Opinion: Rethinking and revitalising Matariki

The rising of Matariki, also know as the Pleiades star constellation, signals the Maori New Year.
Royal Astronomical Society of NZ

The rising of Matariki, also know as the Pleiades star constellation, signals the Maori New Year.

OPINION: ​Like te reo Maori, waka voyaging, ta moko and other aspects of Maori culture the Matariki tradition is being revitalised in Aotearoa. As part of this regeneration, the question is how do we re-established this traditional custom in a contemporary setting while ensuring celebrations are in line with the traditional meaning and purpose of Matariki. In his book Matariki, The Star of the Year Maori astrologer, Dr Rangi Matamua provides some insights into how we may do this.

As many of us know Matariki is a very significant star constellation in the Maori maramataka, Maori lunar calendar.

Matamua suggests that the name Matariki has been misinterpreted to mean 'small eyes', but he believes that the more proper definition is 'eyes of the god' and that the truncated version is Nga Mata Ariki o Tawhirimatea meaning 'the eyes of the god Tawhirimatea'. Tawhirimatea did not consent to the separation of his parents Ranginui and Papatuanuku. After waging war on his brothers and being defeated by Tumatauenga, Tawhirimatea plucked out of his eyes crushed them in his hands and threw them into the sky as a symbol of his love for his father.

The rising of Matariki signals the Maori New Year. Traditionally the tohunga kokorangi, the Maori astrologer would observe the star cluster as it rose in the dawn. Matariki brought with it an insight of the bounty of the impending year. The tohunga kokorangi would take into consideration the colour, visibility and shape of each of the stars and make predications about the coming year and the fortune of the iwi.

Matamua claims that there are in fact nine stars in the cluster instead of seven. They include Matariki and her sons and daughters. Each star has a defined purpose and role in the Maori world.

The rising of Matariki has many rituals and meanings which differ from iwi to iwi, but generally, the tradition is based around remembering, reflecting, reconnecting and planning for the future.

Two associated rituals include remembering our loved ones who have passed since the last time that Matariki rose. The star associated to this is custom is Pohutukawa. The names of loved ones who died last year were called out as Matariki appeared in the morning sky.

Another important and less known star is Hiwa-i-te-rangi, she is connected to promise and prosperity. Think of her as the star you wish upon or making a New Year's resolution.

Matamua suggests that we are celebrating Matariki too early and instead of the full moon after Matariki rises we should be celebrating Matariki while the moon is in its Tangaroa phase which this year was  July 17 to 22.

Like other iwi throughout Aotearoa local iwi and marae in Marlborough have been part of the regeneration of celebrating Matariki.  In the early 2000s I was part of a group that organised and hosted some of the first Matariki celebrations in Marlborough. In 2006 we organised a dawn ceremony at the Wairau Bar looking toward Te Pokohiwi o Kupe. The occasion was very significant, and it was reassuring to know that we were revitalising this ritual in the same location where our tupuna lived centuries before and would have performed a similar ceremony to mark the rising of Matariki.

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This year the whanau at Pa Kids, a Maori afterschool programme at Omaka Marae have been learning about Matariki and decorating hue (gourds) which they grew from seed.

Last weekend, Ngati Kuia hosted a Matariki wananga at Te Hora Marae. This week Ngati Apa ki te Ra To youth will learn about Matariki during a six-day experiential journey which strengthens their connection to their culture.  On July 16, Rangitane o Wairau hosted a Matariki Dawn ceremony at the Wairau Bar.

It is reassuring to see all the activities happening around Matariki and it is a great way for Maori to share our culture with the rest of Aotearoa and the world.

So this year take some time out with your family and friends, take a moment to remember your loved ones and plan for the future.

Kiley Nepia is the cultural advisor for Ngati Apa ki te Ra To and manager for Omaka Marae. His iwi are Ngati Apa ki te Ra To, Rangitane, Ngati Kuia, Ngai Tahu



 - The Marlborough Express


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