Matariki, the start of the Māori New Year, is signalled by the appearance of seven stars low on the north-eastern horizon at dawn. Also known as Pleiades, the stars arrive any time from late May to mid June. This year the stars arrived on 18 June. Different tribes celebrated Matariki at different times. In the 21st century, the New Year starts with the first new moon following the rising of Matariki.
Māori have different names for the seven stars – Mata Riki, meaning little eyes and Mata Ariki, meaning eyes of god. The stars are also known as Subaru (in Japan) and Messier 45.
There are many legends associated with Matariki. Some say that Matariki is a mother surrounded by her six daughters (Tupu-ā-nuku, Tupu-ā-rangi, Waitī, Waitā, Waipuna-ā-rangi and Ururangi), while others say that Matariki may be a male star. There is a cautionary tale for children associated with Matariki, the story of seven little fish who swam away from the rocks and were caught in a fisherman’s net. Tāne (God of the Forest) took them up to the sky and turned them into the seven stars.
Ranginui (The Sky Father) is also referred to in the star formation, Ranginui’s Cloak. Another star formation is named Waka/canoe. Waka are used to catch ika (fish) during their migrations across moana (sea). Ika, e.g., moki and korokoro, were sundried or smoked during Matariki.
Matariki was associated with the end of harvesting, a time to lay down stores of kai (food) like kūmara for winter. It was a time of bountiful catches of moki and korokoro as they migrated. Tuna (eels) were caught in streams like Kaiwharawhara stream in Zealandia, then smoked and dried before storing.
One proverb associated with Matariki is:
‘Ka kitea a Matariki, ka maoka te hinu.’
‘When Matariki is seen, the fat is cooked.’
This proverb refers to kererū that were plucked, cooked and then preserved in fat.
Matariki was also a time to lay down weapons of war. The tōhunga (priests) used ceremonial kō (digging sticks) to turn the earth, making it ready for the next harvest.
It was a time to plan for the future – if the Matariki stars were dim, the harvest would be poor, but if the Matariki stars were bright, the future would be bright too, with a plentiful harvest.
Matariki is a time for whānau (families) to remember the past and those who have come before us, and to learn more about whakapapa (geneaology). It is a time to learn from the past, and plan for the future.
By Rosemary Cole
Matariki photo by Fred Locklear (zAmb0ni) (main image)
Eel photo by Alton Perrie
Kereru photo by Brendan Doran