Matariki - the Māori New Year

A DigitalNZ Story by Zokoroa

Matariki is the Māori name for the cluster of stars, also known as the Pleiades, that herald in the New Year around June-July. An overview of traditional knowledge and contemporary celebrations is given, together with suggestions for activities.

Matariki, Pleiades, stars, New Year, moon, celebrations, festivals, Rangi, Papa, astronomy, Maori

Matariki - Pleiades

Matariki is the Māori name for the cluster of stars also known as the Pleiades. In Greek mythology the Pleiades were the seven daughters of the titan Atlas and the sea-nymph Pleione. Zeus immortalised the sisters by turning them into doves and then into stars to form the Pleiades in the Taurus constellation. 

Matariki

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Matariki also known as the Pleiades

The Pleiades

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Astrophotographs

Seven Sisters or Pleiades

Services to Schools

Traditional Māori knowledge and Matariki

According to traditional Māori knowledge, Ranginui (the sky father) and Papatūānuku (the earth mother) were separated from their eternal embrace by their children. The children (all sons) had lived cramped together in the darkness between their parents and wanted more freedom to be able to move around. One brother, Tūmatūenga (god of war and people), had suggested that they slay their parents. However, Tāne Mahuta (god of the forests) suggested that they separate their parents forever. All the brothers agreed, except for Tawhirimatea (god of weather).   

Rangi (Sky) and Papa (Earth)

were separated by their children so that they would no longer live in darkness

Papatūānuku and Ranginui

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Carving of Rangi, Papa and other gods by Cliff Whiting

(A mural at the National Library of New Zealand, Wellington)

‘Te wehenga o Rangi rāua ko Papa’

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Rangi and Papa's children

Clockwise from top: Tāne Mahuta, Tūmatauenga, Tangaroa, Haumia-tiketike, Rūaumoko, Rongomātāne, Tāwhirimātea

Gods of the natural world

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Separation of Rangi and Papa

Tāne Mahuta was able to separate their parents by lying on his back and using his legs to push their father Rangi higher into the sky. Angry at his brothers, Tāwhirimātea joined Rangi in the skies and, together, they plotted revenge against them. (See Te Ara article on how the four winds, rain and hail were used.) During the stormy weather, Tūmatauenga stood firm and developed incantations for calm weather.  

Tāne Mahuta, god of forests, raised Rangi

Tāne separating Rangi and Papa

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Tāwhirimātea, god of weather, fought his brothers

Tāwhirimātea, god of weather

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Tūmatauenga, god of war & people, calmed the storms

Tūmatauenga

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Matariki - the Eyes of the God 

In pain at the separation of his parents, Tāwhirimātea gouged out his eyes and threw the pieces into the Milky Way galaxy.  Matariki has been thought to mean either the ‘eyes of god’ (mata ariki) or ‘little eyes’ (mata riki). However, according to Dr Rangi Mātāmua, there are no stories to support the meaning 'little eyes'. Rather, Matariki is an abbreviation of ‘Ngā Mata o te Ariki’ – The Eyes of the God. In other cultures, the star cluster is also known by other names - the Hawaiian name is “Makali‘i” or eyes of royalty, and in Japan it is “Subaru” meaning gathered together.  

Tāwhirimātea gouged out his eyes

Tāwhirimātea

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Milky Way galaxy

The Milky Way, Pointers and Southern Cross

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Matariki

Matariki (the Pleiades)

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Rangi and Papa - videos

The story of Rangi and Papa has been retold in animated videos. See examples below. There is also a Youtube clip by Auckland Libraries: Matariki [Ngā mata o te ariki, o Tāwhirimātea: The eyes of the god, Tāwhirimātea]  

A Matariki story

Radio New Zealand

Matariki

Services to Schools

How Matariki was formed

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Rangi and Papa - digitised stories

The story of Rangi and Papa has also been retold in written stories. The following can be read online: 

Sir George Grey (1885)

(Read online at NZETC)

Front Cover - Polynesian Mythology and Ancient Traditional History of the New Zealand Race

New Zealand Electronic Text Collection

Elsdon Best (1924)

(Read online at NZETC)

The Separation of Rangi and Papa - Maori Religion and Mythology Part 1

Victoria University of Wellington

James Cowan (1987)

(Read online at NZETC)

Chapter I. Rangi and Papa: The Separation of Heaven and Earth - Legends of the Maori

Victoria University of Wellington

Matariki and Māori astronomy

Traditional accounts and star lore have been captured in Elsdon Best's The astronomical knowledge of the Maori (1922) through interviews with iwi. One of the contributors was astronomer Te Kōkau Himiona Te Pikikōtukua who had begun compiling a 400-page manuscript with his son Rāwiri Te Kōkau in Ruatāhuna from 1898. It was completed by Rāwiri in 1933 and handed down from grandson to grandson, whereby Dr Rangi Mātāmua carried out further research and published the book Matariki, The Star of the Year in 2017. The knowledge of the elders during the nineteenth century from the East Coast of Te Ika-a-Maui (North Island) has also been researched and published in Work of the Gods: Tātai Arorangi - Māori astronomy by Kay Leather and Richard Hall (2004).  

Matariki - seven or nine stars?

Most commonly known in Western culture as the Pleiades or “seven sisters” of Greek myth, this cluster of stars is said to number seven or more stars. One of the popular versions is that the star Matariki is the whaea (mother), surrounded by her six daughters, Tupu-ā-nuku, Tupu-ā-rangi, Waipuna-ā-rangi, Waitī and Waitā, and Ururangi.  (See Te Papa website.) Dr. Rangi Mātāmua, however, says there are nine stars  -  Matariki, Tupu-ā-nuku, Tupu-ā-rangi, Waipuna-ā-rangi, Waitī, Waitā, Ururangi, Pōhutukawa, and Hiwa-i-te-rangi ( seeTe Karere TVNZ interview). Viewing with the naked eye, between 7 and 14 stars of the over 1000 stars within this cluster have been seen.  

Matariki: 7 stars

Matariki

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Matariki and The New Year - Te Tau Hou 

At the time of the Māori new year, Te Waka o Tamarereti (the great waka of Tamarereti) can be seen in the south. The waka is called Uruao. Tautoru (Orion's Belt) forms the stern, the tail of Scorpius is the prow, and Māhutonga (the Southern Cross) is the anchor and Te Taura o te Waka o Tamarēreti (the Pointers) are the anchor rope. 

Matariki in the night sky

Night sky in summer

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Locating Matariki

To find the Matariki star cluster in the night sky, start with the Southern Cross and track east to three bright stars aligned in a row. This constellation is known as Orion's belt or Tautoru.  See Youtube video How to find the Matariki star cluster with Martin Langdon from Te Papa's Learning Team.  

Matariki or Puanga - the start of the New Year

Puanga is the first star to appear on the horizon, signalling that in three days Matariki would rise. For some iwi, Puanga  (Puaka) – Rigel is the star that heralds the New Year as it always rises before Matariki (e.g. Taranaki and Whanganui iwi, and some on the West Coast of the South Island).  However, for some iwi, Matariki marks the start of the New Year. For some Māori the first new moon after the rise of Matariki signals the start of the New Year celebrations. The moon (Marama)  is seen as the start for all things new and guides the activities for the planting and harvesting of kai on the land and at sea. 

Dawn rising - Astronomer Richard Hall

Matariki

Radio New Zealand

Taranaki Māori celebrate Puanga - their version of Matariki, 2015

Taranaki Māori celebrate Puanga

Radio New Zealand

Māori New Year - when does it start?

The rising of Matariki takes place at pre-dawn during the last quarter of the moon cycle known as the Tangaroa nights of the moon. Unlike the Western world, this can vary from year to year but is always in the cold months from May to July. According to Dr. Rangi Mātāmua, Pleiades sets between May-June when the land sleeps, freezes over and lies idle. The setting of Matariki is known as Mātahi kari pīwai. Then around June to July, Matariki appears on the horizon at the pre-dawn of the day that signals the New Year. The Sun had travelled North and Matariki has gone to guide it back to the East to bring warmer weather. The rising of Matariki is known as Mātahi o te tau. The current year's dates can be viewed on the Ministry for Culture and Heritage's website.     

Timing of Matariki

the maori year - The Maori Division of Time

Victoria University of Wellington

Maramataka: lunar calendar

:

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Moon cycle

Phases of the moon

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Matariki rises in last quarter of Tangaroa

Matariki Lecture: Māori Astronomy by Doctor Rangi Matamua (2016)

Tauranga City Libraries

Matariki - spiritual connections

Matariki is a time for Māori to welcome the New Year and give thanks for the many blessings they had, while remembering those that had gone before them. It is usually associated with remembrance, rebirth and regeneration as the seasons move towards warmer months. Tohunga would observe the stars and take meaning from each star's position, movement, colour and brightness to foretell the future. Puanga foretells the fortunes of the coming of the New Year by his appearance and placement when he first rises after the first new moon. Matariki confirms this through her placement and appearance when she appears three days later.  

Matariki - Time of remembrance

When Matariki rises in the pre-dawn sky, it is a time for people to come together to farewell those departed during the year and to acknowledge the year gone by. The ceremony usually took place on a high vantage point. A small hāngī would be prepared while waiting for Matariki to rise. The first sighting of Matariki was greeted with karakia and then the Tohunga Kōkōrangi would read the tohu. A fire would then be lit and those that had passed the previous year acknowledged with weeping and the reciting of the names of the departed. 

Dawn ceremonies

Maori celebrate Matariki

Radio New Zealand

Matariki: Cycles of life & death

:

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Tangihana

Whakapapa Birth & Death

Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

As recounted in a Te Papa podcast with Dr. Rangi Mātāmua, the constellation Te Waka o Rangi is a canoe with Matariki at the front and Tautoru (Orion’s belt) at the back. It is captained by Taramainuku who casts his net Te Kupenga a Taramainuku down to earth to gather the souls of the people who died that day. He carries them along behind his waka for eleven months until May when the waka sets on the West Coast with the Sun. He then takes them to the underworld where they remain for a month. When Matariki rises again a month later, Taramainuku releases the souls of the dead into the sky to become stars. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the hāngī would be opened allowing the steam to rise up and give sustenance to those who had become stars. As well as a time of remembrance, Matariki is also a time to start letting go of grief and begin anew.   

Goddess of the Underworld

Hine-nui-te-pō

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Matariki - Time of rebirth and regeneration

Matariki is also a time for looking ahead to the coming year. Tohunga looked to Matariki to predict if the next harvest would be abundant. If a star is brighter and clearer that the others stars, the warmer the growing season would be, ensuring a good crop would be harvested from that source. If a star is hazy or missing, there will be negative outcomes for the coming year as represented by that star. To read the stars for what the year ahead will bring, Matariki must be read when the moon is in Tangaroa at the end of its third quarter and into the last quarter. 

Harvesting fish:

Fishing with the Māori Calendar

Te Manu Korihi News for 28 November 2014

Radio New Zealand

Planting by the moon:

:

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

- (Te Ao Hou - No. 60 September 1967)

Alexander Turnbull Library

Growing native plants, potato and kumara:

Planting the Crop - Maori Agriculture

Victoria University of Wellington

Matariki: Native Plants with horticulturalist Char Wiapo

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Te Oha storehouse

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Celebrating traditional kai during Matariki festivities:

Matariki 2009

Tourism New Zealand

Matariki 2010

World On Your Plate: Maori

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Matariki traditions and contemporary culture  

Matariki celebrations were popular for Māori in pre-European times. The festivals continued into the 1900s but were reported to have waned during the 1940s. (See articles below on 'Matariki - Māori New Year: Modern Matariki" by the Ministry for Culture and History, and  "Matariki' published in Te Ao Ho.) However, the beginning of this century has seen a revival in celebrations. The traditions of Matariki and their place in contemporary culture have been explored in various forums - What does it mean to people in today's society?  Cross-cultural involvement has also increasingly taken place. 

Article by Te Ara on dwindling popularity of Matariki celebrations by the 1900s & resurgence since early 21st Century

:

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Article by Harry Dansey on examples of customs that were observed, 1967

Matariki - (Te Ao Hou - No. 61 December 1967)

Alexander Turnbull Library

Research paper on Matariki by Ann Hardy, 2011

Matariki, commodity culture, and multiple identities

University of Waikato

Experts in Māori astronomy say the annual event has no connection to its traditional meaning, 2010

Matariki has no connection to its traditional meaning

Radio New Zealand

Panel discussion: Matariki and contemporary culture

Matariki 2011 - LATE at the Museum

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Range of Matariki activities include Beyonce-poi, opera and kapa haka fused with crumping

A modern take on Matariki celebrations

Radio New Zealand

  Cross-cultural involvement has also increasingly taken place.  

Cross-cultural involvement

Hindu and Māori culture

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

There have been suggestions that Matariki should be marked by a public holiday. However, a bill introduced to Parliament in 2009 failed to get political support.  

Bill before Parliament in 2009 failed to get political support for a public holiday

Matariki celebrations

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

A proposal to make Mātariki a national holiday was being weighed up by the Labour Party's Māori caucus, 2018

Labour's Māori caucus weighing up Mātariki public holiday

Radio New Zealand

Ongoing public discussion, 2019

Matariki as a public holiday

Radio New Zealand

Matariki celebrations 

Festivals and exhibitions have been held to increase knowledge about the traditional astronomy and spiritual connections that underpins the Māori New Year. The Waikato Museum's Te Whānau Marama: The Heavenly Bodies Exhibition (2016 - 2018) featured a sound and light show. Other museums, public libraries, organisations, schools/kura and local communities have also held a range of activities. Artistic works, music, drama, stories and film have been created in celebration of Matariki. 

Toa Waaka takes us through the Carter's Observatory in Wellington to discuss Matariki & Māori myths and legends

Matariki: Behind the celebration

Radio New Zealand

Awanui Black describes how the people of Tauranga Moana celebrated Matariki. (Te Ara, 2006)

Tauranga Moana celebrations

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Waikato Museum's sound and light Matariki exhibition (2016 - 2018)

Exhibition shines light on Māori star lore

Radio New Zealand

Storytelling Festivals:

Matariki stories

Christchurch City Libraries

Story blanket display at Rehua

Christchurch City Libraries

Nga manu tukutuku e whitu o Matariki

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

The seven kites of Matariki

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Ta Daniel hakari Matariki

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Celebrating Matariki : a story from New Zealand

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Matariki 2016: Kōrero | Storytelling

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Music:

HINEWEHI MOHI. MATARIKI

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Matariki Waiata (Song)

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Performing arts:

Hoon Hay School Kapa Haka performance

Christchurch City Libraries

RANGI & PAPA. AOTEA CENTRE

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

 Film: 

Matariki Film Challenge (2016)

Tauranga City Libraries

MATARIKI [TRAILER]

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Paintings, photographs, sculpture, carvings:

Painting by Star Gossage

(2014)

Matariki

Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

Arts Exhibition, 2016

Matariki Exhibition: Our Place, Our Stories (2016)

Tauranga City Libraries

Image for month of June, 1990

Image from Ngā Marama o te Tau, a Māori calendar published by Te Puna Publications as part of the 1990 commemorations

'Nga Marama o te Tau', Hune 1990

Archives New Zealand Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga

Sculpture by Brett Graham

explores the themes of creation, growth and knowledge (1994)

‘Te Matariki’

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Contemporary carving

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

New Zealand Post's $2.30 stamp from their 2009 Matariki issue

Hei Tiki Matariki stamp

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Te Kahui Matariki (The Strand)

Tauranga City Libraries

Kingitanga coat of arms

Door of Māhinārangi meeting house at Tūrangawaewae marae, Ngāruawāhia

Te Paki-o-Matariki

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Weaving arts:

Matariki yarn stars

Christchurch City Libraries

Tukutuku panel 3

Christchurch City Libraries

'Matariki' tukutuku panel

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Craftwork:  

Matariki crafts

Christchurch City Libraries

Matariki Art

Christchurch City Libraries

Matariki toi - Manu tukutuku

Christchurch City Libraries

Kites:

Kite-making materials

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Celebrating Matariki at Archives New Zealand

Archives New Zealand Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga

Traditionally kites are flown. Te Rangi Huata included fireworks,

New Year with a bang

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Preserving and revitalising Māori astronomy

Initiatives include the Society of Māori Astronomy Research and Traditions (SMART), which was formed in 2009 to collect, preserve and revitalise Māori astronomical knowledge that might otherwise be lost. Marsden funding has also enabled research to be carried out for the three-year 'Te Mauria Whiritoi: The sky' study at the University of Waikato.

Society of Māori Astronomy and Research (SMART)

Tātai arorangi

Science Learning Hub

Waikato University study 'Te Mauria Whiritoi: The Sky'

Māori astronomer Rangi Matamua on Matariki

Radio New Zealand

Interview with Dr Pauline Harris, astrophysicist and astronomer

Māori star lore

Radio New Zealand

Astrophotography

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira

Matariki and school curriculum activities

There is a range of activities that can be explored with students and their families. Useful worksheets for helping students to analyse and make sense of photographs, posters, cartoons, maps, video, sound recordings, artifacts/objects and written documents can be found on the National Archives (US) site.

Resource suggestions include:                                                                                                                                                                          

  • Māori Language Commission: bilingual information booklet (downloadable pdf)                                                                                       
  • Pinterest: Matariki  classroom resources      
  • Te Papa: Matariki classroom resources                                                                                                                                                       
  • Also see the following suggestions accessible on DigitalNZ:  

TKI:

Classroom activities

Matariki - the Māori new year

Services to Schools

Many Answers:

Suggests websites and books

Matariki

National Library of New Zealand

Topic Explorer: Matariki

https://natlib.govt.nz/schools/topics Includes these DigitalNZ resources.

Matariki

DigitalNZ

Matariki 2013 (Youtube):

An introduction to Matariki with activity suggestions for students

Matariki 2013

Services to Schools

NZHistory:

Teaching activities

- Matariki

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

NZHistory:

Matariki and Social Studies

- Matariki

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

AstroAxis:

Astronomical and cultural information

Matariki

Services to Schools

Matariki Waihi Wiki:

Waihi & Waihi Beach schools list their favourite resources

Matariki

Services to Schools

Kiwi families:

Ideas for families and communities to celebrate Matariki

Kiwi families

Services to Schools