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The Astronomical Knowledge of the Maori, Genuine and Empirical

The Distribution and Fixing of the Heavenly Bodies

The Distribution and Fixing of the Heavenly Bodies.

It was Tane who was responsible for the distribution of the Whanau Marama, the Shining Ones. He it was who caused them to be adjusted on the body of the Sky Father, there to illuminate heaven and earth. Tane brought light into the world. In the Bay of Plenty version of the myth Tane is said to have visited Tangotango to remark, “How brightly gleam the Children of Light!” And Tangotango asked, “For what purpose do you require them?” Tane replied, “To relieve our darkness, that light may shine across the breast of our Mother.” Even so Hinatore (phosphorescent light) was given to him and placed on the breast of Rangi (the sky). Feeble indeed was the light emitted by Hinatore, and darkness held fast. Tane procured the stars, and now dim light was seen. He next brought the moon, and light became stronger. Then Tane placed the sun on high, and bright light entered the world. Thus the Ao marama, the realm of light, this light-possessing world, came into being.

In the Takitumu version of the myth Tane is said to have sent Kewa, one of the offspring of Rangi and Papa, the Sky Father and Earth Mother, to far Maunga-nui to obtain the children of Te Ahuru, that they might be taken to dwell with their grandparent Rangi. Kewa applied to Tangotango and the other guardians of the whanau atua, or supernatural offspring—so called page break because their mother was a supernormal being. So were the Shining Ones taken to adorn the breast of Rangi; hence we see sun and moon, with their young relatives, moving across the front of Rangi, the Sky Parent.

The Whanau Marama were placed in baskets to be so transferred. The basket in which the sun was placed was named Rauru-rangi, that of the moon was Te Kauhanga, while that of the stars was Te Ikaroa (the Milky Way). Atutahi (Canopus) was not put in the basket, but hung or attached outside it; hence it still remains outside the Milky Way.

Another version shows that the heavenly bodies were put on Uruao, the Canoe of Tama-rereti, for conveyance and distribution—possibly the baskets containing them were so carried. That canoe is now seen gleaming in the heavens; it is Te Waka o Tama-rereti (the Canoe of Tama-rereti), called by the white man the “Tail of the Scorpion.” One Tupai, another member of the heavenly offspring, recited a long karakia (invocation, charm, &c.) over the canoe “Uruao.” This archaic formula is of great length and considerable interest, inasmuch as it makes appeals to Io, the Supreme Being of the Maori pantheon. As, however, it refers largely to canoes it is not considered worth while to insert it here.

The Ika-o-te-rangi (another name for the Milky Way) was placed in the middle of the little suns (stars) in order that he might protect and cherish them. Tama-rereti and his assembly were placed as guardians of the canoe “Uruao.” The sun was placed on the breast of Rangi (sky), the moon on his stomach, while the little suns (stars) were arranged all over his body, head, and limbs. Then Tane and his brethren looked, and behold! their parent was now of a fine appearance; his face was illuminated, his body bathed in light, while his grandchildren ever roamed across his body.

Then Rangi said to the Milky Way, “Let our ‘little sun’ offspring cling to you for shelter, that you may ever act as a sign of approaching day, and so that our grandchildren may steadily pursue their courses.” And now was light widely diffused and illuminating the body of the Earth Mother.

An important task was the laying-down of the courses for all the heavenly bodies, and Te Ikaroa (Milky Way), Rongomaitahanui, and Rongomai-taharangi were appointed to perform this task. These were the three poutiriao, or guardians of the seasons, who kept the seasons in their places, and so prevented winter intruding on the domain of summer. These were the beings who laid down the ara matua (the main road) and its branches, so that the Children of Light (the heavenly bodies) might move on their courses without interfering with each other. Presumably this ara matua is the zodiac, which has divisions by which some of the luminaries move on their courses. It is Te Ikaroa who guards the ara matua and the stars, and when so appointed he received his fuller name of Te Ika-roa-o-te-rangi. There are many names for the Galaxy. Rongomai-taharangi was placed to the right of the Milky Way that he might take care of the Ra-kura, or red sun, while Rongomai-tahanui was located on the left side to guard Autahi (Canopus) and the younger ones. One authority page 12 has stated that these two Rongo personify space; if so, the spaces are probably those on either side of the Milky Way.

It was now found that the heat of the sun was unbearable. The body of the Earth Mother dried up and became dust; the eye of man could see naught. For at that period the body of Papa, the Earth Mother, was without covering. So now Tane said to Te Ikaroa (Milky Way), “Space out the courses of the little suns and the moon that we may obtain sleep. Move the sun forward, there to traverse his course, while you and the younger ones follow behind; he will conduct you on your various ways.” This was done, and so night and day alternated; the day was apportioned to the ruddy sun, while the night was awarded to the Milky Way, the moon, and his younger relatives.

But the heat of the red sun was still intolerable, and all the offspring of the Earth Mother wailed aloud. Rangi was afflicted sorely by the great heat, and moaned in anguish; his head was scorched by the fierce rays of the sun. Roiho called aloud to Tane, “We and our parent are sore oppressed; our grandchild (the sun) is burning us by means of Matiti-taka (?) and Matititiramarama.” These latter are personified forms of summer.

So the sun was removed to the back of Rangi, and all things were content. Thus the sun moves over the body of Rangi; when it moves to the lower part of his body it is winter; when it moves up to the head of Rangi summer is with us.

In this version of the myth Te Ikaroa, the Milky Way, is not included among the stars, as to its origin, but is said to be one of the offspring of Sky and Earth. In the original the word pito is used in a curious sense, as though it denoted the ecliptic. It is the navel (pito) of the Sky Parent. Mr. Percy Smith has drawn attention to the Hawaiian expression, “the Pito of Watea.” In Hawaiian myth Watea takes the place of Rangi of the Maori. Hawaiian scholars translate the above expression as “the equator,’ but clearly it applies to the ecliptic, the sun's course across the body of the sky. In our Maori version it is “the Pito of Rangi.”

The three poutiriao, or guardian beings, appointed by Io, the Supreme Being, to watch over and control the sky realm—that is, the lowermost of the heavens, where the heavenly bodies are—were Uru-te-ngangana, Roiho, and Roake.