Matariki the Māori New Year, is rich with tradition. Discover the importance of Matariki, and explore ways that you can celebrate the Māori New Year with your family. Matariki is officially celebrated on 13 July 2020.
What is Matariki the Māori New Year?
Matariki is the Māori name for a group of 7 stars known as the Pleiades star cluster. Note, some hapū know the Matariki as 9 stars (although the last 2 can be hard to make out with the naked eye).
Some people think of Matariki as a mother star with 6 daughters, and it is often referred to as the Seven Sisters.
Others think that Matariki are the ‘eyes of the god’. When Ranginui, the sky father, and Papatūānuku, the earth mother, were separated by their children the god of wind, Tāwhirimātea, became angry, tearing out his eyes and hurling them into the heavens.
Matariki appears in the eastern sky sometime around the shortest day of the year, and is thought to determine how successful the harvest crop will be in the coming season. The brighter the stars, the more productive the crop will be.
What does Matariki mean?
Matariki has two meanings, both of which refer to the cluster of stars. Mata Riki means Tiny Eyes, and Mata Ariki means Eyes of God.
To learn more about the story of the Eyes of God, check out this awesome animation by Atawhai Tibble. This video was made for Year 1 students, although it’s still quite haunting. The original story from the people of Ngai Tuhoe has Tawhirimatea ripping his eyes out and throwing them to the heavens. In this version he uses his tears:
Courtesy: Atawhai Tibble
What are the Matariki star names?
Although there are actually 1000’s of stars that make up the pleaides cluster, and there are technically 9 stars that make up the constellation, there’s just 7 stars you can really make out with the naked eye.
It’s these 7 stars that have traditionally been known as the 7 sisters, or the Matariki. The Matariki star names are:
Alcyone – Matariki, eyes of Tāwhirimātea
Atlas – Tupu-ā-rangi, sky tohunga
Electra – Waipuna-ā-rangi, sky spring
Taygeta – Waitī, sweet water
Pleione – Tupu-ā-nuku, Earth tohunga
Merope – Ururangi, entry to the heavens
Maia – Waitā, sprinkle of water
As Dr Matamua notes some Iwi make out 9 stars in the constellation, but it is very difficult to make these out with the naked eye. The two extra stars are:
Pōhutukawa – connects Matariki to the dead and is the star that carries our dead across the year (Sterope/Asterope).
Hiwaiterangi/Hiwa – is the youngest star in the cluster, the star you send your wishes to (Celaeno).
When is Matariki celebrated?
Matariki begins to rise in the last few days of May and into June, and is different every year, and this symbolises the coming of the Māori New Year.
Some iwi, or tribes, started celebrations when Matariki was first seen, others would celebrate on the first new moon after Matariki, and still others on the first full moon.
The Matariki new moon happens some time in June or July each year.
Some people celebrate the New Year on the day the new moon rises, and others celebrate on the day after the new moon. Celebrations can last for up to 3 days. The modern option for the Maori New Year is to pick a day between the new and full moons, and this has become the more traditional date.
In 2020, Matariki will begin on 13 July.
In 2021, Matariki will begin on 2 July.
How to find the Matariki star cluster
Educator Martin Langdon, on behalf of Te Papa Museum shows us how to find the Matariki star cluster in this awesome short video:
Courtesy: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
Why was Matariki important?
The disappearance of Matariki in Autumn, signals the time to gather and preserve crops. The Matariki disappear from view in April, and reappear again in late May/early June. So this was an important marker in the harvest calendar.
After the harvesting of traditional crops, such as kumara, pikopiko and karaka berries, when the storehouses were full, Māori would celebrate the harvest season. This celebration coincided with the reappearance of Matariki.
Matariki crop planting
In years gone by, Matariki was thought to determine your crop for the coming season, so it was important to recognise the part it played in nature’s cycle.
Matariki atua ka eke mai i te rangi e roa,
E whāngainga iho ki te mata o te tau e roa e.
Divine Matariki come forth from the far-off heaven,
Bestow the first fruits of the year upon us.
Māori used Matariki as a signal for when to plant their crops after the long winter. If the stars were clear and bright, it was a sign that a favourable and productive season lay ahead, and planting would begin in September.
If the stars appeared hazy and closely bunched together, a cold winter was in store and planting was put off until October.
Nowadays, Matariki is still seen as an important time to celebrate the earth, and show respect for the land on which we live.
How was Matariki celebrated?
Traditionally Matariki was celebrated by gathering with whanau (family) and reflecting on the past.
The festival’s connection to the stars provided an opportunity for families to remember their whakapapa (genealogy) and those ancestors who had passed away to the heavens. Offerings were made to land-based gods who would help provide good crops, and new trees were planted to signal new beginnings.
Many of these traditional celebrations are still practiced today, however there are many others ways that Matariki is celebrated also. Most celebrations focus around music, song, dance, food and family, and celebrations can last up to 3 days.
How do communities recognise Matariki?
Matariki is a good opportunity for Māori to share their stories and culture with the wider community, and many events and activities are planned throughout the country to share and celebrate Matariki. Some common events and activities include:
- Concerts and cultural performances
- Art exhibitions
- Art and Craft Workshops
- The sharing of myths and legends
- Astronomy Workshops
- Hangi and Feasts
- Dawn Ceremonies
- Family Days
- Tree Planting in Conservation Areas
- Whakapapa (Genealogy) Workshops
- Cooking Demonstrations
You might also be interested in this collection of New Zealand television content focused around Matariki.
Or you can check out our Matariki events and activities around New Zealand – 2018 page.
6 simple ways to celebrate Matariki with your family
There are lots of ways you can celebrate Matariki with your family, and in doing so, start your own family traditions. Some ideas to get you started include:
1. A Family Feast
Make Matariki a time when the whole family gets together to feast and give thanks. It may be a nice opportunity to explore traditional Māori food like hangi and rewena, or Māori bread. Our star-shaped sugar cookies will go down well for desert.
2. A New Harvest
Use Matariki as a time to clear the winter vegetables, and prepare your vegetable garden for the new planting. It could become a family tradition to do the gardening altogether – at least for one day of the year.
3. Tree Planting
Contact your local Department of Conservation to find out if there are any regeneration projects happening in your area. Organise to plant a tree on Matariki, or better still, get together with a group of friends and plant several.
4. Sleep Under the Stars
Spend a night sleeping under the stars (or under a tent!), and tell your own family stories. You may want to talk about family memories, or create goals for the coming lunar year.
5. New Years Resolutions
Most of us create New Years resolutions in January, but by the time June rolls around they are long forgotten. Why not use Matariki as a time to renew your resolutions.
6. Attend a Matariki Event
For more great ideas on how to spend Matariki with your friends and family, check out our Fresh ideas for celebrating Matariki with your Family.
Happy New Year!
Check out this article for a great range of Matariki craft ideas to do with your kids. Or try out our simple Matariki and the Southern Lights art project. Get baking with our star-shaped sugar cookie recipe, or check out our Matariki events and activities around New Zealand page. Or find out some Fresh ideas for celebrating Matariki.