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(Many Paths)
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'First' Maori Astronomy School In The Modern Era Opens In Bay Of Plenty
by Leah Tebbutt - Multimedia journalist - Bay of Plenty Times

The first Maori astronomy school in the modern age has been opened and led by Ngat Awa elder Pouroto Ngaropo. Photo / Supplied

The preservation of ancestral knowledge and the protection of health and wellbeing of all is now possible at a new Maori astronomy wananga.

Te Whare Tatai Arorangi o Tangotango raua ko Wainui (Te Whare Tatai Arorangi) is the brainchild of Piripi Lambert, who co-founded the school along with Ngati Awa elder Pouroto Ngaropo.

The wananga was officially opened on Saturday at Iramoko marae, in Matata.

Despite the resurgence of matauranga Maori (Maori ancestral knowledge), Lambert believes the danger of losing these lessons is still prevalent.

However, training tohunga (experts) was key.

The wananga aims to train people into the ancient role of tohunga kokorangi (astronomers) who lead their people by the messages from the stars.

Te Whare Tatai Arorangi co-founder Piripi Lambert. Photo / Supplied

Lambert said the main purpose for the wananga was for his students to develop their own Tatai Arorangi with their own hapu.

He said that would result in the narrative being taught right from kohanga reo and improve the health and wellbeing for all of their people.

Lambert has dedicated the better part of his life to this knowledge after he heard someone say: "Many Maori do not believe there is a supreme being".

Lambert found the phrase disturbing and therefore made it his life's mission to prove the phrase wrong.

The journey took Lambert up and down the motu (island) until one day he had the knowledge. However, the experience created an awakening of sorts, he said.

"I got to a point where the korero was so deep, tapu, but then I went through this transformation and thought, I have this knowledge and our people taught it through a traditional whare wananga. But do we have one today?"

The answer, put simply, was no.

Pouroto Ngaropo and Piripi Lambert at the opening of Te Whare Tatai Arorangi. Photo / Supplied

It wasn't until this year, when Lambert was invited to speak about the stars at Waitangi, that he and Pouroto Ngaropo met.

Lambert soon pitched his idea and the response was, "We love it".

And there the Te Whare Tatai Arorangi was born.

Ngaropo said the wananga was "the first of its kind in the modern era".

He said, the ancient knowledge of ancestors was connected to the sun, moon, stars, which were then used to understand the nature of the world in which we live.

"The communication of the stars is not so much what we see but it is also in our stories, our history, our carvings and also in our ancient chants.

"The way in which we live in terms of access to our waterways, food and our environment."

The opening of the wananga saw many people turn out in their warmest gears for the early morning. Photo / Supplied

He said, for Maori, the stars were a lifestyle that had been lost during the effects of colonisation.

However, there was once a time when every iwi and hapu had their own whare wananga. Ngaropo hoped one day, this would be the case again.

"Every tribe, every marae will have their own interpretation of the stars and no one is wrong. There is not one way ... where every tribe is located, they may see the same star in the sky but its location and how we use it is uniquely different."

Anyone who wants to take part in the entry-level programmes can, Ngaropo said.

"We want this to be something that New Zealand can be proud of."

The wananga hopes to have an official building open in March next year.

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