Matariki — the Aotearoa / Pacific New Year

The rise of the star cluster Matariki marks the beginning of the Aotearoa Pacific New Year according to the lunar calendar. In 2017, this will take place on Pipiri 25 June.

Find out what happened in June 2016 for Matariki.

This page explores the traditions and importance of Matariki, and contains an explanation of the significance of Matariki in the year-long food gathering cycle by Rakiihia Tau, who was upoko of Ngāi Tūāhuriri before he passed away in 2014.

Library stand with Kirsten
Rehua Marae, St Albans, Christchurch. Saturday 28 June 2014. Flickr 2014-06-28-IMG_0508

Translation of Matariki

Matariki may be translated as eyes of God (Mata Ariki). The eyes are thought to watch over the land and its people. Matariki (Pleiades) is also the Māori name for a small but distinctive star cluster that drops below the horizon in April and reappears in June.

Matariki celebrations

Matariki tribal celebrations are held at different times by different tribes. For some, feasts are held when it is first seen. For others, it is the full moon after it rises that is celebrated and for others, celebrations are centred on the dawn of the next new moon. Each winter the stars of Matariki and Puanga signal the end of one year and the beginning of the next.

Matariki's cultural significance

Māori often turned factual information into entertaining tales — it made things easy to remember. In this way, stars became people of the sky. They were the offspring of Rangi (the Sky) and Papa (the Earth). They also had children. These whakapapa (family ties), were a way of illustrating the links between the stars and the seasonal cycle on the land.

There are many stories about its cultural significance as a navigational star and also as an indication of bountiful harvests. Some iwi believe Matariki is the mother surrounded by her six daughters.

The reappearance signifies a time to prepare, to share ideas, to remember the past and celebrate the future. It’s a time to give respect to the whenua on which we live, and admiration to our mother earth Papatūānuku. Throughout Matariki we learn about those who came before us: our history, our family, our bones.

In pre-Pakeha times mahi whai (Māori string patterns) were used to illustrate the stories of the stars. Mahi whai were used to recreate patterns seen in the night sky. Through the patterns the stories and cosmology were remembered and knowledge passed on.

Growth, learning and preparing for the future

Matariki signals growth. It’s a time of change, a time to prepare and a time of action. The physical appearance of the stars in the sky was traditionally used by tohunga (priest or expert) as a forecast of the year ahead.

Clear and bright stars signalled warm and productive seasons, whereas hazy or shimmering clusters meant a cold winter was in store and ground for crops must be prepared accordingly.

Matariki, explained by Rakiihia Tau

Listen to Rakiihia Tau [11:23min, 10.4MB]

Rakiihia Tau was Upoko of Ngāi Tūāhuriri before he passed away in 2014. He donated this feature on Matariki to Christchurch City Libraries. In this document, he explains Matariki in terms of what it meant for the life of Southern Māori and puts it in the context of the year-long cycle of mahinga kai — gathering food and the necessities of life.

Rakiihia Tau grew up at Tuahiwi, and attended the Native School there.

Linwood Mini
Linwood Mini - Ngā Kākahu Moemoeā. Flickr CCL-2011-08-12-Moemoea-MiniLinwood

Matariki traditions

Kites

Kites were seen as connectors between heaven and earth, and were often flown at this event, especially on the first day of the New Year.

Crafts

Feasting / Kai

Preparing a meal for friends and whanau is traditional at Matariki. It is a time when food stores were full — kumara and other root foods had been gathered, fish were migrating so catches were good, and other foods such as eel (tuna) and birds had been preserved.

Whakapapa

A focus on our whakapapa during Matariki gives us a better understanding of who we are, where we have come from and where we are going. It is also a great way to bring whānau together to share stories and knowledge. Some suggested activities during Matariki are:

  • Start your own whakapapa chart or book.
  • Organise time to bring grandparents and grandchildren together to share stories.
  • Record oral histories on tape or video.
  • Create something to remember those who have recently passed on.
  • Clear the weeds from whānau graves and tidy up the cemetery.
  • Organise an iwi, hapū or whānau gathering during Matariki to learn whakapapa.

Other cultures also recognise the seasonal role of the Matariki star cluster and have interesting traditions about it.

Cover of Matarki Cover of Matariki

Matariki resources

Cover: Matariki Teachers' ResourceTeachers’ resource [494KB PDF]
Christchurch City Libraries has created a Matariki learning resource pack for teachers of pupils in Years 1 to 8. Full of practical examples and ideas, this resource can be used to incorporate Matariki into subjects such as art, dance, English, science, social science and social studies.
Te Whata Raki
Come and discover the new world inside Te Whata Raki. Explore our new online world with your guide, Whetu Marama. Learn about some traditional stories, told through waiata, pictures and other web resources before trying out the quiz.
Matariki paper LED Circuit
A papertronics Instructables activity by Fabriko.

Photos of Matariki

See our set of Matariki photos on Flickr.

Take our 2011 Matariki quiz

Take our 2010 Matariki quiz

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