Mapping the Stars to Recover Time: Nikau Hindin and the Art of Aute
Exploring Maori concepts of time and space, Nikau Hindin’s detailed star maps are part of an ongoing quest to see the world as our ancestors did.
Nikau Hindin of Ngāi Tūpoto, Te Rarawa and Ngāpuhi is an aute maker who uses knowledge of maramataka and celestial navigation to reclaim Maori concepts of time.
The practice of aute derives its name from the aute plant, which was a canoe plant introduced to Aotearoa alongside many others such as kūmara and taro.
Aute was brought here by our tīpuna who, using the vast knowledge of celestial navigation, sailed Te Moana Nui a Kiwa from Hawaiki and eventually made Aotearoa his home.
At some point, the practice of the Aute was abandoned. Hindin has spent the last decade dedicated to the memory and revitalization of the practice of aute in Aotearoa. It revolves around the life cycle of the plant, from growing and harvesting to processing the inner bark and creating fine tissue.
Painting with natural earth pigments, she works intimately with plants and tools from the natural environment and aligns her practices with maramataka, the Maori stellar-lunar calendar.
The maramataka, whether we adhere to it or not, concerns us all and concerns the way we interact with our natural environment on a daily basis. There was a big revitalization of maramataka within te ao Māori over the years, supported by the normalization of narratives around Matariki led nationwide by people like Dr. Rangi Mātāmua of Tūhoe.
“After reading Dr. Rangi Mātāmua’s book Matariki, I was able to link whetū to our maramataka. I realized that Matariki is just one of the important morning stars used to track time – there are other stars to discover that are associated with each new month and lunar cycle,” says Hindin.
Exploring these Maori concepts of time and space in an ongoing quest to see the world as our ancestors did, Hindin produces detailed star charts that visually record the rising and setting of stars like Matariki, Puanga and Rehua.
“I use my star charts to document when those morning stars rise and where they are on the horizon, while adding to my store of knowledge that originally came from learning the star compass,” Hindin explains.
The star compass was used by Maori and our relations across Te Moana Nui a Kiwa as they masterfully circumnavigated an area equal to one third of the world’s surface.
“The star compass comes from the idea that when you’re on your waka, in the middle of the ocean, you can’t see any land and there’s a 360 degree horizon around you, so it’s a three-dimensional frame,” says Hindin.
Thanks to the revival of waka hoohuaknowledge systems and narratives around the star compass and celestial navigation have been given new life among Te Moana Nui a Kiwa communities.
Hindin discovered the star compass while studying for an MFA in Hawai’i, where she found herself in the company of apprentice navigators training in celestial navigation on the high seas. aboard the famous and revered ship Hōkūle’a.
“Watching them study for their long trips to Tahiti, I just absorbed all the different stars and stories they have, where they rise on the horizon and how they use our whetū to find direction. I came with my star map system to help memorize the stars,” says Hindin.
The maps are 2D interpretations of the Star Compass navigation system. To represent the different star houses, they feature niho taniwha designs at the base which come from Maori tukutuku designs found in carved assembly houses, with a horizontal line for the horizon and vertical lines which each show a star different and where they rise.
“The horizon is divided into 32 star houses, while each star house is 11 ¼ degrees,” Hindin explains.
“In these star houses there are north, south, east and west and there are seven star houses between these. The stars live in these houses, they rise in the east and recede in the same house on the opposite horizon on the west side.
In Aotearoa, our position in the world in terms of latitude is quite low. The trained eye will be able to identify the south celestial pole in our nightscape, an important marker for orientation when observing the trajectory of our whetū.
That’s why we can look up and see Mahutonga and Atutahi rotating throughout the night – because they are circumpolar. Watching them can make you feel bowled over, with clusters like Te Matau a Māui appearing to rise onto their backs before turning and getting into a different position.
Researching knowledge holders such as Dr. Mātāmua, Rereata Makiha, Jack Thatcher and Wiremu Tawhai, upon his return to Aotearoa Hindin learned the Maori names of these stars and began to distinguish between the stars used for travel and those used for maramataka on land.
“We think maramataka is pretty much the moon, but it’s so much more. It’s actually about telling the time. Knowing what time it is helps you locate yourself in time and space,” says Hindin.
“If you memorize where these different stars rise and set, then when you see these stars on the horizon – like Tautoruwhich rises exactly in the east – so if you see Tautoru low on the horizon like we will on the morning of Matariki, you can be pretty sure it’s in the east.
For Hindin, helping Maori reclaim this knowledge of time is a key driver of his pursuit. She believes that maramataka was a way of life, not just reserved as knowledge for tohunga and decision makers. All members of the tribe would know at all times what phase of the moon they were in.
The imposed Gregorian time system, based on the sun and a 365-day calendar year, caused the disruption of the transmission of knowledge, awareness and connection to our environment that was practiced by Maori before colonization .
The ramifications of this disruption not only impact the individual’s sense of knowing, but also the way communities interact with the environment.
“Colonization took away our own ability to tell time the Maori way,” says Hindin. “I think that’s the most powerful thing, having that connection to time and space. If you take that away from our people, then you take away their connection to the environment, the whenua and also the stars.
Incorporating this Maori mātauranga into his work is Hindin’s way of living by maramataka while helping to normalize and ground these narratives.
Observing the phases of the moon directly influences how it interacts with the environment when it comes to harvesting aute.
“I collect on Rakaunui, this is when the cells are juiciest and easiest to process and clean. Even once a year I try to do all my harvesting and processing in the summer and during Takurua I am inside the painting,” says Hindin.
Living near the moana, she is able to use the teachings of maramataka to develop a holistic view of her surroundings.
“I pay attention to what phase of the moon we’re in and look at the ocean every day and notice the relationship. You’d be surprised how consistently the ocean behaves at certain phases of the moon. says Hindin.
As the moon waxes and wanes, with our stars rising and setting in the background, we are reminded that celestial observation stretches back aeons. The lessons Matariki holds as we navigate our lives remain relevant to growth and evolution today.
We are currently turning towards recognizing Te Hararei Tūmatanui o Te Kāhui Matariki (the official Matariki holiday this Friday). An official hautapu ceremony will be hosted by the Minister of Crown Relations in conjunction with Te Papa, attended by the Prime Minister and led by Dr Mātāmua, Chairman of the Matariki Advisory Group, which is behind this big push to see our traditions. around Matariki and Crown recognized Maori astronomy for the benefit of all New Zealanders.
For Hindin, this important historical and cultural moment offers all New Zealanders the opportunity to learn more about the ways of knowing that are unique to this land.
“Matariki is an amazing opportunity for us to learn our Māori mātauranga and astronomy, to learn about all of our other stars that are in our skies, and to reflect on how what is in our skies is also reflected in the earth,” says Hindin.
She will be at Te Papa this weekend for a live demonstration called You Tuku Iho: Otherwhere she will be joined by other aute creators from Te Moana Nui a Kiwa to demonstrate their practices and engage with the public.