Remembering, celebrating and planning key elements of Matariki, says a Maori astronomer

Friday will be Aotearoa’s first-ever Matariki public holiday to mark the start of the Maori New Year, but the star cluster is known around the world and has an ancient recorded history.

Photo: Nasa

It is the most important celebration in the traditional Maori calendar, which occurs when the star cluster Matariki – otherwise known as the Pleiades – rises in mid-winter.

Native Studies and Maori Cultural Astronomy, Professor Rangi Mātāmua (Ngāi Tūhoe) said The first standing Matariki is the earliest and best recorded history of a star cluster in mankind.

“There is a 17,000 year old cave painting in France that marks the Pleiades and around the world cultures have used its sunrise and sunset to mark the change of season, harvest, planting or celebration.”

Rangi Matamua

Professor Rangi Mātāmua is well known for his Living By The Stars video series.
Photo: Provided

The Pacific and Polynesia used Matariki as a season change marker, he said.

“When our ancestors came to Aotearoa, they noticed that this extreme south, it disappears just as summer comes in the west with the sun and it reappears just before the sun in the east around the hottest day. short of the year.

“So they thought right, we can use that as a New Year’s marker and that’s how it applies here.”

The appearance of the Pleiades is celebrated and recognized throughout the world, especially in South and North America, Asia and Africa.

“But Matariki in the way we apply it is very very peaceful, Polynesian and it’s unique, the actual look…of mid-winter morning is very very unique to us here in Aotearoa.”

Traditionally, Matariki was closely associated with the environment and “the promise of a new year and a new bounty”, Matamua said.

Maori would gather and cook food in an earthen oven before conducting what was called a hautapu ceremony, he said.

“As Matariki got up, they performed karakia and offered the food to the group.”

Apart from the ceremony, the rest of the period was spent feasting and celebrating with music and entertainment, he said.

Matariki had three major elements that fueled the celebration, he said.

“The first is to remember those we have lost since the last Matariki uprising, so it is a remembrance; the second is to celebrate who we are and who we are with food and to come together as families and sharing; and the last thing is planning for the future and looking forward to a new and bright future.”

Pacific peoples had a very detailed and complex understanding of the night sky, which also helped them navigate, Matamua said.

Matariki is the name that is applied to the star cluster as far east as Easter Island, to the Marshall Islands to New Caledonia.

“Their knowledge of the night sky, their ability to not only read the stars and determine when they rise and when they set and where, but also they have implemented a very detailed lunar stellar calendar system here.

“So they would look at the lunar calendar and understand the position of the Sun and the reappearance of the star and the actual lunar phase to determine their timing system.”

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