What is Matariki?
When the Matariki star cluster (the Pleiades) rises twinkling into the New Zealand winter skies, it signals the Māori New Year, a month-long celebration across the country from – .
What does Matariki mean?
Matariki means ‘eyes of the god’ or ‘littleeyes’. The story goes that when Ranginui (the sky father) and Papatūānuku (the earth mother) were separated by their children, the god of the winds, Tāwhirimātea, became angry, tearing out his eyes and hurling them into the heavens. Others say that Matariki is Papatūānuku, the earth mother surrounded by her six daughters and it is often referred to as the Seven Sisters.
Why is it important?
Historically, Matariki was thought to determine how successful the harvest crop will be in the coming season. The brighter the stars, the more productive the crop will be. Therefore it was important to recognise the part that Matariki played in nature’s cycle. The disappearance of Matariki in Autumn became an important marker in the harvest calender, was used as a signal for the time to gather and preserve crops.
Matariki is now seen as an important time to celebrate the earth, and show our respect for the land. It effectively signals a time to connect with, and give thanks to the land, sea and sky. It is also a time for the Māori community to acknowledge the past year and farewell those who have passed away, and to turn to the future, celebrating a new beginning. Therefore, for many Māori, the first new moon after the rise of the Matariki signals the start of the New Year celebrations.
How is it celebrated?
Traditionally, Matariki was celebrated with whanau (family) gathering together to reflect on the previous year. The festival’s connection to the stars provided an opportunity for families to remember those who had passed away. Offerings were also made to land-based gods who were thought to help provide good crops. New trees were planted to signal the new beginnings of the New Year. A special feature of Matariki celebrations is also the flying of kites. This is because according to ancient custom the kites flutter close to the stars.
Some iwi, or tribes, start their Māori New Year celebrations when Matariki is first seen, however it is the first new moon after Matariki that officially signals the Maori New Year. Some people celebrate the New Year on the day the new moon rises, and others celebrate on the day following the rise of the new moon. Celebrations often last up to 3 days.
Many of these traditional celebrations are still actively practiced today. However there are many others ways that Matariki is celebrated today. Most of these celebrations centre around music, song, dance and food and family.
Auckland hosts the Matariki Festival where the city comes alive with live music performances, Kapa Haka, theatre, poetry, family events, dance and art. The Matariki Festival 2016 programme launches on 9 June and you can visit the Matariki Festival page for more information.
Wellington’s famous museum, Te Papa, hosts Matariki celebrations from the 2nd – 26th June. These celebrations include the Matariki Performance for Young Children, Kōrero (Storytelling), Food of Matariki, concerts, astronomy sessions and talks.
In the South Island, the Puaka Matariki Festival is held in Dunedin in July. This festival is unique to Dunedin, and is one of the significant ways the Council celebrates their partnership with iwi and engages with te ao Maori. Dunedin celebratesPuaka Matariki through a programme of diverse community celebrations across Dunedin’s suburbs, towns and communities. The celebrations and events here include storytelling, whānau ‘have a go’ sessions, lantern parades, visual arts, contemporary dance and a Midwinter Carnival in the Octagon.
Matariki is all about getting involved and celebrating with friends and family so get along to one of the events across the country and join us to celebrate the Māori New Year.