Matariki 2023 Friday 14 July
Matariki 2024 Friday 28 June
Matariki is the Māori name for the cluster of stars also known as the Pleiades.
For many Māori in New Zealand, the rising of this star cluster in midwinter signifies the start of a new year.
Iwi, or Māori tribes, across the country celebrate Matariki in a variety of ways and at varying times, highlighting the diversity of their traditions and customs.
The Matariki star cluster holds two significant interpretations in the Māori culture, both of which pertain to stars: mata ariki (eyes of god) and mata riki (little eyes).
Announcing the Māori New Year, Matariki symbolises a time of renewal and festivity in New Zealand, beginning with the appearance of the star cluster in the sky.
The Māori New Year is typically celebrated with a range of activities, including remembrance, reflection, feasting, and spending time with whānau (family) and friends.
The first official public holiday for Matariki was introduced in Aotearoa in 2022, marked on Friday 24 June.
This midwinter celebration represents a time of transition and provides an opportunity for people to come together, creating a sense of unity and shared cultural understanding within communities.
What is Matariki?
Matariki is the Māori name for the cluster of stars also known as the Pleiades (Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand).
The Matariki star cluster plays a significant role in Māori culture as it signifies the beginning of the Māori New Year, which takes place during late June or early July (Wikipedia).
The Māori New Year is marked by the first rising of the Matariki star cluster and its visibility as a faint sparkle of tiny dots just before sunrise during New Zealand’s winter (Stuff.co.nz).
It is a time of renewal, celebration, and commemorating those who have passed away. Iwi, or tribes, across New Zealand observe and celebrate Matariki in various ways and at different times.
These meanings reflect the importance of the star cluster in Māori culture and its connection to the spiritual world.
In addition to marking the beginning of the New Year, Matariki also symbolises a time of transition and remembrance.
Traditionally, Māori people pay tribute to their ancestors, share meals, and engage in cultural activities such as storytelling, weaving, and performing arts during this period.
2022 was the first year Matariki became a public holiday in Aotearoa (New Zealand), celebrated on Friday, 24 June.
Matariki in Māori Culture and Traditions
Matariki and the Māori New Year
Matariki, the Māori name for the cluster of stars also known as the Pleiades, plays a significant role in Māori culture and traditions.
It rises in midwinter and, for many Māori, symbolises the start of a new year (Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand).
Matariki consists of nine stars, although only six are typically visible to the naked eye (Conservation blog).
This star cluster is also known as the Seven Sisters, or Pleiades, in English and Makalii in Hawaiian.
The Māori New Year begins with the rising of the Matariki star cluster, which occurs in June or July, coinciding with the appearance of the new moon (Conservation blog).
The word Matariki has two meanings in Māori – mata ariki (eyes of god) and mata riki (little eyes) (Te Papa).
Customs and Rituals
Matariki is a time for both remembrance and celebration, with a focus on togetherness, sharing knowledge, and rejuvenation.
During Matariki, some Māori customs and traditions include:
- Whakapapa: Recounting family histories and stories to strengthen connections and understand the past.
- Whanaungatanga: Gathering with family and friends to share food, stories, and enjoy each other’s company.
- Wānanga: Engaging in learning and sharing knowledge about various aspects of Māori culture, including language, arts, and history.
- Karakia: Offering prayers and incantations to give thanks and ask for guidance in the new year.
- Toi: Participating in various arts and crafts activities, appreciating local Māori artwork, and learning about traditional techniques.
Matariki has gained greater prominence and recognition in recent years, both within Māori communities and across New Zealand as a whole.
The Pleiades Star Cluster
Matariki is the Māori name for the Pleiades star cluster, which is also known to Western astronomers as the Pleiades in the constellation Taurus1.
This star cluster is one of the nearest to Earth, being 440 light-years away.
The Pleiades cluster consists of several stars, with Matariki (Alcyone) being referred to as kai whakahaere or the ‘gatherer’, encouraging people to reflect on the past, while Pōhutukawa (Sterope/Asterope) serves as the star that carries the spirits of those who have died since the last heliacal rising of Matariki1.
Star Observation and Calendar Systems
Astronomy has historically played a significant role in Māori culture, with experts studying various astronomical events such as the rising of stars, phases of the moon, movement of planets, constellations, and arrival of comets.
Matariki signals the Māori New Year, being a time of renewal and celebration in New Zealand that coincides with the rising of the Matariki star cluster.
Celebrating Matariki Today
Modern Festivities and Events
Matariki has experienced a resurgence in recent years.
The celebrations have evolved to include various activities and events that foster unity and cultural awareness. In 2022, New Zealand marked its first-ever public holiday for Matariki on Friday 24 June.
Both Māori and Pākehā communities participate in festivities that cherish the values of remembrance, joy, and peace during this time.
Notable celebrations take place throughout the country, encompassing a diverse array of activities such as astronomical observation, singing, and dancing.
Art exhibits, cultural performances, and culinary feasts are also popular features of the Matariki commemoration.
In addition, many families and communities engage in traditional practices like planting trees, reflecting on the past, and setting goals for the future.
Matariki Education and Awareness
Alongside contemporary festivities, efforts to raise awareness and educate people about the cultural significance of Matariki have gained momentum.
Key institutions like Te Papa and other educational centres have been instrumental in promoting the understanding of Matariki’s historical and cultural roots.
Matariki education covers various topics, including:
- The Matariki star cluster and its associated legends
- Traditional Māori customs and practices during Matariki
- The importance of Māori language, culture, and values in contemporary society
Educational resources, workshops, and public events serve to instil an appreciation for Māori culture while preserving the heritage and knowledge of the Matariki celebration.
As a result, growing numbers of New Zealanders are participating in Matariki festivities, strengthening the significance of this event in the nation’s cultural calendar.