Matariki is the Māori name for the small cluster of stars also known as the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters, in the Taurus constellation. In New Zealand it comes into view low on the north-eastern horizon, appearing in the tail of the Milky Way in the last days of May or in early June, just before dawn. This heralds the Māori New Year.
Matariki, or Maori New Year celebrations, were once popular, but stopped in the 1940s. In 2000 they were revived. Only a few people took part at first, but in just a few years thousands were honouring the ‘New Zealand Thanksgiving’. Matariki is officially celebrated on 6 June 2016.
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.
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.
Matariki begins to rise in the last few days of May, and this symbolises the coming of the Maori New Year. Some iwi, or tribes, start celebrations when Matariki is first seen, however it is the first new moon after Matariki that officially signals the Maori New 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 up to 3 days.
When is the Maori New Year?
The Maori new year is marked by the rise of Matariki and the sighting of the next new moon. The pre-dawn rise of Matariki can be seen in the last few days of May every year and the new year is marked at the sighting of the next new moon which occurs during June.The Matariki new moon happens sometime in June. his next occurs on 6 June 2016.
In years gone by, Matariki was thought to determine your crop for the coming season, and therefore it was important to recognise the part it played in nature’s cycle. The disappearance of Matariki in Autumn, signaled the time to gather and preserve crops, and so was an important marker in the harvest calender.
How is Matariki celebrated?
Nowadays, Matariki is seen as an important time to celebrate the earth, and show respect for the land on which we live. Matariki is celebrated with education, remembrance and the planting of new trees and crops signalling new beginnings. Matariki was the optimum time for new harvests, and ceremonial offerings to the land-based gods Rongo, Uenuku and Whiro to ensure good crops for the coming year. It was also seen as a perfect time to learn about the land we live on and to remember whakapapa (ancestry) who have passed from this world to the next and the legacy they left behind.
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.
Where to find Matariki events
Eventfinda, an events calendar website lists activities taking place around New Zealand.
Matariki Events, a national events calendar, is a New Zealand Māori Tourism project.
Happy New Year!
Paul Meredith. ‘Matariki – Māori New Year’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 30-Sep-15