One of the lovely things about living in Aotearoa New Zealand is that we get to celebrate two New Years. One on January 1 and one in June/July with Matariki, the Māori New Year. Matariki is a time for gathering whanau and friends to reflect on the year that has been and look forward to the year ahead, and while it is yet to be marked as a public holiday, there is mounting opinion in New Zealand that it should. Here, we look at Matariki’s origins, what it symbolises for Māori and how it's being celebrated around the country.
What Is Matariki?
Matariki describes a cluster of seven stars that rise above Aotearoa New Zealand during the winter (usually in late May).
It’s one of the closest star clusters to the earth, making it visible to the naked eye, and it is known by other names in other parts of the world: Its ancient Greek name is the Pleiades (The Seven Sisters), in Hawaii it is known as Makali‘i (eyes of royalty), and the Japanese call it Subaru (gathered together).
According to maramataka (the Māori calendar), the rising of the Matariki star cluster brings the old year to a close and marks the beginning of the new year. The new moon that follows the rising of Matariki signals the Maori New Year, and this year (2020) the new moon rises on July 13.
Matariki is usually celebrated over a period of several days, from the time the cluster of stars appear in the sky until the new moon rises in Matariki.
What does Matariki mean for Māori ?
Traditionally, Matariki was seen as a time to honour the dead, show respect to the land and cultivate the ground for growing crops in the coming year. Early Māori relied on Matariki to predict the success of the next harvest - the brighter the star cluster seemed, the better the growing season was predicted to be.
However, today Matariki has been revived as a celebration of people, culture, language, spirituality and history. It is a time for whanau and friends to come together and reflect on the past year and look towards the year ahead.
Translated, Matariki means the ‘eyes of god’ or ‘little eyes’. According to one Maori legend, when Ranginui, the sky father, and Papatūānuku the earth mother were separated by their children the god of the winds, Tāwhirimātea, became angry and tore out his eyes and threw them into the heavens.
Another story goes that Matariki (the mother) and her six daughters journey across the sky each year to visit their great grandmother, Papatūānuku, to share knowledge and learn new skills to prepare for the year to come.
The stars of Matariki
Commonly thought of as a cluster of seven stars, there are actually nine associated with Māori legend.
- Matariki Nurturing, signifying our connection to our environment.
- Pōhutukawa Representing those who have passed on.
- Waitī Support, symbolising our ties to fresh water and the food within.
- Waitā Support, symbolising our ties to the ocean and the food within.
- Waipuna-ā-rangi Kindness, appreciation of the rainfall/water.
- Tupuānuku Friendship, appreciation of food grown within the soil/plants.
- Tupuārangi Sharing and an appreciation of food grown from trees.
- Ururangi Wind, speed and positivity.
- Hiwa-i-te-rangi The youngest star, considered the wishing star for future hopes and desires
How to see the Matariki star cluster
Looking towards the north east the Matariki star cluster is usually visible from early June. Find the Orion’s Belt constellation (or ‘The Pot’). If you imagine a line extending northwards from the three stars of Orion’s Belt this should lead you to a faint cluster of tiny stars (Matariki) roughly the same width as the length of Orion’s Belt.
With the naked eye between 7 and 9 stars should be visible, with a telescope it is possible to see hundreds.
Where to find Matariki celebrations in New Zealand
In Auckland the Matariki Festival kicks off with a dawn karakia on June 20. This is a virtual event. Throughout the rest of the month and up until July 15 there are events on most days in the region ranging from workshops, walks, talks and exhibitions through to community plantings, film viewings, lectures and performances. Go to matarikifestival.org.nz/whats-on/ for more information.
In Wellington celebrations have already begun, with a series of exhibitions and events marking Matariki. For information on what’s on, go to matarikiwellington.org/events
In Christchurch a number of events are planned including a glow show for children, a tree planting day and several activities with Christchurch libraries. ccc.govt.nz/news-and-events/whats-on/event/matariki-at-the-libraries-2020
To find out what’s happening in your area, Google 'Matariki events 2020' and your region.