Matariki Day: An historic moment that ‘unites us under the stars of Aotearoa’


Mānawa maiea te putanga o Matariki / Hail the rise of Matariki

Mānawa maiea te ariki o te rangi / Hail the lord of the sky

Mānawa maiea te mātahi o te tau / Hail the New Year

– Dr Rangi Matamua

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has described the first Matariki public holiday as the first waypoint in a journey that could further unite a nation.

Speaking at celebrations at Wellington’s Te Papa Tongarewa on Friday morning, Ardern said she felt she was in a “moment in time”.

“As we recognise a time in our calendar that is so unique to Māori, some may ask whether this truly can be a day that our nation can unite behind. I would argue, wholeheartedly and absolutely, yes.

“This is now an official holiday that does not divide us by Māori ancestry or other, rather, it unites us under the stars of Aotearoa.”

Professor Rangiānehu Matamua has been instrumental in shaping public awareness about the importance of Matariki.

He confessed to feeling “a wave of emotions” in Wellington on what he believed was the “first reintroduced indigenous holiday anywhere in the world”.

“We no longer need to look overseas to reflect who we are. We have things that are here that are valuable and important connected to who we are and where we are, and they are becoming the markers of who we want to be,” Matamua said.

Associate Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage Kiritapu Allan​ said Matariki will become “entrenched in our cultural fabric” while Minister for Māori Crown Relations Kelvin Davis​ said it was a “kaupapa Māori event for all New Zealanders” bringing Aotearoa New Zealand together as a nation.

To honour the Māori New Year, Stuff designer Kwok Yi Lee created this illustration to visually represent a sense of connection. “It also aims to capture Matariki and Puanga, focusing on the past, present and future. It is an opportunity to reflect, gather as a people and plan for the new year.”

Kwok Yi Lee/Stuff

To honour the Māori New Year, Stuff designer Kwok Yi Lee created this illustration to visually represent a sense of connection. “It also aims to capture Matariki and Puanga, focusing on the past, present and future. It is an opportunity to reflect, gather as a people and plan for the new year.”

Mātahi o te tau, the Māori New Year is set to be a catalyst for cultural change in New Zealand.

Across the nation, Māori and non-Māori have been learning about the many cultural practices associated with Matariki, the constellation, and time of the year.

From Te Rerenga Wairua in the Far North to Rakiura in the Deep South, very few communities, schools and workplaces remain untouched by te reo Māori, tikanga, and mātauranga Māori, as New Zealanders prepare to celebrate the first ever Matariki Day.

Ardern said the holiday demonstrated the generosity of the indigenous people of New Zealand, to share knowledge, culture and history.

“And it holds within it enough space for each of us to build our own meaning, and traditions.

“In fact, it feels incredibly symbolic to me, that stars that have been so integral in navigation by our ancestors, form now a waypoint on our journey as a nation.

“A journey that does not begin or end here – but offers us the opportunity to learn and to grow.

“This moment in time, this waypoint in our journey, offers us the chance to come together as families, but also as a nation. Under the stars of a bright, optimistic, and hopeful Matariki.

“A space where there is room for all of us.”

In Auckland, Stardome educator Olive Karena-Lockyer (Te Aupōuri, Ngāti Raukawa) has been learning about the astronomy of Matariki, so she can share it with others.

Matariki is a wonderful time to connect with te ao Māori in some way,” she said.

“Matariki is our first indigenous public holiday, so I think one of the best things we can do is develop manaakitanga – show hospitality, kindness, care, generosity and support for each other, and for the environment.”

Students at West End School learn various Māori games and activities for Matariki. Tamsyn Le, 10, with her younger brother Oliver Le, 3, play a card game.

DAVID UNWIN/Stuff

Students at West End School learn various Māori games and activities for Matariki. Tamsyn Le, 10, with her younger brother Oliver Le, 3, play a card game.

Schools across the country, like West End School in Palmerston North, held Matariki events taking part in Māori games and activities, including kapa haka, and shared kai. The children spent weeks learning about the meaning of Matariki.

Principal Matt Kennedy said Matariki was about more than just one day, it was about giving the students an opportunity to continue to learn and engage with te ao Māori.

“One of the big things was [Matariki] being part of the school vision, for the school’s strength and connection with the community and families.”

In July 2020, Stuff campaigned to turn Matariki into an official holiday, and a few months later in September Labour announced it would back it too. It was finally passed into law in April 2022. At the time, Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Kiri Allan said it was “a historic moment for all of us”.

“Having this holiday will help us come together to embrace our evolving national identity and celebrate our distinct culture,” Allan said.

On Matariki Day, the capital was buzzing with a national ceremony and a live event being hosted at Te Papa for all of Aotearoa to enjoy.

Te Papa, along with iwi, Māori organisations and government entities such as Te Taura Whiri i te reo Māori, and the Ministry of Education have been holding Matariki events and developing resources since the 1990s.

The official launch of the public holiday was attended by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, ministers Kelvin Davis and Kiritapu Allan and blessed by tohunga (experts).

Lee Johnson holds the pot Te Papa's hautapu will be cooked in for Matariki.

Supplied

Lee Johnson holds the pot Te Papa’s hautapu will be cooked in for Matariki.

Lee Johnson (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Kuia) was charged with preparing the food that will be offered at the pre-dawn hautapu. “If the food is cooked then that’s a good sign, so I’ll be putting my best foot forward to make sure it’s cooked, if not overcooked.”

Te Papa’s Kaihautū Arapata Hakiwai said when the details of Friday’s ceremony were announced, and the creation of a national public holiday to mark Matariki, it was a dream come true.

“There will be a lot of people in our thoughts this year, looking down on us and thrilled that we are coming together as a nation to celebrate Matariki,” Hakiwai said.

Te Papa’s chief executive, Courtney Johnston, said Te Papa was honoured to host the official launch.

“This is something we want to share with as many people as possible. Coming together for Matariki is part of us gaining a greater understanding of mātauranga Māori and celebrating our unique place in the world.”

Crowds descend on Rarangi Rock to witness the Matariki star cluster rise over the horizon just before dawn. Telescopes were provided by The Omaka Observatory.

Lee Harper/Supplied

Crowds descend on Rarangi Rock to witness the Matariki star cluster rise over the horizon just before dawn. Telescopes were provided by The Omaka Observatory.

What is Matariki?

Matariki is a very old tradition brought from the Pacific to Aotearoa a thousand years ago and has developed over time to become what it is today. And, it will continue to evolve.

Matahi o te tau, the Māori New Year isn’t just one public holiday day, but a period of time. It aligns to when the Matariki star cluster can be seen on the horizon, after harvest, during the cold season called Hōtoke.

Different tribes have different traditional practices related to this time of the year. Marae, hapū and iwi across the country will use their own unique ways to mark Matariki, some use other stars such as Puanga and Rehua.

If the Matariki cluster and the single star, also called Matariki, is bright and high in the sky, it is said to be a signal of wellbeing, peace, and good luck for observers.

Matariki is all about connection. How people connect to each other in the past, present and future, the physical and metaphysical realms, and the environment. It is a reflection of the maramataka, the Māori way of life. Using ceremony, it is a time to gather, remember those who have passed, give thanks to the environment and how it sustains us, reflect on the past and plan for the future.

In Te Waipounamu, the South Island, multiple kai events were being hosted by marae from Awarua (Bluff) to Ōtautahi (Christchurch), where prominent individuals in the Māori culinary space shared their food practices, based on the custom of good food bringing people together.

The event is called Feast Matariki, a collaboration between Eat New Zealand and Ngāi Tahu. The campaign’s main events stretched across the Matariki period, from Monday, June 13 to Sunday, June 26.

Eat New Zealand’s chief executive Angela Clifford said the project was an opportunity to start a new tradition. “This celebration gives us a genuine, traditional connection to food and the harvests that lead up to it. Matariki naturally lends itself to kai.”

“We have a colonised food story. This allows us to re-align to tell our own, unique food story.”

Professor Rangi Matamua looks to Matariki at Te Papa in 2021 during the hautapu ceremony.

TE PAPA

Professor Rangi Matamua looks to Matariki at Te Papa in 2021 during the hautapu ceremony.

Astronomer Dr Rangi Matamua (Ngāi Tūhoe) is part of the Society Of Māori Astronomy Research & Traditions or SMART, a group who have been instrumental in pushing the Matariki agenda. Together, along with many others such as maramataka expert Rereata Makiha, Paraone Gloyne and the revival of hautapu, they have generously shared their knowledge with people across the country.

For his work, Matamua won the prestigious Prime Minister’s Science Communicator Award in 2020. He said when the Matariki stars cluster above our heads, “it is a reminder that we should be clustering with our loved ones here on Earth”.

“Matariki is a time to spend together. To acknowledge what’s happened in the previous year. But also to celebrate everything present that is wonderful, and look forward to summer and next year,” Matamua says.

To find the Matariki cluster, Matamua suggests looking east and, after spotting Orion’s Belt/Tautoru, cast your eyes a little to the left.

This year, Matamua will be hosting a pre-dawn hautapu alongside Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at Te Papa Museum.

He’s encouraging everyone to embrace Matariki. For families to create their own traditions based on Māori customary values, such as sharing a meal together, committing to helping the environment, or taking time out to remember loved ones.

All of these things are in the right spirit, Matamua says. “Hunker down. Get together, get fat, sleep in, read a book.”

“Someone asked me whether they should buy presents for Matariki. I said no, don’t buy presents. Be present. Sit down with the people who are closest to you and say, how are you?”

“Matariki hunga nui / Matariki of many people”



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