Starlight Preservation and Cultural Well-being. (15803)
The stars were used to guide the first Polynesian and European explorations of the South Pacific Ocean, which enabled the settlement of Aotearoa/New Zealand. Māori, the indigenous people of Aotearoa, developed complex knowledge systems that integrated the celestial and terrestrial environments with the spiritual realm as an interdependent whole. This knowledge governed their social structure and resource management practices for centuries.
Although colonisation, urbanisation and new technologies have since eroded much traditional knowledge, the last few decades have seen a growing revitalisation of Māori culture. Indigenous knowledge, including tātai arorangi/Māori astronomy, now has some statutory protection under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA). The RMA instructs decision-makers to recognise and provide for the traditional relationship that Māori have with the natural environment. In addition, one of the four well-beings that the RMA was designed to safeguard is cultural well-being. Cultural capital, which includes the possession of knowledge specific to one’s culture, is an important measure of cultural well-being. Halting the decline of Māori knowledge, much of which is underpinned by tātai arorangi, is therefore an essential step in safeguarding the cultural well-being of Māori.
Some contemporary Ngāi Tahu (the predominant South Island iwi/tribe) claim to still use the stars to guide their mahinga kai/food gathering activities. In addition to navigation, the stars and constellations are used to signify the best time to catch certain mahinga kai species, or to plant or harvest crops. The visual clarity of certain stars can provide an indication of weather conditions and thereby help determine whether it is even safe or worthwhile to undertake mahinga kai activities at that time.
Tātai arorangi is integrated with knowledge of the terrestrial and spiritual environments and cannot be separated from them. The preservation of starlight visibility would ensure continued access to this celestial natural resource so important to Māori culture and thus help provide for their cultural well-being.