Matariki, the time of traditional Maori new year celebrations, is steadily gaining recognition throughout New Zealand’s population as a whole. The cultural relevance of Matariki, the links it provides with our country’s past and it’s emphasis on land husbandry, remembrance, learning and fellowship are increasingly important concepts in 21st Century New Zealand.

What is Matariki?

Matariki is two things. It is the Maori name for a small group of stars in the constellation of Taurus, known commonly as Pleiades, or the Seven Sisters.

Matariki/Pleiades first rises just before sunrise in late May or early June. In New Zealand the star cluster appears low on the north-eastern horizon and is positioned at the tail of the Milky Way.

The rising of these stars marks the beginning of the Maori new year and thus gives Matariki its second meaning – that of a period of annual celebration.

The exact timing of this celebratory period varies among Iwi. Some mark the start of the new year from the first rising of Pleiades, some from the first full moon after this rising, some on the dawn of the next new moon.

Matariki – What’s in a Name?

The word Matariki has two derivations:

  • Mata-riki meaning “small eyes”
  • Mata-ariki meaning “eyes of a chief”

Both of these meanings can be assumed to describe the appearance of the Matariki stars in the night sky.

The Traditional Importance of Matariki

Traditionally, the appearance of Matariki was used by Maori to forecast the coming growing season. If the stars were bright and clear the season would be warm and abundant and Maori would begin planting crops in September. Hazed stars, on the other hand, predicted a cold winter and planting would be held off until October.

Offerings of food were made to the gods during Matariki and there was an emphasis on fertility, the care and cultivation of the land, and of instilling this reverence in the younger members of the tribe.

Feasting and celebration brought friends and family together to share in the abundance of the land. But there was also a sombre side to Matariki, as it was then that those who had passed away during the previous year were remembered.

Matariki Today

Matariki was widely celebrated until the beginning of the 20th Century. As that century progressed, however, interest in Matariki waned. Now, in the early 21st Century, Matariki, or Maori New Year, is making a come-back. It is a time that not only showcases Maori pride, but brings all New Zealanders closer together in a celebration of rebirth and the country’s rich cultural heritage.

To learn more about Matariki, check out this video.

Matariki – New Zealand’s Rich Cultural Heritage, 4.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating


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