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Matariki - The Maori New Year

For the Māori in New Zealand, Matariki is a time of new beginnings. At the tail end of May / early June each year, a cluster of tiny stars, known as Pleiades to astronomers, rises on the northeast horizon. The Māori call this constellation Matariki, this is a signal of an ending and a beginning.

The meaning of Matariki

The word Matariki is commonly translated into English as “mata riki’ or ‘tiny eyes’ and “mata ariki” or ‘eyes of God’.  For the Māori, Matariki signals the start of a new life cycle and hence is celebrated as a traditional new year. The new moon that appears after the Matariki marks the beginning of the celebrations.

Pacific names for the Matariki

  • Matariki - Māori, Mangaian (Cook Islands)
  • Mangarevan (Gambier Is – French Polynesia)
  • Matali’I - Samoan
  • Makali’I - Hawaiian
  • Mataliki - Tongan
  • Mataiki - Marquesan

 The Māori and Matariki

New Zealand’s indigenous people prepare for the year ahead and celebrate the future during Matariki. Upon sighting the constellation, the Māori would begin preparing sufficient preserved food stocks to last them through to the next harvest.

They also believed that the visibility of the stars determined the growth of crops for the coming year. According to this belief, if the stars shone very brightly, the season would be warmer and therefore the crops would be plenty. Family gathering and feasting marks the Māori celebration of Matariki.

Once the celebrations were over, they would turn their attention to other tasks that bound the community closer together such as learning and knowledge sharing.

 Matariki traditions

 During Matariki, the Māori  shared their plenty with others. They showered guests and visitors with gifts and prepared huge banquets known as hākari. Records and stories indicate that the people waited up several nights to see the stars as they rose. Once the constellation was sighted, they would build a small hāngī - earth oven to cook food with steam and heat from heated stones.

 Then, as part of their customs, they would weep and tell Matariki the names of those who had died since the stars last set. The people then uncovered the oven so that the aroma of the food could rise to the heavens and strengthen the stars. Another custom known as mihi maumahara is also observed. The people pay tribute to the ancestors who have passed into heaven through the Matariki to join the other ancestors who have become stars in the sky—Kua wheturangitia ratou ki tua ki te Aara I Tiatia.

 Present day celebrations

The Matariki tradition is very much alive and observed in modern day Aotearoa (New Zealand). Lively festivals, cultural performances and concerts and other entertainment mark Matariki celebrations across the country. Toi Māori  (Māori  Art) is also showcased along with Māori  song and dance. Modern Māori  celebrate this day with education, remembrance, and the planting of new trees. Art exhibitions, art and craft workshops, the sharing of myths and legends, Astronomy workshops, hangi and feasts, dawn ceremonies, family days, Whakapapa (Genealogy) workshops and cooking demonstrations are some ways to celebrate Matariki.

Matariki in the classroom

Matariki is a great time to introduce children to the Māori people. Here are some tips on how to do it:

  1. Discuss the concept of New Year across various cultures and countries: New Year is celebrated across the world at different times and for different reasons. Discussing this topic in class is a fun way to get children to understand the diversity in the world.
  2. Organize a trip to the local planetarium: Get your students together and take them to the planetarium to star gaze. Explain the traditions of Matakiri while getting them to draw and label the constellation in their notebooks.
  3. Choose a craft theme: During craft period, focus on the arts and crafts of the Māori .
  4. Plan a storytelling session: Invite Maori elders and plan a storytelling session. Later, ask students to discuss what they understood from the stories.
  5. Plant a tree: Plant a tree in the neighborhood or in the schoolyard.
  6. Draw parallels: The Japanese call the Pleiades (Seven Sisters) 'Subaru'. There is a distinctive myth behind this. Read out these myths in calls and discuss how the same constellation has different meaning across cultures.
  7. Visually represent Matariki: Draw, or paint the constellation. Do a slide show in class or maybe create a small skit around it.

 Remember, Tēnā ngā kanohi kua tikona e Matariki - Matariki will keep you awake.

Article written by Annie Beasant on behalf of Global Kids Oz

Multicultural resources, Indigenous, Maori, Cultural Diversity in childcare, multiculturalism, cultural learning resources