In late May or early June each year, the Pleiades – or Matariki as it is known by Maori – star cluster becomes visible in New Zealand. This signals the Maori New Year. In this article, the Rev Hone Te Rire shares the significance of Matariki.
Matariki is the Maori name for the cluster of stars also known as the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters in the Taurus constellation. Matariki is also associated with the winter solstice. Matariki translates to “Eyes of God” (mata – ariki) or ‘Little Eyes’ (mata – riki). This star cluster rises in the last days of May or early June. This heralds the Maori New Year.
Every year during the month of Matariki, whanau gather to commemorate loved ones passed, and to celebrate the birthdays of newer additions to the family. It is a time where whanau gathered together to celebrate unity, faith and hope through aroha. Celebratory feasts were held as whanau gathered around the table.
As youngsters my kuia, koroua, and parents remembered family reunions and re-strengthening of family ties with extended whanau. It is a time of aroha, giving of gifts, and sharing of food. In my Tuhoe whanau we use the term matemateaone, which means to strengthen our connections to our whenua, our marae and our families – close and extended. Our ukaipo, meaning the place that nurtured us.
Various iwi celebrated Matariki at different times during the season, and in different ways. For example, some whanau celebrated Matariki by holding whanau festivities on the marae. They flew kites and set-off fireworks at night to help mark the occasion. The gathering of food for storage, and the giving of food to whanau. Helping whanau with restorative work around their homes or working bees on the marae were other ways to celebrate Matariki. And there was always the karaoke and disco nights for the rangatahi. Followed by whanau sitting together in the wharekai (dining room) for a succulent kaihakari hangi.
A scriptural touch on Matariki gives us the biblical perspective of families living in peace and unity. That there be no divisions among you. That you are perfectly united in mind and thought. (1 Corinthians 1:10). The words of God our father and the walk of Jesus Christ his son, embellishes and reinforces the kaupapa Maori values of whanau (family), manaaki (caring), tumanako (hope), kaitiaki (stewardship), rangatira (leadership) and aroha (love).
My parents and grandparents taught me these values through action not word alone, every time during the season of Matariki. I am now teaching my children and mokopuna the same values. Maybe our church PYM and Kids Friendly programmes might share the teachings of Matariki? I am mindful that most mainstream schools celebrate Matariki, and that those who support Bible in Schools could use Matariki as a resource to promote and enhance the Christian values the scriptures and Matariki collectively speak of. As a body of Christ, we might celebrate Matariki not only in showing support from a bicultural perspective, but also for the aesthetic values that Matariki encompasses.
Matariki guided my ancestors of yesteryear when they departed the far-off distant lands of their forebears for Aotearoa. They did not follow the star cluster of Matariki to find Aotearoa, other stars did that, but they followed the tradition of gathering together, giving, and caring for each other, and sharing and preparing for the future should there be hard times ahead.
My Polynesian forebears lived Matariki, they taught Matariki, they shared Matariki, they were nurtured by Matariki, and they grew up wrapped in the loving arms of Matariki. I know as one of their mokopuna that the kaupapa of Matariki will live on forever into the future. I for one will ensure its survival.
I leave you with this poignant but relevant whakatauki to ponder about the deepness of what Matariki is about.
“Matariki ahunga nui”
(Matariki brings us together)
“Matariki – whiria te tangata”
(Matariki – weave the people together)
Note from the Blog Moderator: Kids Friendly has produced some wonderful resources for exploring Matariki with the children in our congregations. Check out the resources here