Cloudy skies and a spattering of rain marred Matariki viewing of the Pleiades star cluster in Palmerston North.
Te Manawa staff and members of the public huddled warm in coats and under sheltering umbrellas at dawn yesterday as Te Manawa's kaihautu, Manu Kawana, explained the significance of Matariki.
Maori count it as a seasonal marker, welcoming the new growing season when the Pleiades can be seen just above the horizon at dawn in winter. The star cluster shows higher in the sky during summer, as the seasonal tilt of the earth angles the southern hemisphere closer to the sun. It rises from the east-north-east horizon.
Those learned in seasonal weather lore draw inferences about the next year's food harvests and predict the weather to come, from the visibility of the constellation.
Polynesian navigators used stars in the constellation to find their way through the Pacific.
A burning brazier added light and warmth to the scene, and cooked Maori potatoes for a thanksgiving ceremony.
Mr Kawana's karakia gave thanks for last season's bountiful harvest, and expressed hope for the next season's.
He ceremonially buried a cooked potato in Te Manawa's grassy courtyard, at the four points of the compass, starting in the north quarter and going through east, south and west, mimicking the constellation's movement through the sky.
Everyone then trooped inside to warm up and share breakfast.
The Pleiades are also known as the Seven Sisters. Information about how to pinpoint them in the night sky is available from Te Manawa.
Te Manawa opens a Matariki exhibition on June 27, with taonga from the museum's collection and exhibits from kohanga reo students at Mana Tamariki.
- Manawatu Standard
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