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Matariki: The Origins And Facts You Should Know

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Milford Sound

Matariki is traditionally known as the Māori New Year; as the Matariki star cluster rises in mid-winter, it signals a period of reflection, appreciation of the life cycle, planning for the year ahead, and a new cycle of crops and gardening. 

As with all core aspects of Māori culture, Matariki is about turning to our environment for cues on daily life and celebrating the extraordinary aspects of our world, both in the present and as it existed in the past. 

At Southern Discoveries, we exist to celebrate our surroundings and bring other people along on the journey of appreciating and protecting the whenua (land) that we call home in Aotearoa. From the rainfall that blesses Piopiotahi Milford Sound with hundreds of fleeting waterfalls to the moana (ocean) that catches it and flows through the fiords we treasure, everything we have comes back to our environment and the culture that keeps Aotearoa’s stories alive. 

As water pools in our nooks and valleys of Piopiotahi, the seventh star of the Matariki cluster is Waipuna-ā-rangi, ‘water that pools in the sky’, which reminds us that fresh rainfall is crucial to life on earth. As we move into an exploration of Matariki’s significance and details, let this karakia guide us and strengthen a tie between the stars of Matariki and our favourite place, Piopiotahi. 

E tū Waipunarangi
Ko te ua heke
Kōpatapata mai, hūkerikeri mai
Kia puta ko te ora o Tāwhiriua
Koia

Behold Waipunarangi
Of the falling rain
A light rain, a heavy downpour
Reveal the bounty of Tāwhiriua
Indeed! 

When is Matariki 2024? 

In 2024, the beginning of Matariki celebrations is the evening of 28th June as the star cluster rises. The rise of Matariki falls on a different day every year and the celebrations can range from a few days to a whole month depending on the community and celebrations in the area. The Matariki star cluster can generally be seen for several days after it first rises. 

Matariki

The Matariki Star Cluster

The star cluster of Matariki, also known as The Pleiads, is one of the closest clusters to Earth by space’s standards (440-light years away). Ocean-going navigators (kaumoana) of the voyaging waka used constellations and clusters like Matariki as directions to guide them across the Pacific.

Nine visible stars make up the Matariki star cluster and are seen as the celestial whānau (family) of Matariki, with each one holding a special significance to Māori and the environment around us. The stars are:

  • Matariki – the mother of the other stars, associated with health and well-being.
  • Waitī – tied to freshwater bodies and the food sources within them.
  • Waitā – associated with the ocean and seafood.
  • Waipunarangi – connected to rain.
  • Tupuānuku – linked to food that grows in the ground.
  • Tupuārangi – linked to food that comes from the air, such as birds and fruits.
  • Ururangi – represents the winds.
  • Pōhutukawa – associated with those who have passed away, helping to remember and honor them.
  • Hiwa-i-te-rangi – the wishing star, associated with hopes and dreams for the coming year.

 

If you’re wanting to spot Matariki for yourself this winter, here’s a few tips from Te Papa Tongarewa (Museum of New Zealand) or watch this video to find out how

  • Find three bright stars in a line. Māori call these stars Tautoru; they are also known as Orion’s belt.
  • To the left of Tautoru you will come to a group of stars that look like a pyramid. This is Te Kokotā.
  • Finally, if you look to the left of Te Kokotā you will see Matariki.

 

Matariki Star Cluster

The Significance of Matariki

Matariki is known as the Māori New Year, representing renewal and regeneration for many aspects of life; agricultural cycles, planning for the upcoming year, and a cue to set intentions for the future are all traditionally signalled by the rise of Matariki. According to matariki.co.nz, “it’s a cosmic reminder that nature follows its own rhythm, and as the stars align, so too do the cycles of life on Earth.” 

The Origin Story of Matariki

The seven bright stars that make up the Pleiades cluster is where the formation gets its name; the name “Matariki” means “tiny eyes” or “eyes of god” in Māori, referring to the seven. The origin of these stars is a fascinating story passed down by oratorary, and now written media, throughout generations of Māori. Puhi, our team member at Southern Discoveries, retells this story well:

“You may have heard that the appearance of Matariki heralds a time of remembrance, joy, and peace. It brings communities together to celebrate, symbolising positivity and hope. However, this star cluster was born out of great despair and heartache.

Before Matariki and her children were given their own lives, they were part of Tawhirimatea, the god of wind. When his siblings decided to separate their parents, Tawhirimatea alone fought against this decision. Thankfully for mankind, Tawhirimatea lost the argument, and his brother Tanemahuta used his mighty legs to split their parents apart forever.

Furious at the pain his siblings caused their parents, Tawhirimatea tore at the forests to spite Tanemahuta, smashed Tangaroa’s seas, and attacked his brothers Haumietiketike and Rongomatane, forcing them to burrow into their mother, Papatuānuku, for safety. When he faced his brother Tumatauenga, the god of war and humans, they fought to a standstill.

In his fury and frustration, Tawhirimatea tore out his eyes and cast them to the sky father, Ranginui. His eyes became the star cluster known as Matariki, named because she and her children are the mata (eyes) of the ariki (god).”

 

Whatever your celebrations or location in Aotearoa for Matariki 2024, Southern Discoveries wishes you a joyous Māori New Year and an abundant year ahead filled with connection to loved ones and your surroundings. 

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