James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Maori New Year rises to be star of festival

Dawn karakia starts month of celebrations in Auckland embracing old lore of thanksgiving

Kites flying at the Matariki Kite day.
Kites flying at the Matariki Kite day.

In times past, Maori would see in the rising of Matariki with karakia and festivities lasting up to three days. In modern times it's a more raucous affair with singing, dancing, food and art in celebrations that go on for a month.

This year, Auckland Council and community organisations will mark Matariki with a 31-day festival starting with a dawn karakia tomorrow.

The Matariki star cluster is celebrated worldwide, known elsewhere as Pleaides and Subaru, and is among the most important star constellations according to ancient Maori tradition. The first new moon after the rise of Matariki signals the start of the Maori New Year.

The council's pou tikanga cultural adviser, Rereata Makiha, said there had been a renaissance in celebrating Matariki, led by the Maori Language Commission in the early 2000s after the traditional maramataka (lunar calendar) that Maori follow was shunned.

"Matariki goes back to the times when we were a Pacific people before we migrated to New Zealand and it was the prominent star," he said.

"It aligns with other cultures ... and as long as this celebration brings back an understanding of the significance, not just of Matariki but of the hundreds ... of stars our ancestors knew, then that's a good thing."

The festival will see Maori culture, family, food and education celebrated Auckland-wide but Mr Makiha, of Te Mahurehure, said things had been low-key in the past.

"I have heard that in Tuhoe there used to be a special ceremony and karakia that used to take place in special places up on the hilltops to herald in that new year," he said.

"But up home, our mother and grandmother used to go down to the river and do our karakia; it was quiet and wasn't like the hoopla we have these days with celebrations.

"I don't have any problem with that as long as somewhere in there there's some learning and passing on the ancestral knowledge to the next generation."

He said Matariki was vital for Maori who closely observed natural phenomena such as the stars and tides. Some iwi looked out for Te Puanga (Rigel in the Orion constellation) as Matariki wasn't visible everywhere.

Mr Makiha said the first new moon after the rise of Matariki was critical for the harvesting of kai and for starting afresh. "Back then you had to rely on Matariki getting your own food for the survival of your families from the rivers, the lakes and seas."

Auckland Council's Maori programme leader, Anahera Higgins, said the Matariki festival was growing in stature as an indigenous event that celebrated and gave thanks in a way that recognised tikanga Maori.

Matariki enthusiast Dayne Laird said Aucklanders wanting to view the constellation would need to be outside about 5.40am tomorrow with their sights on the northeast sky.


What does Matariki mean to you?

Hinewehi Mohi, musician
Some of my most memorable Matariki moments have been the gourmet hangi we had at the Maori King's Turangawaewae Marae in Ngaruawahia.

Peter Gordon worked with the local cooks and hundreds gathered to taste a special twist on the traditional hangi. We also listened to the wonderful acoustic performances from local artists all in support of the Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre.

I was also involved with a great concert called Tiramarama a few years ago where artists performed their hit songs with the Auckland Chamber Orchestra - Ardijah, Tama Waipara, Adeaze, Stan Walker and Maisey Rika. We packed out the Aotea Centre and it was the most magical night of musical celebration ever!

I love Matariki. It's a time to come together, to feast, rejoice and remember those who've passed. A perfect winter solstice celebration.

Kasey and Karena Bird, MasterChef winners
Matariki for us is about spending time with family and friends, enjoying different parts of our culture from performance to food.

It is a great time to reflect on the year so far and see what you have managed to achieve and also look at where you want to head for the rest of the year.

Growing up for us Matariki wasn't as widely celebrated or as popular as it is today. It is awesome to see so many events happening for it all over the country and we are really looking forward to being a part of the Matariki celebrations in Auckland this year.

Anika Moa, musician
Matariki is all about whanau for me. Being with my children and reliving old myths and legends and all the beautiful Maori stories I grew up with. It's a special time to celebrate being part of a unique culture. I celebrate with lots of food, laughter and singing.

Whenua Patuwai, X Factor contestant
Matariki to me is all about new beginnings and being grateful for what you have. It's about celebrating what has been done in past year and what we have achieved. We have a big family dinner.


Q&A

with Matariki enthusiast Dayne Laird

June 28 is significant because the first morning sighting of Matariki heralds the beginning of the Maori New Year.

It doesn't start the New Year, but it does start the countdown to the New Year. The countdown is measured by night using the moon phases.

Do you need a telescope or special equipment to find Matariki?
No. Binoculars are probably more helpful than telescopes.

Then when you know where it is the naked eye (with good to above average eyesight) will be able to pick out the sparklers.

Telescopes are a bit harder to use due to their narrow field of view - but they will provide a much prettier and stable view than binoculars.

How do you find Matariki?
Venus makes a great sky-marker at the moment - once you find that, it's the brightest object in the northeast sky in the morning, Matariki is underneath it and to the "left" a bit.

What's the best time to view Matariki?
A good rule of thumb is that anytime before the end of "nautical twilight" and before the beginning of "civil twilight" works.

In Auckland, that means anytime before 6.40am to 6.50am in June.

I've never been able to get a clear view of Matariki before June 10 so anyone seeing it earlier than this is either seeing something else, or I'd like to hear where they're seeing it from. The earliest it can be seen at the moment is from around 5.40am - but being so dark you'll likely see the star-cluster but without the ooh-aah you get seeing it with the early morning dawn colours.

What kind of timeframe do you have to view it?
Early in June (about June 10), it's 5 to 10 minutes. A week later it extends to about 30 to 40 minutes.

Now you have about an hour to view it from about 5.40am to 6.40am.

When will the view of Matariki begin to fade?
It doesn't "fade" as such until March-April next year when it begins to set shortly after and following the sunset in the West.

Dayne Laird says he is a "Matariki enthusiast" who has had an interest in astronomy since his late teens. He asked his part-Maori wife about Matariki who told him it was a star cluster that started the New Year. That was six or seven years ago and he's been hooked on Matariki ever since.

- NZ Herald

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