Matariki is the Māori name for the cluster of stars also known as the Pleiades. It rises in midwinter, after the shortest day. The name of the star cluster is also used for the time of the year when it is once again visible after being out of view for a month. For many Māori, it marks the start of a new year.
Although we now celebrate it nationally with a public holiday on a specific (but changing) day each year, Matariki is celebrated at different times by different iwi across the country. This is due to geography – Matariki can be seen in the night sky at different times from different locations. Some Māori use other markers for celebrating the new year (eg, Puanga/Puaka in the Orion constellation).
The traditional celebration of Matariki involves a ceremony commonly known as whāngai i te hautapu (hautapu for short). It means to feed the stars with a sacred offering.
Matariki has strong associations with the environment, and represents the promise of new beginnings and bounty with the start of the new year. Food is gathered, prepared and cooked and karakia (prayer) and food are offered up to Matariki as it rises.
Matariki is a time of remembrance, fertility and celebration. The ceremony involves:
remembering and grieving for those who have passed on since the last new year
celebrating the present and the new season with loved ones, kai and singing and dancing
looking to the future by planning for the year ahead.
Matariki – Reflection, hope, and the connection, health, and wellbeing of people and our taiao. Pōhutukawa – Those that have passed on since Matariki last rose. Waitī – All freshwater bodies and the kai sources that are sustained by those wai Māori. Waitā – The moana, and kai sources within it. Waipuna-ā-Rangi – Association with rain. Tupu-ā-Nuku – Everything that grows within the soil to be harvested or gathered for kai. Tupu-ā-Rangi – Everything that grows up in the trees: fruits, berries, and birds. Ururangi – Connection to the winds. Hiwa-i-te-Rangi – Granting our wishes and realising our aspirations for the coming year.
The celebration of Matariki is guided by 3 main themes:
Celebrating the present
Looking to the future.
A number of values are associated with Matariki which are embedded in the traditional practices of Matariki and its celebrations:
Aroha – love and respect for one another
Whakamaumaharatanga – remembrance
Kotahitanga – unity
Tohatoha – sharing
Mana taiao – environmental awareness
Hākari – feasting
Wānanga – discussion
Noho tahi – coming together
Atawhaitanga – kindness
Whakanui – celebration
Tuakiritanga – identity.
Video: A Matariki story
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The Wireless and Maui Studios, NZ, 2016
Video: Today marks the start of Matariki as the stars rise
Journalist Matiu Hamuera went along to an umu kohukohu whetū ceremony held by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei at Takaparawhau Bastion Point in Tāmaki Makaurau.
Re: News, 2023
1. Take time to reflect
Take some time to remember loved ones who have passed away. You can do this by reflecting on past events, sharing stories and memories with your whānau, visiting their final resting places, lighting a candle, talking with friends and whānau or writing down your hopes and dreams for the year ahead.
Video: Remembering Loved Ones
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(All Right?, NZ, 2021)
2. Practise your te reo Māori
Say ‘happy Matariki’ in te reo Māori by saying ‘Ngā mihi o Matariki, te tau hou Māori’.
3. Get crafty
Get the kids together and make Matariki star bunting or a kite. A special feature of Matariki celebrations is the flying of kites “as they flutter close to the stars”. Or you could make and play a traditional Māori game(external link) such as Mū Tōrere, make some poi and learn to use them in song and dance.
4. Attend a local event
There are lots of Matariki festivals and celebrations happening around the country such as storytelling, kite-making, performances and exhibitions. See what’s happening in your local region(external link) or run your own event, it could just be with your wider whānau and friends.
5. Get cooking
Matariki is traditionally a time to get together to share kai harvested from past seasons. Cook a mid-winter feast for friends and whānau using traditional Māori vegetables such as kumara, kamo kamo, taro, puha and uwhi. There are many other delicious foods you could cook as well.
6. Do some stargazing
Pop outside one evening and see if you can see the Matariki star cluster. This helpful video(external link) shows you how to find Matariki by using other stars and constellations to point the way. Want a fun way to remember all the stars of Matariki? Check out this TikTok(external link) from Hahana official.
Get your kids involved in making a project about Matariki. It could be something like a poster or a presentation. Here's an image of the Matariki group of stars for inspiration.
Image credit: Robert Gendler, Wikimedia Commons
9. Write down your hopes, dreams and aspirations for the year ahead
A new beginning is a great chance to take some time to think about the hopes, dreams and goals you have for for yourself and your whānau. We encourage you to kōrero with your friends, family and others about how to work towards a collective goal.