Rangatahi encouraged to learn Māori astronomy

By D'Angelo Martin

A Māori guide at a new astronomy centre is providing a refreshing twist to the stories of the sky told from a Māori and scientific point of view. 

Alex Solomon of Ngāi Tahu descent is one of the few staff at the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Experience who is Māori and able to share his knowledge of the stargazing experience from a Māori point of view. The new $11 million building was opened for business on Monday and is a world-first, fully-immersive astronomy experience, like no other. 

"This place is amazing, one thing that really stands out for me is the fact that we not only combine Māori astronomy and science to tell the story, but the two stand as equal and, therefore, balanced," says Solomon.

Solomon focuses on telling stories from a Māori perspective. Guests often walk-in unfamiliar with these stories, but walk out knowledgeable and informed. 

"I am fortunate to have landed a position as a tour guide here. I am so lucky to be able to educate and inform the hundreds who come in for the experience about the sky and the knowledge of the celestial bodies above."

Before this building was established, the summit of Ōtehīwai (Mt John) was the centre point for this experience, now the new facility is the home for astronomy in the heart of the reserve. 

Rāwiri Higgins, a rūnanga member of Tekapō working party, says, "All these place names have significance and links to the heavens and to the sky above us. The mountain range behind us is significant because many of these mountains are named after the stars."

Solomon urges more Māori youth to step in and step up. "Soon in time, I want Māori youth who descend from Ngāi Tahu to be able to come and fill in these positions. To be able to tell these stories from a Māori point of view, but also from a scientific point of view also."

Solomon will continue to guide the crowds through a Māori journey of the stars.