Our very own new year is soon to become a public holiday, and as Matariki has always been seated in celebration of abundance, of remembrance, unity and hope for the future, it's an opportunity for us all to consider what Matariki can mean to us, when we know more about it.
The star constellation Matariki heralds a new year in sync with our seasons, and how Māori lived in tune with the environment. A star cluster celebrated around the world, the name Matariki echoes through the pacific: In Samoa it's known as Mata-ali'I, in Hawaii it is Makahiki, and in Tahiti, Matari'i.
The name 'Matariki' is a shortened version of 'Ngā mata o te ariki o Tāwhirimātea' ' the eyes of the god Tāwhirimātea' as this is the god of winds who shattered his own eyes and threw them into the sky in anger at his parents Ranginui and Papatūānuku being separated. Known as Subaru in Japan and Pleiades in Greece, Matariki is also woven into ancient narratives from Australia and China. The number of stars seen and origin stories vary, just as they do in Aotearoa, with some iwi recognising Puanga as heralding a new year, rather than Matariki.
Although you can see Matariki in our skies most of the year, its disappearance in the winter months and then return approximately 28 days later, is part of why Matariki is so special. When Matariki disappears or 'sets' in April or May, this told our ancestors it was time to harvest, and preserve crops for the cold months ahead. When Matariki reappears, or 'rises' it is time to celebrate the bounties of the harvest, to reflect on the year that's been, remember loved ones we've lost, and set hopes for the future – we even have our own wishing star.
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Matariki holds clues to the season ahead, and each star of the Matariki cluster has a connection to the environment and human wellbeing. Chair of the Matariki Advisory group Dr Rangi Mātāmua has revived knowledge from his people of Ngāi Tūhoe, bringing back understanding of the Nine stars of Matariki – Te iwa o Matariki. Some iwi may speak of seven, or perhaps more than nine stars that are visible and significant to them, and all of these stories add to the rich fabric of our unique new year. The nine stars of Matariki each have their own names and qualities. Some are recognised as male, some female, providing balance and strength for the collective.
Matariki reminds us that all parts of the environment are interconnected, to each other, and to us as humans. Experts can read these stars and predict the upcoming season, knowing that a clear and bright appearance of Matariki forecasts a warm winter, whereas if they're hazy, a tough winter looms. The setting and rising of this constellation changes every year, although the Matariki Advisory group already knows the timing for the next seven years ahead. They will allocate a day within each period to be our national Matariki holiday, changing slightly every year, as some of our other holidays do.
To spot Matariki when its visible, look low on the horizon in the north east of the sky, it's easier to spot pre-dawn, between 530am and 630am. Look for what you probably know as Orion's Belt or the bottom of 'the pot' and follow the three stars across the sky to the left until you find Matariki. It's a small and tight cluster, not as big and showy as you might be expecting, but once you know what you're looking for you will see it more easily, and grow to appreciate its charms.
Matariki is a time to consider what we have gathered in the last year, remember those we've lost, and set plans for the future. A time to be together, unified in a celebration that is unique to Aotearoa.
Ngā mihi o te tau hou Māori – The best of wishes for the Māori new year.