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The Maori Race

Heavenly Bodies

Heavenly Bodies.

Many of the constellations and stars were named. Concerning their identification, especially that of single stars, there seems to be much doubt. The trouble arose from no sufficient knowledge of the heavens having lingered among the few old men from whom the information has been sought. Some of the uncertainty may arise from the European investigators themselves not being sure of the astronomical names of the stars pointed out.

The Milky Way was known as the “Long Fish” (Ika-roa) or the “Long Shark” (Mangoroa), or “The Fish of Maui” (Te Ika a Maui). The Pleiades were called Matariki or Aokai; Orion's Belt Tautoru or Te Kakau; Magellan's Clouds, Tuputuputa and Ti-oreore. Close to Antares in the Scorpion was “the Canoe of Tamarereti” (Te waka a Tamarereti) and near Orion was “the net” (Te hao o Rua).

Canopus is the star generally referred to as Makahea, Autahi or Atutahi, but the name Autahi is sometimes given to α Centauri. Rigel in Orion was Puanga; Venus as Morning page 402 Starwas Kopu or Tawera, as Evening Star Meremere. Vega was Whanui; Antares, Rehua; Sirius, Takurua and Te Kokota; Altair, Pou-ta-te-rangi. I repeat that the verification is unsatisfactory.*

The Maoris considered that the brighter stars such as Whanui and Autahi were nobles, and by these were the seasons announced; the little stars were the common people. Rehua was a great chief among the stars, and in speaking of the death of one of their own aristocracy they would use the metaphor “Rehua is dead.” Rehua was some times spoken of as “Rehua, eater of men,” because at the time of year he was seen the crops had been gathered and the war-parties were out. The stars are often alluded to in Maori songs. “Behold the Pleiades gathered here.” “Behold Whanui, the whirler of the sky.” Rehua is always spoken of as a bird with a broken wing, and beneath this wing is “the canoe of Tamarereti.” Matariki was called “the flock or company of Matariki” (Te Huihui Matariki) “because he gathers the stars as he goes” (“The sweet influences of the Pleiades”). Matariki was also called Hoko, because at his rising the seed-kumara were planted. The word matariki was also used as a name for a gentle wind. When Autahi was born, that monster “the long shark” tried to devour him, but his foster-parent the Sky (Rangi) thrust the page 403 creature aside and protected the baby star. Autahi rises in the evening to escape the monster.

The visible likeness of a deified ancestor sometimes announced itself as a star; of such was Tama-i-waho. A beautiful woman was probably flattered by being told she was “like the star Venus flashing along the horizon.”

Comets have been known and named; such as Rongomai, Tu-nui-te-ika, and Te Whetu Puhihi. When a comet was seen in ancient days it had to be warded off with a powerful incantation. Tamarau, “the star that gives off sparks as it flies,” was probably a meteor.