What is Matariki?
Māori astronomical understanding was embedded in pre-colonial Māori life, culture and belief. The sun, moon and stars were an essential part of practices affecting agriculture, fishing, architecture and exploration. Tohunga Māori (specialist men and women) with knowledge of the stars were the story tellers and were able to pass on information of when to carry out certain tasks throughout the year.
Matariki is the Māori name for the star cluster also known as the Pleiades. While it comprises over 300 stars, only seven are typically seen. At the end of May this year, we can observe Matariki rise in the north-eastern horizon just before dawn.
Matariki is a time for remembering the dead and celebrating new life. Matariki was a season for manaakitanga (hospitality) that brought communities together. Visitors were showered with gifts of specially preserved food and other delicacies. Throughout Matariki, Māori learnt from each other, which ensured that traditions like arts, weaving, waiata, performances, wānanga and whakapapa were passed from one generation to the next.
Today Matariki is also about the revitalisation and resurgence of te reo Māori and mātauranga Māori traditions. Rituals of gathering to reflect upon the past year, sharing experiences, planning activities and acknowledging those who have passed during the year are important aspects of Matariki. In 1993, Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Otepou revived the Matariki celebrations in Tauranga with an early morning trek up the Kopukairoa Mountain.
This became an annual trek to celebrate the first sighting of Matariki in our moana with karakia (prayers) and waiata (songs), acknowledging the arrival of the New Year. During Matariki we celebrate who we are, consent to new beginnings, plan for the future, prepare for imminent trends and look for guidance to show us the way forward.
Look to the North East of the sky
Find the constellation known as Orions Belt (or commonly the bottom of "the pot")
Track across to the left to find the bright star - Taumata-kuku
Keep going to find a small cluster - this is the small cluster that makes up Matariki