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  • Writer's pictureMichal Garvey

Matariki Heri Kai

As we approach our third year of celebrating Matariki as a public holiday in Aotearoa, it’s important acknowledge what it is we’re celebrating and why. While Matariki as a public holiday is a new concept, Matariki celebrations have been taking place in Aotearoa and around the Pacific for centuries.


Matariki is signified by the rise of the cluster of nine whetū (stars) in the sky above Aotearoa. The appearance of Matariki signifies te mātahi or te tau - the Māori new year.


Last year I celebrated by attending the Hautapu me te Umu Kohukohu Whetū ceremony put on by my local iwi, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei. A Hautapu is a ritual to celebrate Matariki with a Umu Kohukohu Whetū which is an oven where food is cooked before dawn, offering up the smoke to keep Matariki and her children nourished as they rise across the sky. 


It felt really special to be welcomed to listen to the words of mana whenua, asking us to reflect on the year that had been, look forward to the aspirations of the year ahead and remain connected to those around us - the three core principles of Matariki. Karakia were recited, traditional wind instruments were played, those who had passed were remembered through mōteatea and everyone was invited to sing waiata. This was set on the stunning backdrop of Matariki and the sun rising across the Waitemata with the scrumptious smells of smoke rising from the Umu.


The view from Takaparawhau in 2023

Once the formalities concluded, all of the guests were encouraged to take some kai from the umu which included fish, chicken and kumara. These foods clearly chosen to represent each of the domains of Tupu-ā-nuku (earth), Tupu-ā-rangi (sky), Waitī (freshwater) and Waitā (ocean) - the four stars of Matariki who care for our food growing spaces.


I highly encourage you to look for your local Matariki events and go along to learn more. You'll find some events here, and I suggest looking to your local marae, iwi and Council for more. Top tip for anyone heading along to a dawn Hautapu this year, add two more layers of clothing than what you think you might need!


Guests participating in the offering from the Umu Kohukohi Whetū

The 2024 theme is Matariki heri kai, from the proverb Matariki whetū heri kai or Matariki, the bringer of food. It’s no surprise that this year's theme has been chosen around food as food and Matariki are intertwined. Traditionally Māori would use Matariki’s disppearance (in April or May) to signal time to preserve crops for the winter season. Then when she reappeared in June or July she was used to predict the success of the kai harvest in the year to come. Clear, bright stars brought the promise of a warm, abundant winter with hazy stars that were hard to see warning of a bleak winter ahead. 


In 2023, we started what I look forward to continuing as a long tradition at Foodprint - a Matariki team lunch. We too include food from each of the four food-growing domains and come together for reflection, aspiration, connection and celebration. We’d love to hear from you about your Matariki learnings, celebrations and traditions. 


Mānawatia a Matariki!




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