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The Astronomical Knowledge of the Maori, Genuine and Empirical

Evidences of Star-worship

Evidences of Star-worship.

The evidence in favour of the former existence of a form of astrolatry among the Maori folk is but meagre, but there is sufficient to show that certain planets and stars were invoked in connection with food-supplies and firstfruits ceremonial.

The Pleiades were venerated by the Maori, and the heliacal rising of that constellation was greeted by women with song and dance. The occasion was marked by a festival. In the north, where the cosmic rising of Rigel marked the beginning of the new year, a similar festival marked the event. Canopus is another star the appearance of which was greeted as was that of the Pleiades, though apparently no festival was held. The Pleiades were also venerated at Manihiki and the Cook Group. page 26 Offerings of young shoots of the sweet potato were made to the Pleiades by the Maori.

The following evidence, given by Tutakangahau, of the Tuhoc Tribe, is good proof of former star cult. Priestly adepts gathered young, new growth of plants, termed the mata o te tau, and, taking them to the tuahu (place where rites were performed), there offered them to the stars that were believed to “bring food,” as it was termed—that is, influenced the growth of food products, as also fish and game. As the offering was made certain ritual was intoned, in which such stars were mentioned and beseeched to cause a bountiful supply of foodstuffs—to send much food. Young growth of both cultivated and forest foods were so offered up. The ceremonial also prevented anything afflicting crops; it caused them to flourish. The invocation is as follows:—

Tuputuputu atua
Ka eke mai i te rangi e roa e
Whangainga iho ki te mata o te tau e roa e.
Atutahi atua
Ka eke mai i te rangi e roa e
Whangainga iho ki te mata o te tau e roa e

Here Tuputuputu (one of the Magellan Clouds) and Atutahi (Canopus), mounting the heavens, are asked to cause all the new year's products to flourish. The ritual chant is much longer, but consists of a repetition of these three lines, a new star-name being introduced in each repetition. Thus are the names of Sirius, Vega, and other important stars introduced.

Some anthropologists believe that the folk of lower culturestages inferred life from motion in the case of the heavenly bodies, and so came to recognize them as supernormal beings and gods.

In Te Ika a Maui Taylor states that a chief of Waitotara, who was versed in star-lore, introduced among his clan a system of star-worship, each star having its karakia, or form of ritual, when it was in the ascendant.