The country’s eyes were on Rotorua this morning as a crowd of about 250 gathered on Mount Ngongotahā to celebrate Matariki.
The local Māori New Year ceremony, known as hautapu, was broadcast throughout New Zealand on public radio, television and online.
“We are seeing, right in front of our eyes, the changing of a nation,” Māori astronomy expert Professor Rangi Mātāmua told the Rotorua Daily Post.
“This is the first reintroduced indigenous holiday anywhere in the world. This is something that is unique to us.”
Mātāmua has been championing the celebration of Matariki for years.
He said the evolution of the celebration into a national holiday with thousands of hautapu throughout New Zealand was something to be proud of.
“We should celebrate who we are.”
Today’s celebrations took place under a cloudy sky and a crescent moon.
As the sun slowly rose on the horizon, the chilly 10C morning didn’t stop hundreds from gathering at Skyline Rotorua for the three-part ceremony, which included 13 karakia led by a group of tohunga (experts), a group that for the first time included women, and finished with a haka and exuberant waiata.
Urukahinga Rei, 21, said this morning marked the fourth hautapu she had attended.
“We thought it was really beautiful. It was quite special.”
Rei and her partner, Matakatea Wanikau, woke up at 4.30am and brought their seven-month-old daughter, Rangikoaea Pipiana, to the ceremony.
“When the sun came up is when she woke up,” Rei said.
Wanikau, also 21, said this was the second hautapu he had attended in person.
“It was mean as.”
Both Rei and Wanikau said they looked forward to attending Matariki celebrations every year.
Rotorua Lakes councillor Trevor Maxwell said he had been impressed to see last year’s national broadcast of Matariki celebrations from Te Papa in Wellington.
“Little did I realise we were going to be next,” Maxwell said.
“It just makes me feel so proud to see Te Arawa and our whole community getting behind it. This morning was so moving.”
Maxwell said he was also proud of the significant changes in this morning’s hautapu, which for the first time had women taking part in the reciting of karakia.
“It was special to see and hear how all the very sacred precious karakia, prayers, were being shared by both our tane and our wahine.”
Arts, Culture and Heritage Associate Minister Willow-Jean Prime said it was heart-warming to see the number of people, communities, whānau and kaupapa celebrating Matariki.
“I can see how much everybody is getting from this kaupapa.
“I want to continue to see it grow, to see more people open their hearts and minds to what Matariki can mean to all of us.”
Rotorua Mayor Tania Tapsell said it was “fantastic” to be able to learn and share the values and principles that made Matariki important.
“On this cold morning, it has been very heartwarming to see not only our community but people across the country come here to Rotorua to celebrate a very important event.”
Skyline general manager Andrew Jensen said days like today really highlighted how unique New Zealand is.
“Some will have Matariki traditions going back years, while for others, our traditions are just beginning.
“Having this public holiday means we can really embrace Matariki and participate in meaningful ceremonies like this one today.”
Professor Rangi Mātāmua said the celebration of Matariki was something that all nations across the globe connected to.
“There isn’t a single person in this country who does not descend from people who look to that cluster of stars to tell them they should come together, when to harvest, when to plant, how to connect to their environment.
“We have brought that back as something that has relevance and purpose to who we are today.
“This is about us, all of us.”
Tourism Minister Peeni Henare said he wanted to thank Mātāmua and “many others like him” for allowing the gift of Matariki to be shared with the nation and the world.
“It’s through their efforts and the efforts of our ancestors that we are here today and that’s what makes me proud.”