāwiri, Te Kōkau's grandson, in 1995.

Matariki is a symbolic cluster of stars that holds a number of traditions for Māori, the most significant being that it marks beginning of the Māori new year. However, Dr Matamua maintains that there is confusion between the moon calendar and solar calendar.

Mātāmua says, “I'm saying that we're looking for it at the wrong time, too early. Sometimes we are celebrating Matariki at a time when it's still below the earth.”

Rangi says we shouldn't buy into the belief that the month we know as Pipiri is June. June is factored using the solar year and Pipiri is factored using the lunar year.

“Most of the time, the right time to find Matariki is at the end of June, or the beginning or middle of July. That’s Pipiri on the Māori calendar.”

Dr Rangi Mātāmua wants to revive Māori astronomy.

“The stories are there. Since Tāne travelled to the heavens to hang the stars. The stars are a tribe of chiefs. Knowledge is the sustenance of chiefs. Therefore the knowledge is there amongst the chiefs suspended in the sky.”

Wishing upon a star, Dr Rangi Mātāmua has a vision that he hopes will attract and educate Māori youth and those passionate about astronomy and the knowledge and wisdom embedded within the stars.

“I want to set up a Māori observatory. The idea is that it will be similar to the traditional observatories while incorporating knowledge from the modern world.”

The Museum awards will be held tomorrow night, while the book Matariki - The Star of the Year will be formally launched on Wednesday.