Stars of the Matariki cluster: Waipunarangi

Stars of the Matariki cluster: Waipunarangi

There are nine stars in the Matariki star cluster. It has many different names around the world, and is known as the Pleiades – its ancient Greek name – or the Seven Sisters in English. The Hawaiian name is Makali‘i, or ‘eyes of royalty’, and in Japan it is Subaru, meaning ‘gathered together’. 

The star Waipunarangi (Greek: Electra) is associated with the rain and water that pools. Learning Specialist Leroy de Thierry talks about a connection to Waipunarangi with a special kind of pākē in our collection.

An image of nine different faces with their names written underneath, with all shaded except for one which is highlighted.

Haramai te kōnehunehu
Haramai te hāuaua
Haramai te hūkerikeri
Haramai te ua tātā

Welcome the drizzle
Welcome the fine rain
Welcome the downpour
Welcome the pounding rain

It is the star Waipunarangi that is connected to ua, or rain. Her name translates to ‘water that pools in the sky’ or ‘ngā puna wai i te Rangi’. Waipunarangi is the star in the top left of the cluster and is one of the two stars that is associated to the weather, the other being Ururangi. Both of these stars are positioned above all the others in the cluster as the rain and wind come from the sky.

Takurua is the time of year which is known to be very cold and very wet. A famous whakataukī related to this star is “Matariki Tāpuapua. It is used to describe the pooling of water that collects on the ground caused by the heavy and persistent rain during the winter months. It is also seen as a time of cleansing and revitalising across the earth, replenishing the soil with potential in readiness for Kōanga.

During the rising of Matariki, the observation of Waipunarangi would foretell the weather for the coming year. Depending on the visibility of Waipunarangi, if the star is difficult to see this might suggest heavy rain and possibly flooding. However, if Waipunarangi shines bright, it is a sign not to expect flooding. These observations would be vital for farmers, fishermen, gardeners, and settlements that lived close to bodies of water.

Ko te wai te toto o te whenua, ko te whenua te toto o te tangata – Water is the blood of the land, the land is the blood of the people.

Just as we depend on water to nourish us and keep us so does the land need water to nourish her and everything she’s connected to. The water that pools in the sky and then falls as rain connects Waipunarangi to the other stars in the Matariki cluster. The rain falls down and nourishes Papatūānuku which enhances those that are connected to Tupuānuku and Tupuārangi and flows through Waitī and Waitā.

Kahu tōī (rain cape), weaver unknown, 1800–1900, New Zealand. Henry Hill Collection. Purchased 1905. Te Papa (ME001156)

This kahu tōi is a form of pākē. It is the only form to carry the title ‘kahu’, which is used for important garments alone. It is made from the fibre of the tōī leaves, or mountain cabbage tree. It is a lot harsher to the touch than muka and the fibre of the tōī makes it more water-resistant than muka, but it is also harder to work with.

Consequently, constructing a kahu tōī requires great skill. When weaving the kahu tōī they would work from the base up, attaching hukahuka as they went to channel away the rain, almost like a thatched roof.

The creation of pākē are just one of the things that Māori developed to survive our country’s cold climate. They were practical everyday garments that protected them against the rain and weather.

So as we celebrate Matariki this year and you see Waipunarangi in the sky, reflect on the whakataukī “Matariki Tāpuapua” and the pooling of water that is gathered on the ground during this time. The role that water has in nourishing Papatūānuku and those connected to her.

Further reading about pākē and kahu tōī

Top image credit: Te whānau Matariki. Image by Te Haunui Tuna, 2016, supplied by Rangi Matamua

Further reading

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