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Ed Sheeran

Polynesian astronomy in spotlight

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The return of Hawaiian voyaging canoe Hokule’a to Aotearoa is a reminder of the value of traditional Polynesian navigation based on observation of the heavens and the environment.

Over the next couple of years researchers from the University of Waikato, Victoria University of Wellington, and the University of Hawai‘i will delve further into those astronomical traditions with the help of a $710,000 Marsden Fund grant.

Lead researcher Rangi Matamua says the project, called Te Mauria Whiritoi: The sky as a cultural resource, is a chance to preserve a significant body of Maori astronomical knowledge that might otherwise be lost.

Dr Matamua, who has been obsessed with the subject since being given his great great grandfather’s 400 page manuscript on traditional astronomy, says the fact Maori and Hawaiians both have ceremonies around the star cluster Matariki or Pleiades shows how knowledge has travelled the Pacific.

" Maori astronomy is still embedded in things like waiata and karakia and in place names. We want to explore that in more depth. We want to also triangulate the knowledge that exits of rising of different stars or astronomical bodies, with certain viewpoints and locations. You could call them traditional observatories with ecological events and how that manifests itself into ceremony " he says.

Dr Matamua says the project should generate resources for schools and other interested people so traditional astronomy can find a place in modern Maori society.


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