Ringihia i te ketenui a Tane: The language of the stars

Project commenced:

Astronomy is the study of the objects in the sky (stars, planets, moons, galaxies, comets etc). Traditionally Māori held great knowledge of astronomy and their studies of the night sky played an important role in everyday life. Much of this knowledge remains recorded in te reo Māori and sits within karakia, waiata, whakataukī, and within place names. This project explores the language of Māori astronomy to understand how important it was to our ancestors. It will also help to revive the language of Māori astronomy exploring how this knowledge can be used in a modern world.

Soon after separating Ranginui and Papatūānuku, Tāne travelled into the heavens with the various celestial bodies, to suspend them in the sky bringing light into the world. Within the basket ‘Te Mangoroa’ Tāne carried the stars, from which he drew forth the brightest and placed them against the chest of Ranginui. So enthralled was Tāne at what he had achieved that he accidently knocked the basket over scattering the remaining stars across the cosmos. As the stars spilled from the basket they clattered against one and other creating a ringing sound that resonated throughout the universe. This event is captured in a line of a karakia that states “Ringihia i te ketenui ā Tāne” which can be described as the language of the stars. This research is based on 2 key aspects: (i) Māori astronomy, and (ii) te reo Māori.

In particular, the aim of this study is concerned with understanding how Māori astronomy is embedded within the linguistic record and linguistic landscape of Aotearoa, and how this knowledge can be revitalised in a modern world. Based at Waikato University and utilising a collaborative approach, this project is grounded in kaupapa Māori methodology and will be undertaken in two phases which include the following methods (i) an examination of the extant literature and (ii) kanohi ki te kanohi interviews with Māori astronomical experts.

The study of astronomy is a critical component across cultures, and has influenced the evolution of all peoples. The benefits and outcomes of such a project will support the enhancement of Māori distinctiveness through contributing to the enrichment of the mana of our knowledge and language.



Research Lead(s) and Team

Ngāi Tūhoe

Associate Professor Matamua of Tūhoe, is a senior lecturer based in the School of Māori and Pacific Development at Waikato University. He has undertaken significant research in the areas of Māori language revitalisation, Māori culture, Māori astronomy and broadcasting. In his MA thesis Rangi focused on traditional Tūhoe weaponary, and his PhD examined the role of Māori radio in Māori language revitalisation.