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The Astronomical Knowledge of the Maori, Genuine and Empirical



This is the name of some luminous, appearance occasionally seen in the heavens. Williams queries it as “zodiacal light.” It is viewed by the Maori as are comets, the rainbow, lightning, &c. —that is, as the visible form of an atua (supernormal being). Thus Maru was treated as what we call a god; he was appealed to and placated when his assistance was needed to help or protect the people. He was one of the atua employed to protect a village from all harmful influences.

Auguries were drawn from this celestial phenomenon, and according to its form it foretold good or evil. If seen in the form of a bow behind a travelling war-party it was a good omen. If it appeared to have an incomplete aspect, then it betokened page 58 ill fortune. Oracles were delivered by this being through the mouths of its human mediums. The name of Maru is often associated with that of Haere and with that of Kahukura, two personified forms of the rainbow. There is some old, well-nigh forgotten myth about their having all been together at one time, but owing to some quarrel they separated. Maru is one of the secondary gods of the Maori, and was appealed to more by the west-coast tribes than those of the east side of the Island. He has many names, including that of Maru-te-whare-aitu.

The names Papakura, Umurangi, Imurangi, Ahi-manawa, and Makaka-o-te-rangi are also applied to some form or forms of celestial glow. Most of such things were held by the Maori to furnish portents of some nature. “Should the ‘red demon’ be seen gleaming in the heavens,” said and old native, “know that it is Imurangi, and that the folk of the land near where it is seen are thretened by some evil fate. Let some adept at once discard his garments, and proceed to avert the danger.” The rite to avert it must be performed by a nude person. This phenomenon is styled “sun-dog; fragmentary rainbow” in Williams's Maori Dictionary. The ahi manawa is said to have a flashing appearance.

The Auora Australis is known as Tahunui-a-rangi. About 1869 a Whanganui native told Mr. John Hall that in past times, when the ancestors of the Maori crossed the seas to New Zealand, some of them continued their voyage to a far land in the south, where they settled. The light called by us the aurora is the reflection of huge fires kindled by the descendants of the old migrants, who are signalling to their far-sundered relatives in New Zealand.