Mata Ki Te Rangi

Eyes which look to the Sky

Be Alexandra Edwards

Rapa Nui Planetarium

It has taken 4 years to complete the construction of the planetarium, and it has been a labor of love.  During this time, under the auspices of the Planetarium foundation,  we have been doing the research and compiling a conceptual inventory of Rapanui astronomy, which was presented at the XIII Congress of Archaeoastronomy at Oxford University in 2017. That included archaeoastronomical expeditions to Pohnpei and Kosrae in 2015 and to Pohnpei and Nan Madol in 2017. Last year, the University of Concepción (Chile) organized the VI Congress of Scholastic Astronomy, in which the Director of the Planetarium of Rapa Nui – the professor of science, Enzo Moglia – and his team received a first place award. We are committed to offering a space for learning for all the children of Rapa Nui.  From the four schools on the Island, we receive an average of 105 students per month during the school year. We organize educational talks with our collaborators, the astronomer Felipe Lagos and Edmundo Edwards, and show films from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile or the J. Watumull Planetarium of the Bernice P. Bishop Museum in Hawaii. We hope that we will have finished our own film on the ethno-astronomy of Rapa Nui within the next six months.”
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© Yuri Beletsky

“The sky that we can observe today has changed very little since humans began to study the celestial phenomena; only the technology has improved significantly since then.  There are around 9,000 visible stars and it is not by mere chance that all cultures have used the moon and the stars as chronometers of the cosmos. The celestial dome is the origin of such transcendental cultural principles that the Polynesians saw in it the work of the gods. The origin of some stars is mentioned in cosmological folklore while others were considered to be the guardian eyes of deified ancestors.  Just like the majority of Polynesians, the Rapanui made little distinction between planets and stars. However, Mars (mata mea, in the Rapanui language) was considered particularly ominous. The stars were generically called hetu’u, while the more brilliant celestial bodies, including planets, were hetu’u pupura. In Polynesia, the archaeoastronomer Maud Makemson was able to register the names of 772 stars and asterisms in 1941, unlike on Rapa Nui, where only 24 astronomical names survive, among which are The Pleiades (Matariki = Eyes of the Chief) and Orion’s Belt (Tautoru = The Three Handsome Ones).

by Gustavo Borquez

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The ancestral astronomer-priests (tohunga) utilized astronomical events to predict the fluctuations of migratory species and to measure time and the seasons, establishing an annual calendar of activities with ceremonies that began with the apparition or disappearance of specific stars.  At the same time, they announced prophecies or divined future events, suggesting magic as a by-product dictated by religion. The astronomer-priests  belonged to a privileged social class of wise men and specialists, each one with a specific talent or task. They lived with their acolytes in circular structures called tupa which served as dwellings and observatories. The majority of the 26 tupa identified by the archaeo-astronomers Edmundo Edwards and Juan Antonio Belmonte, are located on the coast where there is less visual obstruction. The narrow entrances to all, except one, have an astronomical orientation which may be the ascension of calendar stars, the maximum north or south declination of the moon, the north-south axis or the position of the sun at the solstices.

Edmundo Edwards

For the Polynesians, the sun was considerably less important than the moon and the stars. Observation of the solstices and the equinoxes was merely complementary to the study of the movements of Orion’s Belt and the Pleiades. The moon was primary among all of these, due to its utility as a measurement of time and its influence over planting and fishing, for which reason they created a lunar calendar, which they called tau, composed of 12 to 13 months of 29 or 30 nights each. The moon was also considered to have powers of fertility over humans and nature. Several registries from those who visited the Island in the 1800s mention having seen people gather to dance and sing on special nights, as was the custom in the greater part of Polynesia.
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Archaeoastronomy on Rapa Nui

Archaeoastronomy on Rapa Nui

Knowledge of the movements of the stars and planets and the seasonal changes, the definition of a lunar calendar and a systematic observation of celestial phenomena is a constituent part of the Rapanui heritage that was originally used for navigation and later, once settled on land, for agriculture.