In this blog, we unpack the story of Matariki, its significance and how you can celebrate this year in Wānaka.
There is a star cluster that appears in the early morning sky across New Zealand in the early winter months. This cluster is one of the brightest, containing hundreds of member stars. It can be seen at different times of year across the globe in nearly every country and goes by many different names; Pleiades, the Seven Sisters and Subaru, to name a few. In Te Reo, it’s called Matariki and it signifies the Māori New Year.
The Matariki celebration is based on three major principles. The first is remembrance; honouring those we have lost since the last rising of Matariki. The second is a celebration of the present; gathering together to give thanks for what we have. Finally, we look to the future. Matariki is a time of renewal and celebration in Aotearoa (New Zealand) that begins with the rising of the Matariki star cluster.
Matariki is an abbreviation of Ngā Mata o te Ariki Tāwhiraimātea – the eyes of the god Tāwhiraimātea. Tāwhiraimātea, the god of wind, was one of the children of Ranginui (the sky father) and Papatūānuku (the earth mother). In the beginning, Ranguini and Papatūānuku were joined together, and their children were born in darkness. In order to allow light to come into the world, the children decided to separate their parents. Tāwhiraimātea was so angry with his siblings for separating their parents, that he tore out his eyes and threw them into the heavens, thus creating the cluster Matariki.
In Aotearoa, Matariki comes into view low on the north-eastern horizon, in the tail of the Milky Way. Traditionally, Matariki is a time to acknowledge the dead and to release their spirits to become stars. The rise of Matariki was also tied to planting, harvesting and hunting – to be thankful to the gods and to share bounty. And if the stars were bright, it signaled a favourable and productive season ahead.
In this way, Matariki is a time to acknowledge the year just past, to celebrate the present and to prepare for the year ahead.
Iwi celebrate Matariki at different times; some when the cluster is first seen in the sky, others after the full moon rises and some at the new moon. Additionally, for some Iwi, there are seven prominent stars, while for others there are nine. To learn more about the interpretation of these stars, click here.
In 2020, the New Zealand Government announced that it intended to establish Matariki as a public holiday.
A Matariki Advisory Group, whose members were drawn from across the country to ensure mātauaranga (knowledge) of various Iwi was represented, advised the Government on when and how the new public holiday should be observed.
2022 is the first time that this public holiday will be observed, on Friday, June 24. This date will shift each year to align with the Māori lunar calendar.
The Matariki public holiday will be New Zealand’s first public holiday that recognizes Te Ao Māori.
On June 24, Aotearoa will come together to remember those who came before us, share food, sing songs, tell stories and play music; connecting with our home and our whanau (family).
In Wānaka, Kahu Youth Matariki celebrations have taken place for many years and this year will be no different, with a huge community hangi, workshops, performances and a massive fireworks display. This will happen on the lakefront on Saturday, June 25.
The Matariki Glow Show will also happen on July 7, with magical glow-in-the-dark puppet characters that “edu-tain” the audience about Matariki.