Image: Tama-nui-te-rā mural in Timaru by unknoWN.

Tamanuiterā: The sun and his two wives

December 22, the longest day, is here and Tamanuiterā, the sun, must start his long journey back to winter. 

When the star Rehua (Antares) rises above the horizon before dawn, we know that the days have become full and long. Together with the blooming pōhutukawa and the nesting kererū, our tūpuna recognised these signs as the arrival of summer. Around the camp fire they would also speak about Tamanuiterā, the sun, who makes his journey rising in the North-Eastern sky in the winter, through to the South-Eastern sky in the summer, and back again. Tamanuiterā would split part of each year between his beautiful wives Hine Takurua, the Winter Maid, and Hine Raumati, the Summer Maid.

Hine Takurua and Hine Raumati live in two very different domains on Earth. Hine Takurua dwells out on the ocean and is connected to the foods of the sea, while Hine Raumati resides on land and supports all the various food that grows on Papatūānuku. The story of Tamanuiterā and his two wives is how we as Māori understand the path that the sun takes in the sky and the resulting changing seasons. With this in mind, Friday the 22nd of December, 2017, is the longest day of the year, known by some as ‘Te Rā roa o Te Maruaroa o te Orongonui’ which means ‘The long day of the summer solstice’.

It is during the summer solstice that Tamanuiterā sits with Hine Raumati. But from this day, Tamanuiterā will begin to slowly make his way back to Hine Takurua in the North. The days will get shorter, and the nights will grow longer.

Traditionally, the arrival of summer signalled a new set of community tasks for our tūpuna that included catching kahawai, inanga (whitebait) or kōura (crayfish), snaring manu (birds), or harvesting fruits and berries from the ngahere (forest). The summer months were also infamous for representing a time of war. With limited food supplies gathered from the winter harvest, and an increase in competition amongst iwi and hapū, challenges over valuable resources became common. The whakataukī or proverb ‘Rehua kai tangata’ meaning ‘Rehua the consumer of men’ describes that connection between the summer star Rehua and the death and destruction we see in war. In those earlier times, our relationship with the environment drove our behaviour and actions, and despite a drastically different environment today, it still has a significant impact on how we behave and what we do today.

Tamanuiterā, in particular, has been known to be connected with good health by cultures all over the world. There is evidence to demonstrate a strong relationship between the summer months, an increase in the absorption of vitamin D, and a drop in the number of influenza cases. Getting a bit of sun into the light receptors of our skin, in our eyes, nose and ears, along with the warming of the Earth, is literally good for our health.

From a more Māori perspective, the word ‘hauora’ has been described to me as the ‘breath of the sun’ – ‘Hau’ meaning ‘breath’, and ‘o rā’ meaning ‘of the sun’. Hauora has also been described as ‘the breath of life’ – ‘Hau’ meaning ‘breath’, and ‘ora’ meaning ‘life’. Health and wellbeing from a Māori perspective may then be considered to originate from the sun. There are also other connections between the sun and wellbeing through the phrase ‘Te Waiora o Tāne’, or ‘The life giving waters of Tāne’. This is the place where the moon is said to travel to during every new moon. When the moon is unseen on Earth during every new moon we know that it merely bathes in the full light of the sun as it passes between the sun and the Earth.

However, don’t get too carried away with Tamanuiterā; too much sun can cause significant damage to our tinana (body). We know that those of us with darker skin and hair are much more protected from UV radiation, however this false sense of security means that many Māori and Pacific Islanders often don’t have their skin checked by a professional until much later in life, and can develop more serious issues compared to non-Māori. With a depleted ozone layer over Aotearoa, the concentration of UV rays will have a greater impact on our tinana than that experienced by my koro. The sun our tūpuna lived with was not as harmful as that which we have now, so we need to think differently about the way we behave in it.

With Tamanuiterā high in the sky during this time as he visits Hine Raumati, we do not want to over do it in the sun. Protect yourself when you venture outside. We should be reminded of the whakatauki ‘Rehua kai tangata’, ‘Rehua the consumer of man’, because, in Aotearoa it may no longer be war or conflict that leads to the death of man, but rather environmental influences like excessive UV radiation, or crazy driving over the holidays, or a lack of care in our oceans and rivers. Stay safe over the summer period, and don’t spend too much time with Tamanuiterā and Hine Raumati.

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