Written in the Stars
We talk to three tangata whenua about what Matariki means to them.
Every year our community celebrates Matariki, a cluster of stars that reappear signalling the Māori New Year. It’s a time to reflect on what has passed, as well as plan for the year ahead.
Matariki, for me, is a celebration of Māori celestial knowledge that enables our people to follow
rituals of the past to create new meanings today. If you look at Matariki itself, the full name is Ngā Mata o te Ariki Tāwhirimātea — it came from one of the first great battles when Rangi (sky father)
was separated from Papa (earth mother), and when Tāwhirimātea couldn’t defeat them, he tore his eyes out, crushed them and threw them up into the sky. It’s not about the Seven Sisters, those are
not our stories. Every region has its own true story, so we should be asking each region what
Matariki means to them, because it’s different.
Our stories are related to the knowledge retained from navigation days. Almost all of our stories
have hidden truths. They’re not all legend, but they are stories that allow young people to retain
the knowledge that’s inherent in them. Our tūpuna [ancestors] had it in their minds, not books.
That oral history through whakapapa and storytelling was very important. So Matariki itself is a storytelling time of year.
I always go up Mauao [to share those stories]. It’s the start of a cycle that teaches us about seasonal growth, right times for travel, times for putting food away... It’s a time for gleaning the future — you study Matariki and it gives you clues as to what the future might look like and you prepare for that.
It takes a trained tohunga [expert] to see what the future holds and to encourage their community
to follow certain principles to safeguard themselves when times might be lean, or to put a little
away when there might be abundance.
Understanding all that is key to understanding what Matariki means. It’s not just a time of
celebration. Māori were hunter-gatherer, farmer communities. Our whole community revolves
around whanaungatanga [family connection]. It’s our strongest value because that protection of
our community allows the growth of your whakapapa. That aroha radiates outwards and allows others to come in and join you. Matariki is a great time to bring us back to those values and focus
on what’s important.
Matariki is about new beginnings and a chance to reflect on what has gone in the year before.
It essentially is a time to reset, reassess, and plant new seeds and watch them grow!
There wasn’t too much discussion around Matariki when I was growing up, but obviously there
has always been kōrero shared around the traditional concepts pertaining to Matariki. I think
it’s wonderful how it’s treated and acknowledged now.
I don’t usually do anything in particular for Matariki, but sometimes I use this time to plan for the
year ahead, taking some time out during June specifically to reset and reflect. I think this is important, especially in my line of work, which is extremely fast-paced and transient. Matariki really is a beautiful way to think about all that has been achieved over the past year, and to acknowledge the learnings from that space, too.
I also often celebrate through music with Matariki gigs. I think Matariki gives an opportunity for
toi Māori [Māori art] to be presented in a unique fashion. Māori artists are often particularly busy presenting works around this time, which is wonderful given it’s not an easy industry to maintain
a living! Matariki can give artists an opportunity to flourish.
I think it’s important for all people who call Aotearoa home to understand the foundations of the country they live in. We are lucky to live in such a place! Diversity is a fantastic thing that grows us
as a nation, which is why I don’t understand how a minority can be seen to be forcing their culture down people’s throats. This is the kind of rhetoric that floats about from certain sections of society towards Māori culture and language. I look forward to the day when our country has moved on from this draconian way of thinking.
My hope is that non-Māori enjoy themselves during this time, learn something new and take a few things from Matariki for themselves. It would be fantastic if it was celebrated widely and embraced throughout all sections of society in Aotearoa. It is ours after all!
So, if you want to celebrate Matariki, but aren’t sure how, I’d recommend spending quality time together. Keeping warm, reflecting on the last year and discussing what can be achieved for the
year ahead. Celebrating simply by cooking food and sharing that space and time together.
Matariki is a time of renewal. It’s a time to remember those that have gone before us.
I look back and contemplate what our ancestors have left behind, the sacrifices they made for us to have a culturally sustainable connection with the whenua, moana and te taiao [natural environment], in a very positive and spiritual way. Through these spiritual connections they are always with us, so it’s time to rejoice that there is another dimension for us all.
Another huge aspect of Matariki for me is kai. I reflect on my harvest over raumati [summer] and the memories created. Collecting pipi with my kids on Pari Taha [Sulphur Point] and educating them on the importance our kai resources and the role it plays in the domain of Tangaroa [god of the sea] and the domain of Tauranga Moana. Diving and fishing with my mates to feed our kaumātua, kuia and community. The banter thrown around, in the spirit of who got the biggest fish and kina, is hardcase.
I then turn my thoughts to hōtoke [winter]. This is a time for preparation — not just for myself but
for my wider hapū and whānau. I prepare for when I venture west, into the realm of Tāne-mahuta [god of the forest and birds]. I must hunt, provide and gather — stalking deer, chasing pigs and shooting ducks — for whānau and community once again, but with a lot more clothes on!
When I was a kid, the knowledge of when to get together for kai and harvesting was essential for
my koroua (grandfather), Bobbin Bidois. I have fond memories of being at his house, down in the rugby field-size garden at Te Puna, and being
an absolute hōhā [nuisance] to my older cousins. This māra kai [garden] was loved dearly by my
kuia and koroua, because of what it did for the community of Te Puna, but loathed by my older cousins who worked the gardens with pain and sweat, which made the vegetables that much
tastier. It was a place where our whanau of 100 plus would come together to share kōrero around
a table of kamokamo [squash] and boil up — the aroma nourishes my soul to this day.
As an art practitioner and educator, with a Masters degree in tūtū [creative professional practice],
I have mostly celebrated Matariki through education. Celebrating Matariki has always been about sharing the mātauranga [wisdom] of our ancestors, whether it be the art of tā moko, going to
the top of our ancestral mountain Mauao, or sharing and creating the traditional manu tukutuku [Māori kites].
Matariki has always been about being around people and sharing. Sharing each other’s company, thoughts and connecting back to times of old so that we will always be thankful for who we are
and what we have.
As told to Rosie Dawson-Hewes
Photography by ilk