In Celebration of Matariki - History and Significance

For the first time in history, Aotearoa will be acknowledging Matariki, the signifier of the Māori New Year, as an annual national public holiday. This year, Matariki falls on Friday June 24th, 2022. In te reo, Matariki is the name given to the star cluster (Pleiades) that rises during Pipiri (June) in midwinter.

Although the exact date of Matariki varies each year, the Maramataka (Māori lunar calendar) marks Matariki’s reappearance as the end of a lunar year, and the beginning of the new year. The holiday date falls on the Friday closest to the moon phase Tangaroa (the last quarter moon of Pipiri). Some iwi celebrate at slightly different times, such as the first appearance of Matariki, or the following first new moon.

Matariki is a cluster of over 500 stars, but the brightest nine are visible from earth. Matariki translates to ‘eyes of god’, or ‘little eyes’. According to Māori mythology, when Tāwhirimātea (god of weather) discovered that his parents Ranginui (the sky father) and Papatūānuku (the earth mother) had separated to let light into the world, his eyes began to well up with anger and sadness. This caused his eyes to glow, tear out of their sockets, and transcend into the heavens. This formed the constellation we now know as Matariki. The nine stars represent Tāwhirimātea’s eyes, and each star has its own meaning.

The mother of the star group, Matariki, represents reflection, hope, connection to the environment, the gathering of people and good health and wellbeing for all those who observe it.

The Pōhutukawa star reminds us to treasure the memories of our loved ones that have passed away and helps to guide their souls peacefully into the afterlife.

The food bringing stars, Tupuārangi and Tupuānuku look after what grows at the top of the trees, and what grows below in the soil, respectively. Kai is an integral part of Matariki because throughout Māori history, the stars have always been indicators of the healthiest times for planting, harvesting and hunting.

Waitī and Waitā, are twin stars who work as one to preserve the fresh waters and the ocean, respectively. Because they are so closely tied together both physically and representatively, they remind observers of the importance of teamwork and unity.

Waipuna-ā-rangi represents rainfall and welcomes the winter sky. The gentle rain cleanses worries as we step into a new year, and helps to heal the mind, body and spirit.

Ururangi represents wind directions for the year. Traditionally, this star helped tupuna (ancestors) navigate through Aotearoa on waka (canoes).

Similar to a New Year’s resolution, Hiwa-i-te-rangi represents our aspirations and welcomes a prosperous new year.

Even though there are variations of the exact celebration date and even the name of the holiday, all those who celebrate Matariki are honouring the same cluster of stars and share a sentiment that transcends language and location: acknowledging the past, celebrating the present and looking forward to the future.

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