Matariki is the Māori name for a group of stars that are also known as the Pleiades star cluster.
The physical appearance of Matariki in the sky was traditionally used by a tohunga (a priest or expert) as a forecast of the year ahead. Clear and bright stars signalled warm and productive seasons, and hazy or shimmering clusters meant a cold winter was coming and ground for crops was prepared accordingly.
Each iwi has their own stories and perspectives about Matariki and celebrate Matariki at different times. Some hold festivities when Matariki is first seen in the dawn sky; others celebrate after the rise of the full moon or at the beginning of the next new moon.
Today Matariki is generally seen as an important time to celebrate the earth and show respect for the land. It is also a time to acknowledge those who have passed away and to plan for the year ahead.
Matariki is a good opportunity for all New Zealanders to come together with Māori communities to learn their stories, culture, and language.
WHERE DOES THE NAME COME FROM?
Matariki is the Māori name for the cluster of stars also known as the Pleiades that rises in mid-winter.
HOW TO SPOT THE MATARIKI STARS
Luckily, therse are one of the star clusters nearest to Earth, which means it’s possible to see with the naked eye. To find them, look to the northeast horizon before sunrise.
Then, search for the distinct line of stars that forms Tautoru, or Orion’s belt. Keep moving your gaze north of these three stars until you see a cluster of tiny stars that are roughly as wide as Tautoru is long. These are the Matariki stars.
IS THERE A MĀORI LEGEND BEHIND MATARIKI?
Yes, in fact there are different stories about Matariki, but one Māori myth is that when Ranginui, the sky father, and Papatūānuku, the earth mother, were separated by their children, the god of the winds, Tāwhirimātea, became so angry that he tore out his eyes and threw them into the heavens – creating Matariki.
WHAT DOES MATARIKI SIGNIFY IN AOTEAROA?
The rise of Matariki in the winter skies is an important time in the Māori calendar – it signifies Māori New Year. Historically, new year celebrations provided the opportunity for whānau to come together to acknowledge the year gone by, prepare and plan for the year ahead; to celebrate with kai, kōrero, ceremony and entertainment.
WAS IT ALWAYS CELEBRATED BY ALL NEW ZEALANDERS?
No. For a time, it was only acknowledged by iwi, but today everyone in Aotearoa has the opportunity to celebrate the unique and beautiful place we live in and show respect for the land we live on through Matariki events.
IS MATARIKI A PUBLIC HOLIDAY IN NEW ZEALAND
Not yet. However from 2022 it will be! Yay! The first Matariki public holiday will be held on Friday 24 June 2022 and – similar to Easter – the date of the public holiday will shift each year but will most likely always fall between June and July.