Te Aurere
Te Aurere


The star compass (Kāpehu Whetū) is what we believe to be the basic aid that our ancestors would have used to determine direction. In some island community’s wind compasses were developed. The star compass that modern day Polynesian Navigator Nainoa Thompson developed was based on the Micronesian star compass that his Master, Pius Mau Piailug, used. The following is a description of the star compass Nainoa developed.

Firstly Nainoa divided the horizon into quarters. He named these quarters after the four winds,

  • Ko’olau the NE trade winds. Tokerau is our equivalent here in Aotearoa
  • Malanai the SE trade winds. Marangai is our equivalent
  • Kona the SW winds that prevail in the southern Pacific and come to Hawaii infrequently. Tonga is our Equivalent, although we use Whakarunga to describe this quarter. From the head of the fish.
  • Ho’olua the NW winds. Whakararo from the tail of the fish

Secondly Nainoa divided the full horizon into equal areas that he named Houses. There are 32 houses in the full circle of the horizon. The four cardinal houses representing North, South, East and West are named;

  • Hikina (East, Te Whitinga) for where the sun rises out of the ocean.
  • Komohana (West, Tomokanga) for where the sun returns to the ocean.
  • Akau (North, Raki) to the right of the suns passage through the sky.
  • Hema (South, Tonga) to the left of the suns passage.

Each quarter has seven houses that further divide the horizon. Each house is replicated in each quarter and aids in memorising star position and paths. A star rises on the eastern horizon crosses the North/South line (Meridian) and sets towards the western horizon. The star will rise and set in the same named house, the houses are named;

  • La (Ra). After the sun
  • ‘Aina (Kainga). For where the sun lives
  • Noio (Ngoi). After the land bird used by navigators to find land. The Brown Noddy.
  • Manu .This describes the waka as a bird flying across the ocean.
  • Nalani (Nga Rangi). The heavens are where we get our clues.
  • Naleo (Nga Reo). The navigator listens to the voices of the stars that guide him.
  • Haka. The void where there are no clues, where the true challenge begins.

This is how Nainoa passes on the knowledge that he received from Mau Piailug. The star compass is the basis for our system of navigation. The various quadrants, houses as well as certain stars which rise and set in those houses are then memorised.

Maori star compass