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The ancient traditions behind Matariki

Matariki hunga nui, Matariki ahunga nui, Matariki tāpuapua, Matariki Haukunui, Matariki tohu mate, Matariki takoha nui, Matariki te whetu o te tau!

In customary life for Māori, the rising of the star cluster Matariki, (otherwise known as Pleiades) signalled the drawing to an end of one cycle and the emergence of a new one. It also the signaled that Hine Takurua (the winter maiden) had firmly taken residence upon the land.

There is much written about Matariki and much is still being unearthed and rediscovered. Each iwi and hapū have their own stories and interactions with Matariki but wherever you are based, the rising of Matariki on the eastern horizon signalled that start of a new cycle of life.    

With the earth tilting away from the sun and much of the abundance of Hine Raumati (the summer maiden) dissipating, Māori societies contracted and instead of ranging far and wide they tended to retreat to the warmth and safety of a home base, hence Matariki hunga nui (Matariki of great gatherings). 

It was also a time of significant work and preparation. The harvests of the summer season had been appropriately stored to sustain the people through the winter and the preparations for a new season were being made. It was also a time for whānau to spend time together to engage in all manner of family and community activities. It was a time for sharing, learning and playing and a time for strategy. Matariki ahunga nui (Matariki an industrious time).

With winter came the rain and the land was inundated with wai māori (fresh water). The time of Matariki tāpuapua is seen as cleansing and revitalising the earth and replenishing soil with potential in readiness for the break of kōanga (spring).  It is also a significant time for Hine Pūkohurangi, (the maiden of the mist) as the cold chill of winter and the warm heart of Papatūānuku colided and people clung close to mother earth for warmth, hence the time of Matariki haukunui.

Matariki was also a time when all those who had passed in the year were remembered, celebrated and bid a final farewell as the earths annual life cycle drew to a close. They were encouraged to travel on to Pōhutukawa, te huinga o ngā mate, the meeting place of the traveling spirits, hence the time of Matariki tohu mate (Matariki in remembrance of those how have passed on).

Hope for the new cycle and the promise of new growth, bountiful crops and wild abundance were sown into karakia at Matariki. The balance of life and death, farewelling those who had passed and welcoming a new season of life and abundance were at the forefront of the people’s hearts and minds.

Matariki was also a time of giving and sharing, sharing time with loved ones, warm meals in the warmth of your whare, by a fire if your fortunate to have one, or snuggled up next to the heater! A time to share your knowledge and experience with those who seek it, a time to exchange handmade gifts and to relish in the sharing in the gift of time. Matariki takohanui (Matariki the time of giving and sharing).

Some iwi celebrate the star cluster ‘Puanga’ or ‘Puaka’ instead of Matariki at this time of year. Matariki isn’t as clear for some iwi to see from their locality yet Puanga is much clearer in the sky. This does not mean Matariki is rejected but Puanga is given preference. Check with local iwi which star cluster is celebrated in your area.

And lastly, Matariki te tohu o te tau, Matariki the symbol of the new cycle.

If the lockdown has taught us one thing it is to take time to look after your family, yourself and those closest and dearest to you, to take time to stop and reflect and consider, to pause and listen to the natural rhythms of the earth and environment around us, to cook and share food together as whanau and to look after your neighbours! Let’s continue this sentiment across the Matariki season and seek to find new ways to live and be in Aotearoa.

For more general information, Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori, Māori Language Commission has an excellent Matariki resource.

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