Matariki isn't just the Māori New Year for Tauranga artist Arohanoa Matthews - it's a kaupapa she carries with her every day of the year.

Whakatāne-born Matthews is a descendant from Ngāi Te Rangi, Tūhoe and Te Arawa iwi. Matthews is one of several artists presenting work as part of Te whānau o Matariki, an exhibition running until July 2 as part of Matariki celebrations in Tauranga Moana.

While she didn't grow up with the exact terminology of Matariki, Matthews said the kaupapa of Matariki was already instilled and ingrained in her everyday life growing up.

Rather than seeing Matariki as merely the Māori New Year and a time to set a vision for the next, she saw it as a time to reflect on the importance of the environment for people to thrive.

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Matthews said some Māori families "lived and breathed" what Matariki meant in regards to food source preservation and conservation of natural resources.

She had recently moved from the city in Australia to Matapihi where she had a bit of land, and some chickens. The move, and chickens, meant she was more connected to the earth through learning about the seasons and when the best time was to plant particular crops.

"I believe Matariki comes back down to how we treat our environment and how we move forward in providing for our future.

"To me, there's a spiritual connection but it's also on a really practical level as well. I'm talking about looking after our whenua, our ocean, and our fresh water so that future generations can thrive."

Matthews said the concept of being environmentally friendly and not using plastics was nothing new for Māori.

"That is basically what Maori have been doing for years to look after our environment," she said.

The artwork she would be exhibiting featured three doors made of native wood, representing gateways to the past, present and future.

"That's my connection to Matariki - what we've done in the past, what we're doing now and how can we provide for the future."

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It also tied in notions of storytelling between generations - as her parents and grandparents taught her stories, so will she pass on knowledge to her children.

These doors were layered with paint, representing her tipuna.

"With painting, you have a sense of layering and a sense of memory," she said.

"I'm just thinking of my nan and my koro."

The exhibition is one of many events on offer in Tauranga this Matariki. A full programme can be viewed at Tauranga City Council's website.

What is Matariki?

Matariki is a star cluster which appears in the night sky during mid-winter. According to the Maramataka (the Māori lunar calendar), the reappearance of Matariki, brings the old lunar year to a close and marks the beginning of the new year. Hence, Matariki is associated with the Māori New Year.

Traditionally, festivities were conducted to celebrate Matariki. They followed the harvesting of crops when the pātaka (food storehouses) were full, freeing up time for family and leisure.
These festivities included the lighting of ritual fires, the making of offerings, and celebrations of various kinds to farewell the dead, to honour ancestors, and to celebrate life.

Spiritual experts looked to the Matariki star cluster to find out how abundant the upcoming year's harvest would be. Bright, clear stars promised a warm and successful season. Hazy stars, however, warned of cold weather and poor crops.

Source - Te Papa Museum of New Zealand