Star Lore
of Pacific Islands

The ten pillars that hold up the sky

The people of Tahiti and of many other Polynesian island see the sky like the roof of a traditional Polynesian Roundhouse. And like the roof of the roundhouse, the sky is held up by pillars.

Each of the ten pillars is assigned to a certain star. The fact that Polaris, which can only be seen in the northern parts of Polynesia is one of the pillars lends credit to the idea that this is universial Polynesian concept.

Sources: Rongorongo and Polynesian Star Catalog

Right: Traditional Polynesian roundhouse,held up by pillars, Source:




entrance pillar
rear pillar
middle pillar
pillar where debates were held
pillar to stand by
pillar for elocution
pillar to sit by
pillar of exit


Ursa Major
Canis Minor
Ursa Major
Ursa Minor

On the Tuamotu Islands, Alpheratz (α And) was called Takurua-e-te-tuki-hanga-ruki, meaning "Star of the wearisome toil" and Mirach (β And) was named Piringa-o-Tautu,literally meaning "the star of a (certain) season of its existence."

Sources: wikipedia, Sergei Rjabchikov: The Ancient Astronomy of Easter Island

Andromeda, Aries, Cassiopeia, Triangulum

Marshall Islands

The people of the Marshall Islands incorporated several stars into a constellation depicting a porpoise called Ke.

Hamal (α Ari), Sheratan (β Ari) and Mesarthim (γ Ari) formed the head of the porpoise, while stars from Andromeda and Triangulum formed the body and the bright stars of Cassiopeia formed the tail.

Sources: Wikipedia, Marshallese-English Dictionary

Possible outline of the porpoise
Drawn by the author based on
a map from


On the Hawaiian Islands, Altair was the guiding star for canoes sailing a northwesterly course from the Big Island to Kaua‘i.

In "A Catalogue of Hawaiian and Pacific Star Names", R. K. Johnson and J. K. Mahelona tell a story of the Hawaiian navigator Humu and his sons sailing in a fleet of canoes to Kaua‘i:

Humu’s two sons sailed with the first canoes; the older son, who knew star lore, gave his advice on which direction to sail, which angered the steersman. The steersman threw Humu’s two sons overboard; they swam, following Altir and its companions Alshain (β Aqu) and Tarazed (γ Aqu) and were eventually rescued by their father, who sailed in the last canoe with the King. Humu and his two sons reached Kaua‘i, while the rest of the canoes was lost at sea.

Humu's name was given to Altair;
Alshain and Tarazed were collectively named Humu-ma.

Source: Polynesian Navigation

Canoe at Kauai

The Bugis Sailors called Altair bintoéng timoro, meaning "eastern star."
In Micronesia, Altair was called Mai-lapa, meaning "big/old breadfruit".

Source for Bugis and Micronesia: Wikipedia/Altair
On the Marquesas Islands, the entire constellation Aquila was known as Pao-toa, meaning "Fatigued Warrior."
On the Tuamotu Islands, Altair was called Tukituki, meaning "Pound with a hammer" and Alshain (β Aqu) was named Nga Tangata, "the Men."
On the island Puka Puka, Altair and its companions Alshain (β Aqu) and Tarazed (γ Aqu) were called Tolu, meaning "three"; Altair itself was named Turu, meaning the Pole.
The Māori called Altair Poutu-te-rang, meaning "pillar of heaven."

Altair was used differently in different Māori calendars, being the star of February and March in one version and March and April in the other. It was also the star that ruled the annual sweet potato harvest.

Source for Marquesas, Tuamotu, Puka Puka and Māori: Wikipedia/Aquila

Boötes, Corona Borealis
On the Marshall_Islands, the stars β, μ and ν Boötis, together with μ Coronae Borealis form a constellation called Ok-an-adik, meaning net of the first quarter, derived from the Marshallese words ok (fish net) and adik (first quarter of the moon).

When the moon and Ok-an-adik are in the west, large schools of fish would be lingering in the outer sea and could easily be caught.

Sources: Ingrid A. Ahlgren: The meaning of Mo: Place, Power and Taboo in the Marshall Islands, p. 50, Marshallese-English Dictionary

Canis Major
In Māori, Sirius is called Takurua and the constellation is called Te Kahui-Takurua, the "Assembly of Sirius."

Sources: Wikipedia, Maori Star Names

On the Tuamotu Islands, the constellation is called Muihanga-hetika-o-Takurua, "the abiding assemblage of Takarua."

Source: Wikipedia

Canis Minor
In Māori, Procyon is called Puanga-hori, meaning the "False Puanga" (Puanga is the name for Rigel (β Orionis).

Sources: Wikipedia, Maori Star Names

On Tahiti, Procyon is one of the ten pilars that hold up the sky like pilars hold up a traditional Polynesian roundhouse.

Source: Wikipedia

On the island Puka Puka, the constellation Cassiopeia is called Na Taki-tolu-a-Mataliki.

Source Wikipedia

Crux, Centaurus, and
the Coalsack Nebula

The further south one travels, the brighter the Southern Cross shines. Thus, the constellation plays a prominent role in star lore in the southern hemisphere.

Very often, the stars of the Cross are combined with the two bright stars of Eridanus and with the Coalsack Nebula.

Alpha and Beta Centauri pointing towards the Cross

Right: Coalsack Nebula and Southern Cross
Source: Wikipedia
Alpha Centauri and Hadar (β Centauri) are among the brightest stars in the southern sky - Alpha Centauri is the third brightest star in the night sky. The two stars are called the Pointers, as a line connecting the two leads directly to the southern Cross.
The Coalsack Nebula is the most prominent dark nebula in the skies, visible to the naked eye near the Southern Cross, as a dark patch obscuring a brief section of the Milky Way.


In Hawaii, the Southern Cross is called Hanaiakamalama, meaning "cared for by the moon."

Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri Are called Ka-maile-mua (The first maile) and Ka-maile-hope (The last maile), respectively.

Maile is a vine, native to Hawaii. It is the most popular plant used for traditional Hawaiian lei, a wreath of flowers presented upon arriving or leaving as a symbol of affection.

Sources: Johnson and Mahelona: Hawaiian and Pacific Star Names, Polynesian Voyaging Society.

Hawaiian Lei


In Tonga, the Southern Cross is known as Toloa, the duck; it is depicted as a duck flying south, with one of his wings (Imai; δ Cruc) wounded because Ongo tangata, two men, represented by α and β Centauri, threw a stone at it.

The Coalsack is known as Humu, the triggerfish.


In Samoa too, α and β Centauri are two men, called Luatagata, but the triggerfish, called Sumu, is projected directly into the stars of the Cross.

Source: Wikipedia,

Source Wikipedia


In Māori, The Southern Cross is called Māhutonga and the pointers are acalled Te Taura o te Waka o Tamarēreti.

As individual stars, Alpha Centauri is called Uruao and Beta Centauri is called Ranginui.

They are part of a larger constellation, representing the anchor (the Southern Cross) and the anchor line (the Pointers) of a canoe called Te Waka o Tamarēreti.

Orion's Belt, called Tautoru, meaning "The Three Friends" forms the stern of the canoe. Te Waka o Mairerangi, the central part of Scorpius forms the keel and Tama-rereti, the scorpion's "tail" of is the bow.

Sources: Wikipedia, Maori Dictionary, Maori Star Names,
Tūhoe legends surrounding the creation of star constellations, Part 1 and Part 2


On the island Pukapuka, the constellation is called Te Taloa.

On the Tuamotu Islands, it is called Te Uru-o-tiki.


In Hawaii, Vega is called Keoe, meaning Sweet Potato.

Source: University of Hawaii
In Māori, Vega is called Whānui meaning broad, wide or extensive.

Sources: Maori Star Names, Maori Dictionary
In Northern Polynesia, Vega was called whetu o te tau, meaning the year star. For a period of history it marked the start of their new year when the ground would be prepared for planting. Due to nutation, this function later became denoted by the Pleiades.

Source: Wikipedia

Milky Way


Hawaiian sailors as well as priests and timekeepers (called Kahuna) observed the change in the orientation of the Milky Way through the night and used it for time determination.

The phrases huli ke kau, (the Milky Way has turned) and ua huli ka i’a, (the fish has turned) denoted that the hour of midnight had arrived.

Source: Maud W. Makemson: Hawaiian_Astronomical Concepts

In her book Hawaiian Myths of Earth, Sea, and Sky, Hawaiian writer Vivian L. Thompson tells the story of the trickster-god Ka-ulu who created the Milky Way when he defeated the Chief of Sharks.

Here is the story as retold by Cosmobiologist Graham Lau:

Milky Way and Kīlauea volcano
© Sean King; Source: Cosmobiologist

"This version holds that Ka-ulu's brother, Ka-ehu, had been abducted by a great king, a chief of Far Island. Ka-ulu becomes Ka-ulu-the-Strong and decides to find his brother.

The king fears Ka-ulu, so he sends Great-Rolling-Surf to kill the strong man. Ka-ulu uses his strength to break the Great-Rolling-Surf into little waves.

The king then sends Great-Stone-Man-with-Eight-Foreheads, a giant made of stone. When this giant attacks, Ka-ulu grabs him and holds him down until the ground and grass and trees grow over him. The Great-Stone-Man thus becomes a stone mountain with eight rolling hills.

The king send his Great-Barking-Dog to attack Ka-ulu, but the latter uses his strong hands to break the Great-Barking-Dog into pieces, each of which became a little barking dog that ran off in fear.

Ka-ulu approaches the king's mountain home. The king throws Great-Rock at Ka-ulu as he climbs the mountain. Ka-ulu crushes the Great-Rock into many little pebbles.

Ka-ulu then approaches the king and places his strong hands on the king's throat. Threatening the king's life, Ka-ulu asks for the whereabouts of his brother. The king, a weakling and fearful for his life, tells Ka-ulu to go ask the Chief of Sharks about the location of Ka-ehu.

Ka-ulu goes to Chief of Sharks and asks where Ka-ehu can be found. Chief of Sharks tells Ka-ulu that Ka-ehu is inside of his great stomach, but there is room for two if Ka-ulu would like to join him.

Knowing better than to be eaten by a great shark, Ka-ulu grabs the Chief of Sharks by his jaws and pulls them so wide that Ka-ehu can walk out of the shark's stomach. Before Ka-ulu and Ka-ehu leave, Ka-ulu grabs the Chief of Sharks and throws him into the sky. The great shark's body breaks and shatters into millions of pieces, forming the great white streak across the sky that we now know as the Milky Way.

Source: Cosmobiologist

Milky Way Whale Shark
© Natiur

The pictures above and below are not related to the myths told in any shape or form. I just thought they would be good illustrations.
In her epic four-volume work Hawaiian Mythology, US-American American folklorist and ethnographer Martha Beckwith reports shark related myths about the Milky Way from several places in Polynesia:

"The king shark of Kane and Kanaloa in Lewa-lani, called Ku-kama-ulu-nui-akea or Kalake‘e-nui-a-Kane, whom Ka-ulu slays in this legend and whose spirit flies up to the Milky Way, has its prototype in the South Seas."
Winter Milky Way; © Dr. Nicholas Roemmelt
In the Tuamotus, the Milky Way is the sacred ocean of Kiho-tumu; the dark rift in the Milky Way is his sacred ship, called The-long-shark.

Note: US-Aamerican anthropologist Kenneth Emory raised some doubts about the Kiho-tumu myth, that can be found here.
In Rarotonga (Cook Islands), Māui kills Te-Mokoroa-i-ata, the water monster who insulted Māui's father Tangaroa, and Mokoroa becomes the Milky Way.
In Tahiti, "the handsome blue shark, be-loved of Ta‘aroa," frolics with the children until the gods of the sea warn the brothers Tahi-a-nu‘u and Tahi-a-ra‘i that there is danger of its becoming a man-eater. One breaks his spear between its jaws, the other aims at its heart. They are about to cut it up when Ta‘aroa and Tu snatch away their pet to the Wai-ola-o-Tane and it bathes in the Milky Way.

Source: Martha Beckwith: Hawaiian Mythology, Chapter XXX


In Māori, the Milky Way is called Te Māngōroa.

In the Māori version of the shark myth, Māngōroa is the Māori name for a shark that was put into space by the demigod Māui. The shark, and other sea creatures such as rays, are considered to be the children of Punga, the "ugly god".

According to the blog, the Tuamotu legend of Kiho-tumu and his sacred ship, The-long-shark is told in New Zealand too. in this version, The-long-shark is represented by the dark patches of the Milky Way and the white patches are the waves from the ship as it is travelling through the sea.


Milky Way seen in New Zealand

Another Māori myth regarding the Milky Way is related to Te Waka o Tamarēreti, Tamarereti’s Canoe, a large Māori constellation consisting of stars of Orion, Scorpius, the pointer stars of Centaurus and the Southern Cross.

In this legend, Tamarereti, a young warrior creates the night sky. Here is story as written by Rosemary Cole, edited by Audrey Rendle and Judi Miller:
Tamarereti was a young warrior who lived near Lake Taupo. A scary taniwha, a water monster, lived in the lake, and Tamarereti knew the taniwha would eat him if he went fishing after dark.

At the time, the sky was black with no stars but Tamarereti thought he had plenty of daylight to go fishing so he pushed his waka (canoe) out onto the lake. He caught three fish and was heading to the shore to cook his kai (food), when his waka was becalmed. As he waited for the wind to push him back to shore, he slept.

When he awoke he found his wakawaka had drifted to the opposite side of Lake Taupo. He knew he was in big trouble ­­– it was dark, and he was far from his kāinga (village). He was hungry, so he cooked and ate the three fish. As he stood on the edge of the lake, he noticed the lake’s pebbles were reflecting the bright light of his fire, so he collected some of the pebbles and set off to his toi whenua (home), tossing the shiny pebbles into the sky. The pebbles lit his way and their light saved him from the taniwha.

When he got home he slept, but woke to find Rangi-nui had visited him. Tamarereti was terrified that he would be punished for spoiling the perfect blackness of the sky, but Rangi-nui praised him for creating the night sky and tossed Tamarereti’s waka up into the sky as well.

Tamarereti had created the Milky Way.


Canoe at Night
© Rena Ekmanis
Source: Cosmobiologist

In Hawaii, Betelgeuse is called Kaulua-koko.
Kaulua means brilliant red star, Koko means blood or rainbow-hued.

Rigel is called Puana-kau, meaning Suspended Blossom.

Source: University of Hawaii


In Māori, Orion's Belt is called Tautoru, meaning "The Three Friends."

Tautoru is part of a larger constellation called Te Waka o Tamarēreti. Orion's Belt forms the stern while Te Waka o Mairerangi, the "tail" of Scorpius is the bow. Māhutonga (The Southern Cross) is the anchor and The Pointers in Centaurus are the anchor line, called Te Taura o te Waka o Tamarēreti.

Sources: Wikipedia, Maori Dictionary

Rigel (β Orionis) is called Puanga and the entire constellation is sometimes called Nga Tira a Puanga, which means "Puanga's Company," or "The Traveling Party of Puanga."

Puanga is the son of Rēhua, the chief of all stars, which is Antares.

In some regions, Puanga (Rigel) is seen as a fruit and the constellation is seen as a pigeon called Kererū, sitting on a perch (Orion's Belt) and feeding on the fruit.

Keep in mind that in the southern hemisphere, Rigel is "above" Orion's Belt.

Betelgeuse (α Orionis) is called Pūtara. When the the red star first rises out of the ocean, it is very large and bright and throws out unmistakable red flashes. In Māori believes, if these flashes appear to be towards the north, it will be a year of plenty on land and in the sea, but if they appear towards the south it will be a lean season for food.

Sources: The Wisdom of the Maori: The Call of the Stars, Maori Star Names
Source: Encyclopedia of New Zealand

In Polynesia, the constellation Orion is called Heiheionakeiki.

Source: Wikipedia

The Bugis sailors of the Malay Archipelago called the stars of Orion's Belt Tanra Tellué, meaning "sign of three."

Source: Wikipedia


In Hawaii, the Pleiades are called Makali'i, meaning "Little eyes" or "Little stars".

The Makahiki festival, the ancient Hawaiian New Year festival in honor of the
god Lono was traditionally held at Makaliʻi hiki, the Heliacal rising of the Pleiades.

Source: University of Hawaii, Wikipedia


In Tahiti, a similar new year's festival is called Matari’i i ni’a.


French Polynesia Matari’i i ni’a Stamp


In New Zealand, the Pleiades are called The Seven Stars of Matariki.

They are part of the Māori Creation Myth, in which Rangi-nui and Papatūānuku the sky father and the earth mother had to be separated to give their children room to live and prosper.

In one version of the story, one of their sons, Tāne-mahuta, the guardian spirit of the forest and the god of light (who was the one who eventually succeeded in pushing his parents apart) obtained heavenly bodies of light (the stars, the moon and the sun and adorned his father with them so he would be appropriately dressed in the skies.

In a different version, Tāwhiri-mātea, the god of wind and storms (who was the only one who opposed his parent's separation) was so upset about it that he cried seven tears that became the seven stars of Matariki.

Sources: Wikipedia,

Papa-tūānuku and Rangi-nui
Source: Wikipedia

In 2008, New Zealand writer and teacher Toni Rolleston-Cummins wrote a completely new version of the Matariki story, to engage and entertain her class and make the story of Matariki come alive and have meaning.

In this story, an adventurous young man called Mitai lives with his seven handsome brothers in the village of Maketu. He watches his brothers become bewitched by seven beautiful women, and under their spell, the brothers no longer eat, look after themselves, work in their gardens or hunt.

Realising the women are Patupaiarehe, fairy women, he knows they must be cast far away.
The Seven Stars of Matariki;

They are given to Urutengangana, the god of the stars, and he places the patupaiarehe in the heavens farthest from the earth. Yet once a year, at winter solstice, he allows their beauty to shine in the eastern sky.

In 2009, Toni Rolleston-Cummins's book, illustrated by Nikki Slade Robinson was placed on the prestigious New Zealand Notable Books List by the Storylines Children's Literature Foundation.

In my opinion, this story is a shining example of the evelution of star lore throughout the centuries.

Source: Huia Bookshop



In Hawaii, the constellation Scorpius is known as Nui o Maui (The Big Fishhook of Maui). Shaula (λ Sco), the star at the point of the scorpion's tail, is called Ka Maka (The point of the fishhook).

Hawaii's great hero Māui is said to have created Hawaii's islands when he caught his hook on the ocean floor and raised the islands to the surface.

Source: Wikipedia

Antares (α Sco) is called Lehua-kona (Southern Lehua blossom).

Source: University of Hawaii

The Big Fishhook of Maui


In Tahiti, a traditional story is told of the Pipirima Twins, a brother and a sister, named Pipiri and Rehua, who flee their parents into the sky and become stars. While chasing them into the sky, their parents call them Pipirima, meaning Pipiri and company. In one account, the children become the stars Shaula (λ Scorpii) and Lesath (υ Scorpii) in the tip of the tail of Scorpio. In another version, they become μ1 Scorpii and μ2 Scorpii.

In 2017, the IAU assigned names to the binary system of μ1 and μ2 Scorpii, sharing the Tahitian story with a story from southwest Africa.

μ2 Scorpii was named Pipirima, while μ1 Scorpii received the Khoikhoi name Xamidimura.

Source: Wikipedia

The Legend of Pipirima (song)
Source: youtube

In a similar version of the story told in the Cook Islands, the Pipirima Twins become ω1 Scorpii and ω2 Scorpii.

Source: Wikipedia


In Māori, the central part of Scorpius is called Te Waka o Mairerangi, while the "tail" is called Tama-rereti. They are part of a larger constellation called Te Waka o Tamarēreti, Tamarēreti's Canoe.

Orion's Belt, called Tautoru, forms the stern, Te Waka o Mairerangi is the keel and Te Waka o Mairerangi is the bow.

Māhutonga (the Southern Cross) is the anchor and the Pointers in Centaurus are the anchor line, called Te Taura o te Waka o Tamarēreti.

Sources: Wikipedia, Maori Dictionary, Maori Star Names
Tūhoe legends surrounding the creation of star constellations, Part 1 and Part 2

Te Waka o Tamarēreti
Source: Youtube

Antares is the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius. The Ngāi Tūhoe people of New Zealand's North Island call that star Rēhua, and regard it as the chief of all the stars. Rēhua is the father of Puanga/Puaka, which is Rigel, an important star in the calculation of the Māori calendar.

Source: Wikipedia

To the Ngāi Tūhoe, Rēhua is a son of Rangi and Papa. Because he lives in the highest of the skies, Rehua is untouched by death, and has power to cure blindness, revive the dead, and heal any disease.

In other Pacific cultures, Rēhua is associates with different stars, such as Betelgeuse or Sirius

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Rehua Arts


Hawaiian lore attributes the discovery of Hawai‘i to a fisherman named Hawai‘iloa. He is said to have discovered the islands during a long fishing trip from a homeland in the west. The Big Island was named after him, while Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, and Maui were named after his children.

Hawai‘iloa’s navigator, Makali‘i, steered in the direction of Iao, the Eastern Star, and Hoku‘ula, the red star. According to Pukui & Elbert Iao is the Hawaiian name for Jupiter, when it rises in the east. Hoku‘ula has been generally identified as Adebaran.

Source:Voyaging Chiefs of Havai‘i and Fornander: Collection of Hawaiian Antiquities and Folklore




In Kiribati, the V-shaped stars of the Hyades are seen as a canoe and Adebaran
is called te-boto-n-aiai, meaning "the base ribs of the canoe."


The same V-shape let the people of Fiji sea a sail, called laða.

Source: Lexicon of Proto-Oceanic

Canoes of the Kiribati Islands

On the island of Anuta and Tikopia in the Solomon Islands, the V-shape of the Hyades and Adebaran was seen as bamboo tongs, called te-aŋa-aŋa and te-ŭkopi, respectively.

Source: Lexicon of Proto-Oceanic
The same interpretation (called sȃkai) was used on the Lau Islands (now a part of Fiji).

Source: Lexicon of Proto-Oceanic
In Māori, Adebaran is called wero-i-te-kokota meaning "Herald of the digging season."

Source: Lexicon of Proto-Oceanic

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