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SMART is comitted to providing resources which your whanau (family) and friends, schools or colleagues can use to teach

and understand the night sky. 


Many ancient civilisations used the heavenly bodies to track the passage of time. The regular motions of the sun, moon and stars, were used as clocks for agriculture, rituals, festivities and other activities (Aveni, 1980, Urton, 1981). Māori used similar methods for their calendrical systems, which were governed by more than one time cycle (Smith, 2011). The first cycle was based on the Sun’s annual motion across the horizon from its northern to southern solstice points. The second cycle was based on the movement of the sky during the year, in particular the movement of the stars, whilst the third was based on the phases of the moon (Smith, 2011). These cycles in conjunction with environmental and biological indicators were used to track the passage of time. All of these combined formed a complex system of understandings called the maramataka.


Across the world indigenous people are seeking to reclaim their traditional knowledge. Within the last fifty years the Māori of Aotearoa-New Zealand have made significant efforts to reclaim their language, arts and science. Part of this renaissance includes a growing Māori movement to reclaim their astronomical knowledge. Māori astronomical understanding was infused throughout much of pre-colonial Māori life, culture and belief. The Sun, Moon and stars were an integral part of practices pertaining to agriculture, architecture, fishing, calendrical systems and exploration. Although early ethnographers attempted to record this knowledge, their works seem to only reflect a somewhat superficial level of understanding. Thus this paper highlights some of the current research being conducted on Māori astronomy, which seeks a greater understanding of how the ancestors of the Māori perceived the heavens.



Māori astronomical knowledge is known as tātai arorangi. In pre-colonial times Māori people in general had a good understanding of the night sky, with more indepth knowledge residing with experts known as tohunga kokorangi and tohunga tātai arorangi. In a modern context only a few knowledgable experts remain, however Māori have committed to the revitalization of their knowledge including tātai arorangi, Māori astronomical knowledge. The breadth and depth of Māori astronomical knowledge withthe expansive and complex relationships that occur between Māori, the stars and their practices is immense. Traditional star lore was infused through much of Māori knowledge and customs from their cosmological origins, waiata (songs), moteatea (chants), whakatauki (proverbs), food growing practices, house building practices and of course one of the most famous aspects of revitalization, Oceanic navigation.



Like many societies, Māori incorporated astronomical knowledge into numerous aspects of their traditional lives; within their cosmologies, religion, warfare, agriculture, architecture, time measurement and navigational practices. Declining knowledge practice and the reduction of knowledge transfer to younger generations has meant that a significant amount of Māori astronomical knowledge has been lost. The last decade has seen a revitalized interest in Māori astronomical knowledge. The celebration of Matariki,1 the Māori New Year, signified by the rising of the Pleiades, has seen interest in Māori Astronomy grow (Dellabarca, 2012). The desire and importance for many to learn and understand this knowledge sparked the initiation of a project designed to collate, preserve and revitalize Māori Astronomical knowledge. Hence the Society of Māori Astronomy Research and Traditions (SMART) was established. A key output of this project is to produce educational resources on Māori Astronomy at all levels from pre-school to higher-level education. Some resources currently in development range from books and other literature, to interactive resources such as websites, ipad applications and planetarium software. Future plans are focused around the production of an outreach programme to schools, which incorporates modern Astrophysical and Māori Astronomical knowledge.


In this paper we present an overview of this project entitled "Māori Astronomy: Modern Astrophysics, and Bridging the Divide".



Measurement of time by means of the sun, moon and stars is an ancient practice. All societies originally depended on day/night length and the occurrence of the solstices as well as the movements of heavenly bodies across the night sky to determine seasons of the year.

Maramataka, or monthly calendars based on the phases of the moon were common practice in Polynesia. Here it formed the basis of the cultural life of the community, acting as an indicator of appropriate times for the onset or cessation of various activities. Foremost among these was their ability to foretell appropriate and inappropriate times for food gathering such as the planting and harvesting of crops and the catching of fish. This knowledge originally came from Eastern Polynesia to Aotearoa -New Zealand in the canoes of the ancestors, where it had to undergo adaptation to a southern hemisphere sky, seasons, and climate.