Māori astronomy school preserves ancient knowledge of the stars

By Te Ao - Māori News

A new astronomy wānanga (school of learning) will hand down ancient knowledge of the stars.

Wānanga co-founder Piripi Lambert says the stars played an important role in all ancient wānanga.

“To understand the ancient whare wānanga and its teachings, you have to understand the stars,” Lambert says.

The new whare wānanga, named Te Whare Tātai Arorangi, will come under the maru of Iramoko marae. Ngāti Awa Pouroto Ngaropo will be running the wānanga.

The ancient role of tohunga kōkōrangi (astronomers) in the old times, was to observe the stars and make predictions. Leaders would base their decisions on these predictions for the good of their people.

Lambert recounted the prediction of a tohunga kōkōrangi named Tuuta Nihoniho in 1910. He observed the movements of Halley's Comet, the moon and Venus in a triangle formation. He interpreted this as a sign that a world war was coming. 

"He said this. These types of tohu cannot be mistaken. They're 100%," Lambert says.

Piripi Lambert talks astronomy - Photo / File

He stated his belief that this prediction was fulfilled in 1914, when World War I began.

Despite the resurgence of matauranga Māori (Māori ancestral knowledge), the danger of losing these teachings is real. Lambert says training tohunga (experts) is key.

"It's important that we train a new generation of tohunga kōkōrangi ... in order for them to go back to their hapū and iwi and revive astronomy back there," Lambert says.

This will enable hapū to have access to tohunga who can make hapū-specific predictions.

Anyone can join the entry-level Te Whare Tātai Arorangi programmes.