Matariki and a life on the land. Our very own Maori New Year started yesterday. Each year the date changes depending on when the Matariki constellation rises.

These stars are also known as Pleiades or the Seven Sisters. A friend popped in to our environment centre the other day and I asked what Matariki means to him and how his whanau spends this time. I was lulled into a dream of times gone by, as Hone Pene of Ngati Haua and Ngapuhi descent, recalled his childhood growing up in Waimate North in the Bay of Islands.

Whanau would gather together in the whare tupuna (ancestral house) in the period from the full moon until the new moon (Matariki).

Here they would have a korero or discussion time, reflecting on events and activities in the past year. It was a time to think about how things could be improved, to air and resolve grievances and to learn from successes or failures for the year to come.


This was a way to make amends and forgive, to heal and clear the air, making way for the new year. Discussions included observations about the previous year's crops and the allocation of crop rotations for the year to come among whanau or others from the marae. It was also a time to give thanks and acknowledge Ranginui, the sky father, and Papatuanuku, the earth mother.

At the end of this period would be a time of feasting or hakari and everyone would come together for a hangi and cook crops from the previous year, such as kumara, taewa or, as Hone called them, peruperu (potatoes), pumpkin, and maybe pork and chicken. This sharing of food was key to building relationships within the whanau and marae.

Natural cycles in food production

Growing up in Waimate North, Hone lived on 4.04ha with his whanau. He has fond memories as a young child sitting astride one of the Clydesdale horses as they ploughed the soil in preparation for planting crops. During the midwinter period the pruning in their orchards was planned, and the kids always ate plenty of citrus, the vitamin C so important in winter.

Hone recalled that the nannies would make delicious lemon honey - a childhood favourite of mine, too. Maori used natural systems and cycles for food production. Areas that grew crops in the past year were rested, kumara vines were left to mulch and break down back into the soil. Pigs and chooks were allowed to forage and clean up the area, their manure boosting the fertility for the next time the land produced crops. Farm animal manure was stirred into a drum with spring or rain water and used as a liquid fertiliser during the warmer seasons.

Look to our waterways - a thought for the future

Hone points out that Matariki is also a time to look to the future and to the health and wellbeing of our communities.

After many years working with the revegetation and health of streams in Auckland and Ngati Haua tributaries of the Waikato River, he is passionate about revisiting an idea that could heal our communities and waterways in one go.

He recalled the days of PEP schemes where unemployed were given a chance to learn a trade in return for income, in forestry for example. Having worked with youth in the Waikato teaching skills needed for the revegetation of riparian areas, he believes the country could give unemployed people a chance to become skilled in areas that will benefit our environment.

The person gains confidence, training and a certificate or qualification that may lead to future education and employment.

Resources are being poured into the rehabilitation of our polluted waterways, so why not put that energy into people as well, harnessing human potential for a better outcome for all? For now Hone is focusing his energies on a stream in the Whau area in Auckland in need of some TLC.

Bird talk

• It's that time of year again for keen birdwatchers -- Annual Garden Bird Survey June 28 to July 6. For more information and help with identification, go to:

• "Talking Birds" at Arataki Visitors Centre, Titirangi. 11am and 2pm, today (free): To celebrate the launch of the garden bird survey, there will be four bird-themed talks at Arataki, on garden birds, kereru research, kokako in the Hunua Ranges, and little penguin.