Indigenous New Zealand “moon school” runs on superstition and astrology

July 13, 2023 • 10:30 am

This is what will happen if the “indigenization” of New Zealand’s public education proceeds apace, accompanied by the view that “other ways of knowing” are to be given equal time with modern science—or modern education. Both articles below, the first from Ako, “the [New Zealand] journal for education professionals, and the second from New Zealand’s Newshub via MSN, describe the same school.

As far as I can gather, this Māori-centric school is funded by the government, but appears to cater mainly to Māori students, although fewer than 10% of the students are Māori. The kicker is that the school runs on Maramataka, the Māori lunar calendar, and appears to involve a heavy dose of astrology.

While the students do appear to gain some practical knowledge about harvesting and cooking food (see below), it seems to me that they’re not getting the kind of comprehensive modern education that will get the students jobs and make them useful citizens to the country as a whole. And if you’re one of the 81% of non-Māori students, you’ll learn a ton about the culture and language, as well as some practical knowledge of the Māori. But will you be in good educational stead?

But read for yourself. I’ll quote mainly from the first article (click on screenshots to read). First, from Ako:

From New Zealand’s Newshub via MSN:

From the first article, which is heavy on Māori words.  “Maramataka”, as I said, is the Māori lunar calendar. The school is Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Tūtūtarakihi (“Tūtūtarakihi Māori Education School”), on the North Island, which teaches students through their first eight years of school. (That would be up to the beginning of high school in the U.S.)

Here’s part of the justification for such a school:

What does understanding of ancient knowledge give us? Imagine having the blueprints for the pyramids of Giza right in front of us, the schematics for the mysterious Nazca Lines or the astronomical codex that guided the construction of Miringa Te Kaakara.

Sadly, the principles of knowledge used in the construction of these marvels have been largely lost to time, held only through the passing on of ever decreasing pools of understanding amongst the older generations.

Within maramataka, we are fortunate enough to have a vast assortment of knowledge remain present. Do we relegate this know-how to be lost in time, or apply it to increase wellbeing and a deeper understanding of our environment and how it affects us?

What do the Nazca lines and pyramids have in common? They are “spiritual”, often thought to involve aliens or numinous inspiration. And yes, we have pretty good ideas about how the pyramids and Nazca lines were constructed, though the significance of the lines are debated. As for the Miringa Te Kaakara, that is simply a cross-shaped house whose “principles of construction” are well known.

This school has been going about four years, but hasn’t been formally assessed in terms of educational outcome. Nevertheless, the teachers express overwhelming enthusiasm about the results:

When Henarata Ham (Te Aitanga aa Hauiti) principal at Te Kura oo Hirangi in Tuurangi was asked “Why did you do it?” the simple answer was, “Why not?” She said that after surveying whaanau and staff there was a 100 percent uptake for the concept. “So far, there have been no negatives, all of the results have been positive. This is the foundation for all of our knowledge, growing our iwi and whaanau citizens.”

From Newshub:

The Ministry of Education told The Hui: “The establishment of Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Tūtūtarakihi delivers on education objectives for ākonga Māori, tamariki, and rangatahi to be able to access kaupapa Māori learning where they and their whanau are connected and engaged.”

(Translation: “The Ministry of Education told The Hui: “The establishment of Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Tūtūtarakihi delivers on educational objectives for Māori students, children, and young people to be able to access standard Māori learning where they and their family are connected and engaged.”)

Could there be confirmation bias here? We won’t know until there’s a formal assessment of the students’ progress and knowledge.

And there’s this:

It added: “Kura Kaupapa Māori settings deliver great educational achievement and wellbeing outcomes for their akonga Māori, and their whanau.”

Rangimarie said the children and their whanau benefit through the revival of lost customs.

“If we truly seek well-being through that path, we can continue. There is no well-being for the Māori people living in poverty and illness. Therefore, this is one way to restore well-being to our people.”

This tribalism reminds me of the Orthodox Jewish schools in both Israel and the U.K., which don’t have separation of church and state. It’s fine to have religious or ethnic-centered schools run by astrology, but not ones funded by the public.

So here’s what the students learn: a combination of practical Māori knowledge, a smidgen of “standard” scientific knowledge, and some astrology:

Michelle Haua (Ngaati Porou, Te Awe Maapara) of Hiruharama Kura in Ruatooria spoke to Ako in 2021 about how she uses the maramataka in her classroom. So what has changed since then?

“One of the effects of COVID-19 was general price hikes, couple this with increased weather disturbance due to our global climate crisis, we are seeing food costs in particular becoming a huge problem for whaanau [extended families].”

Haua looks to the maramataka [lunar calendar] to help with these issues. “We use the seasons to do the things we are naturally good at. We are pragmatic and due to the rise in price of food, feel it is important to teach our children how to get kai [food] from our natural environment. The holistic practicalities of oranga pai [a good life]. We can teach them ABC and 123, but we are teaching them how to catch, prepare, cook and preserve kai under the auspices of maatauranga Maaori in conjunction with the maramataka.

Is this a general-education school or a cooking school?  But it’s said to “decolonize” thinking:

Te Wharekura oo Ngaati Rongomai, the first kura [school] to receive official confirmation of their transition to using maramataka, assisted greatly in “decolonising the thinking process. We made sure we had the facts to back us up, so this wasn’t change, it was a returning.”

Here’s the money quote, which mistakes the phases of the moon for what we think of as astrology:

The maramataka gives us information about phases of the moon which can be used and adapted to plan ahead whilst suiting localised curriculum, as well as regionally specific environments.

If you’re not convinced yet, I ask that you think about this for a minute: the Moon pulls the Earth’s tides which are largely comprised of water. Adult humans are made up of around 60 percent water. Does the Moon affect our “water” as it does the oceans? You be the judge.

The answer they are looking for, of course, is “yes”.  But the tides come in and go out twice a day, so we should have four episodes of psychological change per day. Is that astrology? You be the judge.

From the Newshub piece:

The Kura Kaupapa Māori o Tūtūtarakihi has set out to be one of the first kura to utilise Te Taiao, the natural environment, as the foundation of the curriculum – like doing maths by counting pipi [chickens] or reading stories about phases of the moon.

So that means that 80 percent of the time, the outdoors is their classroom and only 20 percent of school time is spent inside.

“The children will read and learn about the phases of the moon,” Kaiako Wikatana Popata said.

And when the children focus on holiday activities, it’s not Christmas or the January New Year.  Instead, following the Maramataka Māori, they’re marking the end of the year now.

“For some schools, the main strategy of learning is through paper and pen. But for us here at Tūtūtarakihi, [the children] can learn all sorts through environmental activities,” Pomare said.

Popata said people have judged the school because pupils are often at the beach.

“People assumed we were a bunch of hippies.”

But he said when the children gather shellfish, they’re also learning to analyse the waves and currents. They learn how to keep themselves safe and also learn the ancestral stories related to Tangaroa and Hinemoana.

Forgive me if I’m a bit dubious about teaching children how to “analyze waves and currents” while gathering shellfish on the beach. Yes, they can learn how not to drown, which is a practical skill useful in a country surrounded by water, but note that they also learn Māori ancestral legends. That’s a bit of anthropology and sociology that may be useful to know, but it sounds like the class—again 81% non-Māori—is being inundated with this stuff at the expense of what the country is falling behind in: reading, science, and math.

Instead, the curriculum appears to comprise astrology, legends, and practical knowledge relating to food. Such are the wishes of New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Chris Hipkins, who fostered this kind of stuff as Education Minister before he became The Boss.

The anonymous Kiwi who sent me these articles had the following to say:

Criticise this and you’ll be called a racist. To me this is pretty much equivalent to creationism.

This is certainly more like astrology than astronomy (e.g., the Māori never figured out that the Earth revolved around the sun, and they had no idea what stars were), but it does involve some accurate natural history observations and was useful in scheduling annual food production.

Maramataka was used to record seasonal cues for all sorts of things.  For example, the flowering of the pohutukawa tree was used to indicate the time of year when sea urchins (kina in Māori) have ripe gonads and are therefore good to eat. Of course this is correlative, not causal, and I’m sure you’re aware that various factors can lead to a decoupling between air and sea temperatures (e.g. upwelling, onshore movement of warm currents, etc) that would lead to errors in prediction, but as a rule of thumb based on inductive logic it’s reasonably reliable. There are other things like the flowering of certain trees coinciding with the spawning of a certain species of fish, and at that time Māori would stop fishing them.

So this is practical knowledge about an annual cycle of planting crops, harvesting crops, catching certain types of migrating fish, etc. It also involves a lot of woo.

27 thoughts on “Indigenous New Zealand “moon school” runs on superstition and astrology

      1. They key is in the term “decolonize.” Lenin called colonialism the highest form of capitalism. This is just the old, old story of people trying to take down the bourgeois superstructure that, they say, is part and parcel of capitalism.

        1. I know V.I. Lenin wrote a book titled, in English, “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism”. Is that what you are referring to? Did you read it? Could you explain how it relates to the situation in New-Zealand? Also, about what you call “the old (marxist) story of taking down the bourgeois superstructure”, I really do not comprehend where you got that from. Classic oldschool leninist marxists believe the so called superstructure is determined by the economic base or infrastructure. In order to change the superstructure, you need a revolution that will change the infrastructure. Well, of course, should you be right and I mistaken, I will correct my views on what marxism is (according to Lenin).

        2. And particularly decolonizing the mind – Freire loved this idea.

          All this needs to be read to be believed.

      2. Seizing the means of knowledge production in the service of returning to the original pastoral life/Utopia which “man” has fallen from, as a result of dehumanizing structures. Society making “man”. See the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Faith is all over the place in it.

        Seizing factories, and capital is only part of Marx’s theology – he might have termed it “Liberation theology”, but Freire definitely has that title in a section in The Politics of Education.

        Really, Marx and Freire say these things best – I need to read it again, it’s astonishing.

    1. Marx would not have countenanced such an education for a second. Marx was a philosopher who believed in science (indeed, he thought history was one), and would have regarded this as a retrograde step driven by the sentimentalising of the past.

  1. What does understanding of ancient knowledge give us? Imagine having the blueprints for the pyramids of Giza right in front of us, the schematics for the mysterious Nazca Lines or the astronomical codex that guided the construction of Miringa Te Kaakara.

    Sadly, the principles of knowledge used in the construction of these marvels have been largely lost to time. . . .

    So they are not actually teaching this ancient knowledge? Then what is the value of not teaching it, and also not teaching how they could be built using modern techniques? I would say the goal here is ignorance.

  2. the tides come in and go out twice a day, so we should have four episodes of psychological change per day.

    That, and the gravitational pull of the moon is tiny compared to all the other forces the water (and any other matter) in us is subjected to, like the gravitational pull of the Earth, the frequently changing accelleration by moving around, our circulatory system and cellular metabolism etc. – at least according to the UC Santa Barbara:

  3. When I read complete horse-sh*t like the lines about how, since the moon creates tides by pulling on the water of the Earth then there is some kind of analogous effect on the water in humans–as if it were water specifically that the moon pulls, not every bit of matter and energy like every other gravitating body–I want to scream. The ignorance required to produce that kind of magical thinking is astounding, and SO easily remedied, as PPC(E) does in 3 brief sentences (including one sardonic quote-back at the original article).

  4. Someone please remind me what the British were trying to get out of their little colony in the Antipodes. Whatever it was, their descendants and newer settlers seem to have given up on it and are just going with the flow, waiting for the end as if the rest of the world no longer exists. On the Beach redux. (Yes, different country.)

    That four-fifths of the students have non-Maori parents who seem to embrace this strains the imagination. Why? Maybe they really are hippies. (I can see “Sylvia’s Mother”, Mrs. Avery, trying to keep her daughter away from them. “So why don’t you leave her alone?”*). Or maybe the only alternative in their district is an unaffordable private school.

    Canada has installed this sort of curriculum in federally funded Indian schools where “normal” instruction has failed—education of Status Indians is a federal responsibility, which is why Ontario’s provincial truancy statistics looked so good in that comparison you featured a couple of weeks ago. But only Native children attend these schools, some at the “alternative high school level” where they teach students how to hunt moose and tell them the star legends, and no settler would send his kid to one.
    * Thanks to the great Shel Silverstein.

  5. Thank you, PCC(e), for this priceless item. It led me to reminisce a bit about my days long, long ago as an elementary school pupil in a yeshiva. The language was, of course, an amalgam of Hebrew and English, analogous to the pidgin Maori so beloved today in New Zealand educational circles. Our thinking was as decolonized as can be, focused as it was on tanakh rather than such things as numbers or chemicals or gravity. And it would have been so much more fun if we had been gathering shellfish at the beach, rather than trying to decryptify the impenetrable secret script of Hebrew called Rashi. (This was, alas, long before the Rashi Food Company of India began to produce its fine potato chips.) There was no pretense then that Talmud/Torah was co-equal with goyish science. It was just different.

  6. For political context, while freedom of religion is guaranteed in NZ, it has no constitutionally grounded separation of church and state. There is no constitutional bar that prevents the NZ government from promoting creationism in public schools. In fact, there is a long tradition of creationism in public school curricula in NZ.

    Another salient factor is that NZ saw the world’s greatest increase in income inequality starting in the 1980s. This has gone hand-in-hand with the development of a de facto two-tiered education system, with children in richer areas getting the kind of education that will prepare them for university and professional careers, while children in poorer areas are guinea pigs in a government experiment to substitute Maori creationism for science.

    The New Zealand foundation myth of a “fair go” society where everyone was mostly equal, and happy probably needs revising. The educational outcomes, which used to be excellent, have also taken a hit. The country that produced an Ernest Rutherford now scores last of all English speaking countries in reading and literacy.

    1. Re : two-tiered education system.
      Here is the nearest school to my home, at 281 Remuera Rd Remuera ( and two blocks down from this is Kings prep.)
      It specialises in Matauranga Harry Lee

      I am bitterly disappointed the maori moon school doesn’t narrate its maori navigational skills module. Pre-maori settled in NZ circa late 13th Century, but no firm archaeological evidence the travels were two-way. I presume the moon school does teach about maori navigational skills, which in the current world means ‘navigate across the Tasman Sea to better-paying jobs in Australia’. Note this travel is also largely one-way, as it was in the late 13th century. Don’t hear much whining from NZers in Australia about substandard Aussie matauranga-free education.

      Ramesh’s positionality statement : 2% Denisovan, brutally suppressed in the genome by a 98% Dravidian & Mongoloid cro-magnon incursion

      1. In the US, public schools are kind of a baseline, default educational option. There are good ones and bad ones, depending almost entirely on neighborhood, but the curriculum in all (within a given state) is mostly the same. Private schools are expensive options for parents who want either a more rigorous, more protective, or more religious curriculum.
        It seems that in Aukland one can attend an expensive private school or a state Maori-creationist school in the same neighborhood. Are there parents who “mix and match”- sending their kids for Matauranga by day and math/English cram schools by night?

        1. I’m not aware of any 100% matauranga schools in major urban areas, though a few state schools have parallel ‘maori language immersion’ streams. The nation doesn’t have as large a % of students in expensive fee-paying secondary schools compared to Australia, where I gather around 20% of secondary students ( that is, the bulk of the upper-middle class ) are in this category.

          I’m unsure of how much time is spent in state schools upon cultural edu-crap. The edu-crap is definitely present even in expensive private schools. Here it is presumably seized upon by good but not academically stellar Whites, who then find as much maaori-ness in their family lineage as my chromosomes have Denisovan and Neanderthal DNA. They then transform from ‘default White’ to ‘strategic Maori’, which allows them reduced academic entry standards in their later endeavours. The beauty of this is that we all know how the principal advantage of fee-paying or zoned schools is how children form peer-networks with more privileged kids. This gives advantages in later life. Elevating the Maaaori in the Whitey does much the same thing, but without having to suck up to privileged peers.

          1. Is it actually possible for whites (by definition colonialist oppressors) to game pseudo- “maori-ness” into university admissions?
            In the US I’m sure it’s been tried, but when it’s found out it’s considered fraudulent- or at least shady.
            A more common scam here is the proto-Peace Corps “I spent three weeks saving lives in Sudan” summer vacation, described in lurid detail in a Stanford application.

            1. Google University of Auckland art lecturer “Peter 3.125% Maori Robinson”, and check what identity he is classified under in Auckland Art Gallery ( against which I have an active ongoing complaint through the Human Rights Commission for Asian-minimising attitudes.)

              Ramesh ‘as Denisovan @ 2% of my genome as many Maaaaori are Maaori’

      2. I worked at Victoria Ave school, just down the road from you, for some years! Teaching of science was basically nonexistent, the poor kids were expected to ‘discover’ science on their own. The rot goes back many years. I watched maybe 3 minutes of a doc about the moon school a couple of nights ago. Absolute madness
        Personal statement: mostly Scots, ancestors indentured servants 1650s.

  7. Still waiting for the anti-science flat-earth crew at Free(From)ThoughtBogs to come out and fully support this woo. Just as they have done for other forms of woo.

    1. Much more dangerous, David. Creationists just want to be allowed to teach that evolution is “only a theory.” In America, they’re happy with God, private property, Congress, freedom of speech, equal treatment before the law, science and technology, all the big stuff. They can believe God made the stars while still accepting they are balls of hydrogen gas undergoing nuclear fusion that don’t affect your love life and aren’t really the eyes of the gods peaking through the celestial veil of woven reeds. Abortion is a sideshow in the grand scheme of things. Life would go on in Creationist America, even if there were 10 Commandments outside courthouses.

      UNDRIP, by contrast, has energized indigenous people in NZ and everywhere else to strive for a much bigger prize. They want the land back and to run it by their traditional tribal laws with pakeha as disenfranchised tenant-workers living on sufferance. Education is an easy start. If powerful families can induce enough settlers to emigrate to Australia or to return to whatever other countries they are allowed to, it makes for fewer stay-behinds for the motorcycle gangs to cow into docility.

      My question is, Why is the NZ government doing this? Why is the Canadian government playing footsie with aboriginal oligarchs who want to do the same thing here? I can’t believe they are all just lunatics who happened to be in power in different countries all at the same time. China has been trying to subvert the political process in both countries, as we are just now learning but nothing to see here, folks. Is this part of the game?

  8. The oppressive part of the relevant applied mathematics relating to the effects of the Sun and Moon on the Earth in space lies in the use of the gravitational potential, rather than the inverse square law of gravitation itself, in a blatantly Western expression of supremacist formulae for precession of the equinoxes that takes no account of the ways of knowing of ancient indigenous communities. See “Physics of the Earth” by Frank Stacey for this marginalizing treatise on the temporal orientations of our planet to the constellations.

    Then we have the inequitable deployment of the cosine rule to approximate the gravitational potential outside any given body, heavenly or otherwise.

    Finally, we have those post-colonial Legendre Polynomials, the offspring of a pale, stale, white male by the name of Mr. Legendre, I think!.

    However – it’s all just another way of knowing; no better, no worse than crystals, incense, rain-dances and songs.

    But is all of that not covered much more equitably in traditional knowledge through folklore and word of mouth? And – of course, stories of the ancestors and Sky-God mythologies apply equally to the waters of the human body.

    Isn’t it time to push this Western racist science behind us and put our faith in spirits, devils, incantations, body hugs and incense?


    Hey – these are the jokes, folks! Problem is – none of what we are seeing here in little ol’ Aotearoa is all that funny. In fact – it’s quite the opposite. We have every reason to be very afraid for the future of this country and our kids and their kids and their kids’ kids.

    Oh my Sky-God!

    Like others, I respect indigenous and minority cultures and world views, but object when science is relegated to the level of ways of knowing of small communities of centuries and millenia ago and, even more critically, when activists insist that every child in this country, regardless of background, religion, skin-color or country of origin, must swallow non-scientific rubbish in science class.

    Aotearoa – get real!
    David Lillis

  9. Doubtless it is a toxic combination of etymological fallacy and colonialist thinking which leads me to think that the lunatics are in charge.

    Whom can these pupils sue when they soon discover that their education has ill-equipped them for the twenty-first century?

  10. I thought you’d do this. Honestly, I have a hunch many of the kids are there as there is no other “school”.

  11. The most common denominator for these other ways of knowing, other than brute ignorance, is simplicity. Simplistic observations and simplistic extrapolations. The moon causes the tides, tides are water there is water in our bodies therefore we must be affected. Simple. We see tidal effects on water because there is a lot of it and we have some reference points against land, but tidal forces effect everything (except maybe the material of a neutron star) as far as I know, so the water thing is both simplistic and ignorant and it is a similar story with other aspect of this kind of thinking. Resonance and energy, frequency and quantum, etc.

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