Hawaiian Astronomy Highlighted at Museum Talks

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Perhaps the definitive book on Hawaiian astronomy and Polynesian voyaging, out of print for some time, is getting a comprehensive update 40 years since it was first published.

Astronomy will be a recurring theme while the International Astronomical Union (IAU) is in Honolulu for the next two weeks. On Friday I recapped some of the associated events that would be open to the public, ranging from science talks presented at the Convention Center to stargazing parties on the beach. As it turns out, the Bishop Museum will be hosting a series of short, 20-minute astronomy talks on Sunday, including a preview of the new edition of “Nā Inoa Hōkū, A Catalog of Hawaiian and Pacific Star Names.”

And while the museum is home to the J. Watamull Planetarium, still gleaming after a major renovation in 2012, the presentations will be made outside in the Atherton Hālau, an open-air venue modeled after traditional Hawaiian gathering and work spaces.

na-inoa-hokuThe book was published in 1975 by Hawaiian scholars Rubellite Kawena Johnson and John Kaipo Mahelona, the result of a massive effort to compile a list of Hawaiian star names from primary sources. Even today, it’s a key resource in the study of Polynesian voyaging, as well as the use of the stars by native Hawaiians for everything from rituals to calendars. One used copy is listed on Amazon.com for $300.

Now, “Na Inoa Hoku” will have a second edition, with arcaeoastronomer Clive Ruggles working with the title’s original authors to revise and extend the star catalog, with new translation of many of the 19th century Hawaiian sources for the star names and meanings. Perhaps more importantly, the update includes new information on their broader context and significance.

All three authors — Johnson, Mahelona, and Ruggles — will be on hand on Sunday to sign advance copies, with the book officially released for sale on Monday, Aug. 10. It will be available from the University of Hawaii Press, from Oxbow Books/Casemate in Europe, and Ocarina Books in the U.K.

Of course, the book is just one of the topics to be covered at the museum. Dr. Sze-Leung Cheung from the IAU’s Office of Astronomy Outreach will speak on the “International Year of Light” and the latest in light-based technologies. Other speakers will cover Hawaiian cultural astronomy, astronomical heritage, and international dark skies.

The lectures start at 5 p.m. at Bishop Museum and are free and open to the public.

IAU delegates and their guests, by the way, are eligible for a special group discount on admission to Bishop Museum on Sunday during its regular operating hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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