Indigenous | Matariki

Kōkōrangi: Māori astronomer guiding crowds into the New Year

A Māori astronomer is enjoying guiding crowds through the Māori New Year, teaching people how to navigate the stars ahead of Matariki celebrations.

Josh Aoraki (Kai Tahu) says Matariki is a special time, not only for astronomers but also for all New Zealanders.

“The pillars of Matariki are around people - acknowledging those who have passed [and] being present with those we have in our lives.”

While Matariki festivities begin next week, Aoraki says the cluster is already rising in the morning skies.

“What we’re waiting for to actually start the celebration of Matariki is the correct lunar phase.”

To find Matariki, he suggests looking for Tautoru or Orion’s Belt first.

Look east as the sun raises

“If you look east in the morning just as the sun comes up, you’ll see three stars in a row.

“If you follow them to the left, that’ll point you towards the little star cluster of Matariki.”

Aoraki, who is also an astrophotographer, has worked at Tāmaki Makaurau’s Stardome Observatory & Planetarium for the past eight years. He is passionate about sharing his knowledge of kōkōrangi (astronomy), which he says was an important way of life for Māori ancestors.

“We all descend from Ngā Whetū (the stars), we all descend from our tūpuna who were navigators.

“We built our culture around our understanding of te taiao (the environment) and that was built upon kōkōrangi.”

In his work, he guides tours around the observatory and educates people of all ages about the stars, planets and solar system.

Aoraki says there is a growing demand for the tours and shows, with more people eager to learn more about astronomy - particularly Matariki.

“I find that every new group of students, knows so much more about Matariki than the last year.”

Working in tandem

“It’s really cool to be part of the generation that’s cultivating the new generation who will have this context of Matariki”.

He also referenced a quote from his mentor, Professor Rangi Mataamua, as a guide for sharing mātauranga (knowledge) with others.

“In the words of Rangi Mataamua - knowledge that isn’t shared is not knowledge.

“So, for us, it’s all about sharing and cultivating and making those connections between people and environment.”

Aoraki also says Māori astronomy and western astronomy are more similar than people think.

“For me e rua e rua – they’re the same thing. You’re sort of applying two different lenses to the same kaupapa.

“They’re not in conflict to me, they’re actually just working together in tandem. It is possible to have two bodies of knowledge next to each other.”

In the new year, Aoraki has set his sights on ‘expanding his kete of knowledge’ and learning more about the different tribal stories around kōkōrangi.

Tickets for the Stardome Observatory and Planetarium’s Open Day next week are sold out. This special Matariki event will take place on June 28.