Navigation: Tuia Mātauranga Curiosity Card

A DigitalNZ Story by National Library Services to Schools

The navigation curiosity card features Ātea a Rangi — a star compass based on traditional Pacific navigation — at Waitangi Regional Park, Napier. Ātea a Rangi features pou (poles) related to the rising and setting points of stars, the sun, and the moon. The image below is a Marshall Islands navigation chart made of sticks tied together. Cowrie shells represented the relative positions of islands.

Replica navigation chart

Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Maui and Mahuika

Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

 WHAKATAUKĪ

"Me mātau ki te whetū, i mua i te kōkiri o te haere"
"Before you set forth on a journey, be sure you know the stars"

BACKGROUND

Māori star compass

Te kapehu whetū — the Māori star compass — divides the 360 degrees around a canoe in the open ocean into different whare (houses). The location of these houses depends on where the sun, moon and stars set and rise.

Source: 'Canoe navigation — Ocean voyaging', URL: http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/diagram/2222/maori-star-compass, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), (published 8-February-2005)

Kāpehu whetū

Ko te mahi a te kāpehu whetū he whakaroherohe i te wāhi taiāwhio i te waka ki ētahi whare. Ka mōhiotia kei hea ngā whare nei mā ngā tohu o te rā, te marama, te kakenga me te toremitanga o ngā whetū. Kātahi ka whakamātau te urungi ki te pupuri i te waka i runga i tētahi huarahi.

Source: 'Te whakatere waka — Te haere i te moana nui', URL: http://www.teara.govt.nz/mi/diagram/2222/kapehu-whetu, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), (published 8-February-2005)

Canoe navigation

Traditional navigators used the rising and setting points of stars and planets as signposts. During the day, the sun was a guide, and in overcast weather, ocean swells and wind direction were used to chart the way. 

Source: 'Canoe navigation', URL: http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/canoe-navigation, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), (published 8-February-2005) 

Te whakatere waka

Ka tohua ngā wāhi e kōhiti ai, e heke ai ngā tūmomo whetū. I te awatea, ko Tama-nui-te-rā te kaitohu i te ara; i te marangai, ko ngā āmai me ngā hau o Tawhirimatea kē.

Source: 'Te whakatere waka', URL: http://www.teara.govt.nz/mi/te-whakatere-waka, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), (published 8-February-2005) 

Early theories

The first explorers had no maps or navigational instruments, and there has been spirited debate among sailors and scholars as to how they settled the region. Early theories ranged from mythical hero navigators who discovered new lands and returned home with sailing directions, to accidental voyagers who drifted away from islands to which they could not return. 

Recent understanding

We now know that migrations were deliberate, because they involved taking the people, plants and animals needed to establish sustainable colonies.

Source: 'Pacific migrations', URL: http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/pacific-migrations/page-5, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), (updated 8-February-2017)

Ngā ariā tōmua

Kāore he mahere whenua, he kāpehu rānei hei awhina i ngā kaihōpara tuatahi ki tēnei pito o te ao. Nā runga i tēnei āhuatanga kua roa te wā e tautohetohe ana te hunga eke moana rātou ko ngā pūkenga mō te āhua o te whakanoho i te rohe nei. Kōrero ai ngā ariā tōmua mō ngā kaumoana rongonui nā rātou ngā whenua hōu i tūhura i mua i tā rātou hokinga ki ngā moutere; me ngā haerenga tūponotanga mai o ērā te hunga i pūhia ō rātou waka kia wehe i ō rātou ake moutere kia tau ki ngā moutere tauhōu, kore mō te hoki. 

Ngā ariā o ēnei tau tata

Kei te mōhio tātou ināianei, he mea āta wānanga ēnei heke a rātou mā i te mea, heria mai ai ko ngā tāngata, ngā tipu, ngā kararehe e tupu ai te pā harakeke i roto i ngā whakatupuranga.

Source: Ngā heke i te Wai Nui', URL: http://www.teara.govt.nz/mi/nga-heke-i-te-wai-nui/page-5, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), (updated 8-February-2017)

The Pleiades

Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Kīngitanga flags: Mahuta's flag

Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Interpretations of Orion

Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage

sextant

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

compass, marine

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira

Quick facts

  • The Ātea a Rangi is a tool that has been used to memorise the celestial bodies’ movements and navigate waka across the ocean for thousands of years. It has been passed down from generation to generation since the times of great explorers such as Māui and Kupe. 
  • The waharoa and pou have been carved from both fallen native logs and from recycled power poles. 
  • In Māori tradition the family of light are the sun, moon, planets, stars and constellations. Tamanui-te-rā, the sun, was the main god of the heavens. The moon was associated with women and fertility. There are many stories to explain the appearance and movement of the planets and stars. Meteors were thought to be a sign of a future event such as the death of a chief. 
  • The maramataka is the traditional Māori calendar, based on cycles of the moon. Māori recognised several star patterns and planets, and planted crops by the moon. 
  • Matariki, or the Māori New Year, commences when the star cluster Pleiades is seen to rise just before dawn in late May or early June. 
  • The full extent of early Māori astronomical knowledge is not known. It is likely that the Polynesians who journeyed to New Zealand navigated by the stars, but much of that knowledge disappeared when Europeans settled the Pacific. 
  • The first European astronomers in New Zealand were James Cook and Charles Green. 
  • In tradition, the ancestors of Māori came to New Zealand from Hawaiki, navigating the seas in their canoes. 

This story was curated and compiled by Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa|National Library of New Zealand, Services to Schools staff, 2019.

'The legend of the voyage to New Zealand'

Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Pacific voyaging

Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Eel [1]. From the installation: Polynesian navigators

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Pacific navigation

National Library of New Zealand

Other resources

Ātea a Rangi — star compass — He kāpehu whetū i hono ai ki ngā tikanga whakatere waka tūturu o Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa. 

Grand Master Mau Piailug and His Star Compass (Youtube video, 6.45) —  Grand Master Navigator Mau Piailug demonstrates his star compass.

Kāpehu whetū — te whakatere waka.

Kāpehu whetū — star compass — navigators who know the direction and position in which the stars rise and set can use the horizon as a compass.  

Maramataka — the Māori lunar calendar.

Navigating by the stars — an activity where students learn the cardinal points of the compass. 

Navigating with sun, moon and planets — knowledge about the apparent movement of the Sun, Moon and planets across the celestial sphereis important for wayfinding. 

Pacific migrations — a map and timeline of early migrations across the Pacific Ocean.

Pacific navigation — resources related to Pacific navigation.

Papa Mau — The Wayfinder — video about the revitalisation of non-instrument navigation.

Project Matauranga — video about traditional navigation.

Revitalising Māori astronomy and navigation — Māori ancestors possessed a wealth of astronomical knowledge that they referred to as tātai arorangi.

Tātai arorangi — i whakamahia e te tohunga, a Mau Piailug he kāpehu whetū pēnei i tēnei.

Tātai arorangi and the wonder of Māori astronomy — Toa Waaka of SMART (Society of Māori Astronomy Research and Traditions) recites and then explains the stars of the Milky Way from a Māori perspective. Audio is in Māori.

Te Whakatere Waka — Ngā heke i Te Moananui-a-Kiwa.

The first astronomers — the Polynesian ancestors of Māori used the stars to navigate the Pacific Ocean on their voyage to New Zealand.

The star compass – kāpehu whetū — stars rise in the eastern horizon and set in the western horizon. Navigators who know the direction and position in which the stars rise, and set can use the horizon as a compass. 

The use of stars in navigation — in making long ocean voyages the ancestors of the Māori carried on their vessels one or two expert star-gazers, men versed in the lore of tātai arorangi.

Traditional navigation — traditional Polynesian navigation (also called non-instrument navigation or wayfinding) means finding your way without any of the tools modern navigators use.

Tupaia’s Chart 1769 — ko te whakawhāititanga o ngā mātauranga a ngā tūpuna mō Te Moana Nui a Kiwa.  He kore noa iho ki ō te pākeha mahere i aua wā. 

Navigation

Radio New Zealand

Fertile questions

  • How has our need and ability to navigate changed over time?
  • Inamata, i pēhea tā te Māori whakatere i Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa?
  • What does it mean to find our way? How can we do it? 
  • What place does traditional knowledge have today?
  • He aha e whai take tonu ai te ako i ngā tikanga whakatere waka a ngā tūpuna o te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa?
  • What is your question?

KUPE: VOYAGING BY THE STARS

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

The godwits' migration

Radio New Zealand

Whale Navigation

Radio New Zealand

Additional questions

  • What interactions occur between the Earth, Moon, Sun and stars? What results from these interactions?
  • How can knowledge of both nature and science be useful?

 This story was curated and compiled by Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa | National Library of New Zealand, Services to Schools staff, 2019.