As a Pakeha New Zealander, I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on Matariki.
I am learning and I strive to continue educating myself in Te Ao Māori. In my first year of university I took a couple of Te Reo papers and enjoyed them so much that I changed my major to Māori Studies. Enrolling in those first papers was largely driven by spending time overseas where I learned about other cultures and realised the huge gap in my knowledge of Aotearoa’s indigenous people. I think it’s important for all New Zealanders to understand the significance of Matariki, the start of the Māori New Year and it’s place in traditional Māori food production.
Matariki is the name given to a star cluster that is visible from earth during New Zealand’s mid-winter months, it usually appears around late June or early July. The Māori New Year starts with the appearance of Matariki, and also takes this name. The New Year is traditionally a time to celebrate new life and remember the dead.
Tūpuna would look to Matariki for guidance on harvesting. The star cluster disappears from Aotearoa’s skies in April/May which would signify that it was time to preserve crops as winter was fast approaching. When it appeared again in June/July it would bring predictions of the upcoming season with clear, bright stars representing a warm, abundant winter and hazy stars warning of bleak winter months ahead.
Matariki is also deeply rooted in Māori legends. Each star has an individual personality and influence over the environment and our wellbeing. The star named Matariki is the mother, surrounded by her daughters.
Waiti and her twin sister Waitā care for our water systems. Waitī is the star that is connected to our freshwater environments such as rivers, lakes and springs. Along with the creatures that live in these areas. These environments help to support, provide, connect and sustain us.
Waitā is the star that is connected to our oceans, where the variety of different species is diverse. We need to support and enhance the biodiversity of our oceans and treat its inhabitants like the taonga they are.
Waipuna-ā-rangi is connected to rainfall and its frequent appearance in our winter skies. These rainfalls are essential to the healthy cycle of Earth and there are negative effects when they don’t arrive when required.
Tupu-ā-nuku is connected to the edible plants that grow from the soil and can be harvested and gathered for food. This includes plants that are native to New Zealand as well as other crops grown for consumption. We need to understand the importance of healthy soil and think carefully about what we are putting in and taking out.
Tupu-ā-rangi is connected to our trees and forests and things that grow there such as berries and birds. New Zealand’s native fauna live in these forests which means it is important to take action to protect and conserve our native forests.
Ururangi is connected to the wind family which includes Hauraro (north wind), Tonga (south wind), Hauāuru (west wind) and Marangi (east wind). These winds are important because they can cool you on a hot day and also bring a challenge during storms.
Pōhutukawa is connected to the memories of loved ones who have passed on. Pōhutukawa encourages us to remember them and the impact they had on our lives.
Hiwa-i-te-rangi is a star to be wished on, she helps us to think about our aspirations and dreams we have for the coming year. We are encouraged to set goals and take opportunities when they arise.
The final star, Matariki, is a symbol of hope who encourages us to reflect on the past. She watches over her children, brings people together and connects them with our environment.
Over the coming few weeks, I really encourage you to get along to some of the Matariki Festival events, connect with your community and expand your knowledge.