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Navigator aiming to discover star names from older Cook Islanders

Monday 20 February 2023 | Written by RNZ | Published in Local, National


Navigator aiming to discover star names from older Cook Islanders
Master navigator Peia Patai says traditional navigation knowledge could be hidden in songs and stories. Photo: Te Puna Marama Voyaging Foundation/ 23021924

Traditional navigation knowledge could be hidden in stories and songs, and a Cook Islands master navigator is hoping to unearth them.

Te Puna Marama Voyaging Foundation is holding three navigation workshops around New Zealand.

Cook Islands master navigator and one of the founders of the organisation, Peia Patai, said he wanted to speak with older Cook Islanders to learn the indigenous Māori names of stars that are used for navigation.

“I think this is the time to touch base with them before they disappear,” Patai said.

“I have seen a lot of my older people, old mates that have disappeared and they've taken a lot of knowledge with them.

“We have to share it with our young people because I see us passing on really quickly with it.”

Patai said the workshop is just a matter of “chatting” with older people who may not know they have knowledge of the star names.

“I believe some of our star names are in our stories, and in our songs, so some of older people may not think they have that star but once you listen to them tell stories, now and then it pops out.”

Patai said some knowledge had already been lost.

He said more people were learning traditional voyaging in the Cook Islands but he felt “a bit awkward” teaching in English rather than in te reo Māori.

Two workshops have already been held in Rarotonga and Auckland, and a third in Porirua, near Wellington is due to be held soon. The information taken from the three workshops will be compiled and archived in the Cook Islands.

Patai said he wants to create national standard for the names of all the stars, which can be a challenge because of differing names in each of the nation’s islands.

He said he wants the information used for a national curriculum used in Cook Islands schools.

  • Caleb Fotheringham, RNZ Pacific reporter