What is Matariki?

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In recent years there has been an upsurge of awareness among New Zealanders of the place of reo Maori language in both the history and future of Aotearoa. This awareness is part of a process that helps us to be increasingly conscious of our unique cultural identity.

The next step is an appreciation of the wider cultural traditions of Maori and one of the most significant celebrations in the Maori calendar is Matariki the indigenous, Aotearoa, New Year.

The renaissance of this ancient Maori celebration and its tradition is a chance for all New Zealanders to remind ourselves of the very special place we occupy in the world.

What is Matariki?

Matariki is a small but distinctive star cluster whose appearance in the north eastern pre-dawn sky in late May, early June marks the start of a new phase of life.

Although there are tribal differences regarding the timing, celebrations most often begin at the next new moon after Matariki has risen. As with similar moveable feasts in the western calendar, such as Easter, the exact timing varies from year to year but usually occurs during the month of June.

In ancient times Matariki arrived at the end of the harvest and was therefore a time of plenty for our ancestors. The kumara and other root foods had been gathered. The migration of fish such as moki and korokoro also made Matariki a time of bountiful catches. Visitors were often showered with gifts of specially preserved eel, birds and other delicacies. Matariki was a time to share and present offerings to others.

Matariki can be translated in two ways Mata Riki (Tiny eyes) and Mata Ariki (Eyes of God). Either way the eyes are thought to watch over the land and its people.

Matariki new beginning

As well as marking the start of a new year, Matariki also signals other new beginnings. Traditionally Matariki was the time to plant trees, prepare the land for planting crops and renew associations with whanau, family and friends. The New Year is also a good time to reflect on your place in the world, to reawaken old skills or try out new ones and set new goals.

There are many things you could plan to do to mark Matariki in your own special way, some may be based on traditional Maori ways of celebrating and some could be things you have thought up for yourself.

For ideas to help you get started on making Matariki a new beginning for you, you can go to the Celebrating Matariki page.

Matariki around the world

The timing of Matarikis rising and the particular Maori celebration is unique to Aotearoa. However, the Matariki cluster can be seen from many parts of the world where it is known by several other names including Pleiades, Seven Sisters, Subaru and Messier 45. For some iwi, Puanga or Rigel is the star that signifies the beginning of the Maori New Year.

The time of the rising of the Pleiades has always been a major indicator of seasonal changes throughout the ancient world. Matariki is recognised widely in the pacific where it was an important astronomical sign to sailors both as a navigational aid and as a sign that the weather was safe for long voyages with the stormy season past.

Early Greek seamen knew them as the sailing stars and would only sail when the stars were visible at night. In Hawaii, the stars are known as the Makalii and their appearance in October/November marked the start of the great Makahiki Festival dedicated to the god of rain and agriculture.

The Japanese call Matariki Subaru, which has become well known due to its use by the car maker. The meaning of Subaru is generally thought to be united or getting together.

Some cultures believed that a great ancient cataclysm occurred when the Pleiades were overhead at midnight, such as the great biblical flood or the sinking of Atlantis. In both ancient Greece and Mexico, several temples were lines up with the rising and setting of Matariki.

Additional Information

For more information on Matariki you can email matariki@tetaurawhiri.govt.nz.

If youre thinking of hosting a Matariki inspired event get in touch with us or let Te Taurawhiri know and they will promote it on their Matariki events calendar.

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