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Reflections on Matariki

Around the end of June and beginning of July, the Matariki star cluster appears in the sky over Aotearoa. Next year it will be an official public holiday, but how many people know stories about Matariki? Reporter Matai O’Connor researched and spoke to local artist and historian Nick Tupara to find out more about how Matariki relates to Te Tai Rawhiti . . .

Matariki is a time of renewal, reflection and rest.

It is often referred to as the Maori New Year. But it is not like December 31 and January 1, where fireworks are set off and everyone is partying. Rather it is a time to reflect on the past, rest in the present and plan for the future.

In February, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that Matariki will become a public holiday from next year. It is on Friday, June 24, 2022 — a date advised by the Matariki Advisory Group.

Matariki does not have an exact starting date, it not does fit into the contemporary version of a calendar, says Tairawhiti-based artist and historian Nick Tupara.

Traditionally, Maori observed a maramataka (Maori lunar calendar) which was guided by the phases of the moon and the natural world. Because of this, the dates to celebrate the Matariki period differ from year-to-year and will be dependent on where in Aotearoa you live.

This year Matariki rises between July 2 and 5, and lasts until July 10.

There are about 500 stars in the Matariki cluster, but only seven or nine can be seen without a telescope.

Matariki and her daughters journey across the sky each year to visit their tupuna wahine Papatuanuku (female ancestor earth mother).

During this visit, each of the stars help Papatuanuku to prepare for the year to come, using their unique qualities or gifts to bring mauri (lifeforce) to her different environments. While spending time with their kuia (elder) they also learn new skills and gain new knowledge from her, which they guard and pass on to others.

There are many legends about the star cluster Matariki. One of the most popular is that the star Matariki is the whaea (mother), surrounded by her six daughters, Tupu-a-nuku, Tupu-a-rangi, Waipunarangi, Waiti and Waita, and Ururangi.

According to leading Maori astronomer Dr Rangi Matamua, who has been researching Matariki for over 30 years, Matariki has nine visible stars. As part of his research, Dr Matamua found that some of his own tupuna were able to see nine stars.

The stars, including the two Dr Matamua found are:

■ Matariki, the star that signifies reflection, hope, connection to the environment, and the gathering of people. Matariki is also connected to the health and wellbeing of people.

■ Waiti is associated with all fresh water bodies and the food sources that are sustained by those waters.

■ Waita is associated with the ocean, and food sources within it.

■ Waipuna-a-rangi is associated with the rain.

■ Tupuanuku is the star associated with everything that grows within the soil to be harvested or gathered for food.

■ Tupuarangi is associated with everything that grows up in the trees: fruits, berries, and birds.

■ Ururangi is the star associated with the winds.

■ Pohutukawa is the star associated with those that have passed on.

■ Hiwa-i-te-rangi is the star associated with granting wishes, and realising aspirations for the coming year.

Nick Tupara says we should be returning back to the phases of nature, rather than a timetable on a piece of paper.

“A negative about having a date for the ‘Maori New Year’ is that it will further detach ourselves from the phases of nature to a specific date, a day off,” he said.

The East Coast has a connection to Matariki.

“Matariki is recognised. If you go to Te Araroa there is a marae called Matahi o te Tau Marae. It has an expansive view that looks out to the ocean towards South America.

“You can see the beginning of the new year there. It is one of the most eastern marae in the region.

“Matariki is a part of the sea scape when you peer out in the evening. Matariki sits alongside other signs of nature. For the Tairawhiti it’s significant for us to designate a point where we see Matariki rise, and we have a marae specifically for that,” Tupara said.

A day off to reflect, not consume

Those at the marae are the kaitiaki and carers for that place. The marae is a small, humble place which had a specific job back in the day, Tupara said.

“It is an observatory where tohunga (experts) in past times would assemble and read the tohu (signs) of the time and determine when the year would begin and what nature would bring with it.

“The things that bring benefit and bounty to us rest during Matariki. Which means other parts of nature become active.

“In our tradition we refer often to tenei te Po, naumai te Ao — from the darkness comes the light. We see the darkness as the negative and the light being the positive, but the darkness can be a positive. It is a time to relax and slow down.

“Let yourself step away during that time. Other things that have been resting can now come forward,” Tupara said.

It’s a rest for some, but a cleansing for others, Tupara said.

“Since our day is not governed by natural factors, we tend to get very agitated when Matariki decides it needs to cleanse the environment. We find it frustrating when the natural environment interferes with our normal calendar days.

“When it interferes with what we want to do, it is telling us to rest. When the weather is bad, it’s a sign to rest and stay home.

“We don’t live by Matariki — the world Matariki is in, we are not.

“In nature some things are resting and others are active. You have to decide as a person which of those you want to be in.

“Generally they want to be resting to anticipate a more bountiful time to come.

“Those things that are also active, let them become inactive. When it comes to our time in the spring and summer, is for us to go back.

“We get a bit annoyed when it rains — our whole lives have been governed by a whole different form of time.”

Mr Tupara says here on the Coast we are Tai Rawhiti people.

“We are about the shining sun of Tamanui te ra. He is out there even on stormy days.

“In Turanga we mark our calendar by the rising and the setting of the sun. From town looking towards the sun rising from the foot hills and mountains, marks a particular time of the year. During this time the sun is weighed more to the west.

“Tamanui te ra does not completely rest. A purakau (traditional story) says in the winter he is spending time with his winter maiden, Hine Takurua. He’s taking the opportunity for indoor activities, which means they allow the fires to smoulder so they can burn and build when he makes his journey back towards summer, to his summer maiden Hine Raumati.

“He takes his wellbeing with him through those fires. It’s an important time for him in Matariki as he can rekindle those fires.

“In the winter we should keep warm and make sure we have our energy right, to build ourself up for the year to come.

“That is how we see Matariki here on the Coast. It is a marker on our clocks to take it a bit easier, let the weather do what it needs to do, but you need to look after your physical and mental wellbeing.

“We don’t do that, as we are so busy doing other things. We all get a bit stressed instead of tending to the sacred of our own fires.”

This is an East Coast angle on Matariki, Tupara says.

“I learned the stories from my grandfather Kahungunu Kerekere, who lived by the phases of nature.

“Each one of us carries a connection to the phases of nature. I know my grandfather would speak to the moon and have conversations with the stars to make sure food in the garden would grow, so he could feed his children.

“We should all go back to looking at the stars and having conversations with them. It will help us balance off the rigours of our modern way.”

Mr Tupara is proud Aotearoa has decided to create a public holiday for Matariki.

“I’m proud our country has decided there is a day born out of Aotearoa that is important to our country and not a date from Jerusalem or a monarch’s birthday for a whole other nation.

“We have realised we are a community that can also look at ourselves and be proud.

“I think on the day we should stop and look at each other, our culture, our land and who we are as Aotearoa.

“I think a day off to do that is important for the future of our country.

“We didn’t have to lose thousands of men to have a day off that celebrates us.

“Hine Kau Orohia — whose gift to Tane, as he climbed to the heavens in the creation story, was to reflect and rest. Matariki should be a day off where we reflect, not just have a day off.

“We should use it as a day to think about what we have done right or wrong, and how we can grow from that.

“A negative is that it is a ‘day off’, and when you take a day off you tend to overindulge, and do less reflecting and more consuming.

“I think like most of our days off, we have enough of those days.

“Reflect on where you sit in the phases of nature, be thankful for what is occurring or reflect on whether or not it has been a bugger of a year. Think about how it could be better.

“Articulate in your mind what it will be going forward.”

MATA ARIKI LEADERSHIP: This original piece of artwork by Nick Tupara shows Matariki as the mother of the stars that shine during the “Maori New Year”. In Tairawhiti we champion for seven stars, which are more prominent in this image than others. It’s a reflection of the weight she has to bear from that, from her moko kauia through the kowhaiwhai pattern, down into the sky, and that is an indication she has to bear some weight or duty. The red on the upper lip — haehae — represents the need to articulate on your reflections.
STORIES TO SHARE: Tairawhiti-based artist and historian Nick Tupara stands in front of the Te Maro sculpture he designed on Titirangi/Kaiti Hill. Picture by Liam Clayton