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2020 Callaghan Medal: “A conduit between traditional Māori knowledge and modern Science”

Professor Rangi Matamua (Tūhoe) has been awarded the Callaghan Medal from Royal Society Te Apārangi for his ability to engage audiences with his research into Matariki. The Callaghan Medal is awarded annually to a person who has made an outstanding contribution to science communication and raises public awareness of the value of science to human progress.

Professor Matamua’s science communication work spans award winning television programmes, public talks, podcasts, university teaching, a book about Matariki and an online following of over 40,000. His web series hit one million views in just four months, and it is the reach of his work that has prompted calls for Matariki to be recognised as a public holiday.

A lecturer in the Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies, Professor Matamua believes his large following is due to a new generation’s appetite to understand more about their environment. “It’s looking back to understand a pathway forward. I think people are starting to desire a new way of understanding the world, including science.”

He is the author of Matariki: The Star of the Year, written in both English and te reo Māori, and travels nationally and internationally sharing the book, research and findings in the study of Māori astronomy. Professor Matamua says it’s important to him to communicate his research in both English and te reo Māori.

“The Māori language is for all of us here in Aotearoa. It’s another way that you can really feel and understand the depth of a culture and by understanding and sharing the language, the culture and language survive.”

Professor Matamua says he wants Matariki to be understood and accepted as an important and uniquely New Zealand celebration – a sentiment shared by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and a 35,000 strong petition. In 2022, Matariki will become an official New Zealand Public Holiday.

“Matariki has so many wonderful parts to it. I’d like to see those principles of reflecting on those that we have lost in the year that’s gone, celebrating who we are, and then planning for the next season, as the basis of a major celebration every winter with the rising of Matariki.”

Professor Matamua is a previous two-time recipient of a Marsden Fund Te Pūtea Rangahau, a grant, managed by Royal Society Te Apārangi which enabled him to study in his field and travel widely to present his findings. His 2019 roadshow was visited by more than 10,000 people in 21 different locations and this work contributed to Professor Matamua becoming the first Māori to win a Prime Minister’s Science award for communication.

“Support by whānau and the Royal Society has helped me really further my study in this field. The national and international road show on Matariki made possible by the Marsden Fund really launched the communication into a new space. It introduced Matariki to new audiences and to new communities.”

Professor Matamua hopes to establish an institute of Māori astronomy that teaches from both a scientific and cultural perspective in the near future.

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