Puanga, Star of the Maori New Year
Puanga is the star Rigel in Orion. Most of the tribes of the Maori people in Aotearoa observed Puanga to mark the beginning of the Maori New Year. In Maori mythology he was believed to be the older brother of Matariki. His cosmic rising between May and June in the early morning s...ky signalled the beginning of winter. Which is why Maori knew him as the foremost winter star. A practical reason why Maori marked the New Year at this particular time of the year was because Puanga's heliacal rising coincided with the end of the harvest where the first fruits were eaten during a three-day festival of lights. The religious reason why Maori began the New Year in May-June was because it was the only time in the year when all the most significant stars important in Maori mythology rose at the same time at dawn. The kumara had been lifted, pigeons were being stored away in calabash containers and shark had been hung out to dry ready for the winter months. The New Year was a sacred time for Maori when offerings were made to Puanga and laid out by the tohunga priesthood on taahu altar shrines as a gesture of thanksgiving.
Through the study of the oral literature we are able to gaze through a window into the past to understand how Maori perceived the star Puanga in ancient times. In some traditions he is said to be the son of the Goddess of the underworlds and was only born as a result of the shaking of the earth by Ruaumoko the God of earthquakes. He was then pushed up into the sky by the sun. Puanga is known to bring about the autumn rains and cause flooding throughout the country to replenish the land and leave much needed nutrients to fertilise the earth. He is believed to descend from thunder and lightning, which is logical as rain is sometimes accompanied by the elements of lightning and thunder.
The Ngapuhi people saw him in the shape of a Pewa bird snare. Ngapuhi also perceived him in the form of a tuahu altarpiece. Moriori considered Puanga as the pole that held up a whata storehouse. Tuhoe Maori believed he was the father of the Kamarahou tree. Kahungunu Maori knew him as the father of a number of shark species. Taranaki Maori would follow his pathway across the night sky to return to Rarotonga. Tainui Maori revered Puanga so much that they named their children after the star. Te Arawa Maori would instruct the spirits of their dead to fly toward his cavernous abode. Ngati Porou believed the cosmos to be empty without his presence in the sky. Rangitane Maori believed that Puanga was the exclusive pillar that propped up the sky father's sacred head. Kaitahu Maori would wait for him to appear to officially open their Whare purakau. The Puanga year can be traced back to India to ancient astronomers of the Hindu faith where a schism occurred between two distinct rival schools of philosophy creating the Puanga and Matariki traditions for the last six thousand years. Ko Puanga-nui-a-rangi te whetu matamua o te tau hou Maori. Ko Matariki tana tuahine to muri iho.
||23 May 2014
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