History of Matariki

Heralded by the rising of the star constellation known as Matariki, the Maori New Year signalled a t


Matariki has always been an important time in the Maori calendar.

Heralded by the rising of the star constellation known as Matariki, the Maori New Year signalled a time for connecting with, and giving thanks to the land, sea and sky. It was a time for the community to come together to farewell those departed and acknowledge the year gone by.

Matariki was also a time to turn to the future, welcoming the new generation to the world and planning for the year ahead.

The pre-dawn rising of the star cluster Matariki is referred to as 'Te Tau Hou', the New Year.

The star cluster was a navigational aid and an indicator of the upcoming seasons. If the stars were clear, it was a sign that the year ahead would be warm and therefore productive. If they were hazy and closely bunched together then a cold year would be in store.

For some Maori the first new moon after the rise of Matariki signalled the start of the New Year celebrations. The moon (Marama) is central to activities of harvesting kai on the land and at sea. It is the start for all things new and a time for the provision of kai.

Matariki was a time when people would gather to share kai, rituals, entertainment, hospitality and learnings.

Matariki celebrations were popular before the arrival of Europeans in New Zealand, and they continued into the 1900s. Gradually they dwindled, with one of the last traditional festivals recorded in the 1940s.

At the beginning of the 21st century Matariki celebrations were revived and have become a special time of the year to respect the land we live on, celebrate the unique place we live in and continue to share and grow with each other.

Matariki stars

Matariki is the Maori name for the Pleiades, a star cluster in the constellation Taurus.
Pleiades, the Greek name for the cluster, comes from seven sisters of Greek legend, the daughters of Atlas and Pleone.

This is reminiscent of the Maori and Pacific stories that say Matariki is a mother surrounded by her six daughters.
The galactic cluster is internationally recognised as it can be viewed from anywhere in the world. In Greece, several major temples face straight towards Matariki, as does Stonehenge in England.

This cluster of stars is well known across the globe, signifies Maori New Year, acts as a key navigation beacon for ocean voyagers, as well as an important signal for seasonal celebration in many countries.

In Japan, the Subaru brand is named after the Matariki stars.

How to spot Matariki (Pleiades)

Keep an eye out in late May early June as Matariki rises on the northeast horizon, around the same spot as the rising sun.

The best time to spot Matariki is around half an hour before dawn.

Traditionally the New Year celebrations are held on the sighting of the next new moon.

Where can you see Matariki

Matariki can be seen everywhere on the planet and makes the Matariki stars famous worldwide.

As the year moves from autumn towards its shortest winter day, the sunrise moves north along the eastern horizon. When the sunrise reaches Matariki, it turns around and starts moving south again.

The best time to spot is through out June and early July before it disappears south on the horizon.

Check out www.stardome.co.nz for more information.

Maori legend and Matariki

According to tradition, Matariki has two meanings - tiny eyes or it is also sometimes called Mata ariki – the eyes of god.

Maori legend tells of a time when Ranginui, the sky father, and Papatuanuku, the earth mother, were forcibly separated by their children.

The god of the winds, Tawhirimatea, became so angry that he tore out his eyes and threw them into the heavens, where they have been in existence ever since.

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

24 Jun 2009

The Big Idea Editor

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