Tales of Rūrangi come to light in earthquake aftermath

4:26 pm on 15 November 2016

When you descend from the god of Paerangi Atua, or the Milky Way, you're likely to be familiar with the phenomena of quake lightning.

Iwi Leader, Che Wilson says for generations his people have passed down the stories of Te Kāhui o Rū - the group of vibrations.

Mr Wilson grew up in Ōhākune, close to the trio of active volcanoes Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngāuruhoe, but he comes from Ngāti Rangi - an iwi named after the sky.

His ancestor, Paerangi i te Whare Toka (Paerangi of the House of Stone), drew forth the fires of Koro Rūapehu, the same fires that would be used to heat and provide life for Rūnuku and Rūrangi - the connection between the movement of the earth and its connection with the sky.

Che Wilson grew up in Ōhākune, but comes from Ngāti Rangi.

Che Wilson grew up in Ōhākune, but comes from Ngāti Rangi. Photo: Supplied

On Monday night he was standing outside his Wellington home as the skies lit up - an ocurrance he said was Rūrangi, or quake lightning.

Mr Wilson said it was the first time he had personally seen Rūrangi after an earthquake.

"Even though I've written about it in journals, Māori language school journals, it was great to see it," he said.

Mr Wilson, whose grandmother's cousin was named Rūrangi after quake lightning, said having now seen Rūrangi with his own eyes, it verified the teachings of the old people.

Many of the stories are still recorded in waiata, tauparapara (speech) and karakia.

Te Kāhui o Rūaumoko

  • Rū - vibration
  • Rūnuku - vibration of the earth
  • Rūrangi - balancing response
  • Rūpapa - land drops
  • Rūtake - land forms
  • Rūkerekere - land turns colour after eruption

Mr Wilson said Rū was the vibration, while Rūnuku was its effect on the earth and Rūrangi was the response.

Rūpapa and Rūtake - when the land drops away and forms from the vibration. Rūkerekere was when it physically changes colour.

GNS Volcanologist Tony Hurst watched a clip of the lighting phenomena that many on social media are linking to "quake lightning" and thinks the lights seen in Wellington were more likely to be substations arcing.

"In Wellington it was shaking a lot but it wasn't near the fault lines," he said.

Mr Hurst said he'd be happier to accept the explanation of Rūrangi if it were closer to where the fault broke.

In 2014 National Geographic published a story about a study authored by Friedemann Freund, an adjunct professor of physics at San Jose State University.

He described a range of earthquake lights.

"Common forms of earthquake lights included bluish flames that appear to come out of the ground at ankle height; orbs of light called ball lightning that float in the air for tens of seconds or even minutes; and quick flashes of bright light that resemble regular lightning strikes, except they come out of the ground instead of the sky and can stretch up to 200m."

Mr Wilson said western science hadn't always valued Māori stories and teachings.

"This is a chance to celebrate what our tūpuna intimately knew," he said.