What is Matariki?

What is Matariki?

(from https://mch.govt.nz/nz-identity-heritage/matariki)

Matariki is the Māori name for the cluster of stars also known as the Pleiades. It rises in mid-winter and for many Māori, it heralds the start of a new year.

Matariki literally means the ‘eyes of god’ (mata ariki) or ‘little eyes’ (mata riki). According to myth, when Ranginui, the sky father, and Papatūānuku, the earth mother, were separated by their children, the god of the winds, Tāwhirimātea, became so angry that he tore out his eyes and threw them into the heavens.

Traditionally, it was a time for remembering the dead, and celebrating new life. In the 21st century, observing Matariki has become popular again. Kites, hot-air balloons and fireworks help mark the occasion. In the early 2000s Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (Māori Language Commission), the Ministry of Education and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, became involved in the revival of Matariki celebrations.

When is Matariki?

Different tribes celebrated Matariki at different times.  To some tribes the new year in mid-winter was signalled by the dawn rising of Matariki (the Pleiades), while to others it was the rising of Puanga (Rigel in Orion). For many iwi the appearance of Puanga in the night sky signalled the start of winter. Puanga was said to be one of the parents of the climbing plant puawānanga.

The Maramataka Māori (Māori Calendar) has closer to 355 days in its year cycle as opposed to 365 days in the Gregorian calendar which apparently follows the sun. Pipiri, the time of Matariki’s rising in the early morning, does not match up with June. Additionally, just because Matariki is visible does not mean it is the right time to read the stars for what the year ahead will bring. Matariki must be read when the moon is in the right phase in Pipiri: when the moon is in Tangaroa at the end of its third quarter and into the last quarter. The celebrations take place after this.

An excellent source of information is Dr Rangi Matamua's 2017 Matariki : the star of the yearbook which covers traditional practices, traditional ceremonies and beliefs as well as whether Matariki has a purpose in a modern context. Dr Matamua is an associate professor at the University of Waikato and his research fields are Māori astronomy and star lore, Māori culture, and Māori language development, research and revitalisation.

Listen to a 2017 Te Papa podcast featuring Dr Matamua sharing a Māori perspective of astronomical and cosmological links relevant to Matariki.

There is a helpful table on page 58 of this book, projecting the setting and rising of Matariki every year from now to 2050, showing how the period of Matariki varies year to year.

2018 dates

For 2018, June 7th is listed as the day that Matariki sets and July 6 - 9 as the rising, which is when you can see Matariki just above the horizon before the sun comes up. Dr Rangi Matamua's 2017 Matariki : the star of the year book also states the celebration period to be 6 -13 July for 2018.

Listen to Rereata Makiha, a member of the Māori Astronomy Society sharing his knowledge on Matariki on tumekeFM96.9 radio station here.

The Ministry does not provide funding for events celebrating Matariki. We suggest that event organisers talk to their local Council about what support might be available.