Matariki Festival 2018

Friday, June 29th, 2018

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It’s nearly time to celebrate Matariki here in New Zealand, traditionally a time to mark the beginning of the Māori New Year. Festivities are held all around the country, bringing people together to acknowledge new beginnings and also to reflect on the past.

What Is Matariki?

Matariki is the Maori name used to describe the star cluster known as Pleiades. This cluster of seven prominent stars rise during the winter (usually sometime in late May to June) and are more clearly visible.

One of the closest star clusters to the earth, Matariki is just 440 light years away. Modern times have allowed astronomers to discover that the cluster is actually made up of over 500 stars.

The star cluster is visible to the naked eye from around the world and is known by many different names. Its ancient Greek name is the Pleiades (The Seven Sisters), in Hawai it is known as Makali‘i (eyes of royalty), and the Japanese call it Subaru (gathered together).

The Pleiades

When Is Matariki?

Historically Matariki is celebrated over a period of time rather than one specific date, some choosing to mark the occasion on the first new moon or first full moon, some when the star cluster first rises, and others relying on other astronomical alignments.

Today, Matariki is commonly celebrated at the first new moon after the rising of Matariki. This year Matariki is due to begin around the 15 June.

What Does Matariki Mean For Maori?

Historically for local Maori, Matariki is seen as a time to show respect for the land and also to cultivate the ground for growing the coming year. Matariki is also a time to show respect for the dead.

During historic Matariki celebrations it is said offerings were made to the Gods, young people were instructed in the ways of the land and fish and birds and other foods were harvested. Early Maori relied on Matariki to predict the success of the next harvest, the brighter the star cluster seemed, the better the growing season.

Translated, Matariki means the ‘eyes of god’ or ‘little eyes’. According to one local Maori legend, when Ranginui, the sky father, and Papatūānuku the earth mother were separated by their children the god of the winds, Tāwhirimātea, became angry and tore out his eyes and threw them into the heavens.

Another meaning that is commonly refers to Matariki (the mother) and her six daughters. The story goes Matariki and her daughters journey across the sky each year to visit their great grandmother, Mother Earth, sharing knowledge and learning new skills to prepare for the year to come.

Maori Dance At Sunset

The Stars Of Matariki

Commonly thought of as a cluster of seven stars (as these were able to be seen from the naked eye), there are actually nine associated with Maori legend.

  • Matariki. Nurturing, signifying our connection to our environment. 
  • Pōhutukawa. Representing those who have passed on.
  • Waitī. Support, symbolising our ties to fresh water and the food within. 
  • Waitā. Support, symbolising our ties to the ocean and the food within. 
  • Waipuna-ā-rangi. Kindness, appreciation of the rainfall/water.
  • Tupuānuku. Freindship, appreciation of food grown within the soil/plants.
  • Tupuārangi. Sharing and an appreciation of food grown from trees. 
  • Ururangi. Wind, speed and positivity.
  • Hiwa-i-te-rangi. The youngest star, considered the wishing star for future hopes and desires.

How To See The Matariki Star Cluster

Looking towards the north east the Matariki star cluster is usually visible from early in June. Find the Orion’s Belt constellation (commonly known here as ‘The Pot’), drawing an imaginary line northwards from the three stars of Orion’s Belt should lead you to a faint cluster of tiny stars (Matariki) roughly the same width as the length of Orion’s Belt.

With the naked eye between 7 and 9 stars should be visible, with a telescope it is possible to see hundreds of them. Matariki can be seen in this location throughout most of year. For more information on how to find the Matariki cluster see this handy video from Te Papa.

Orion Stars

Where To Find Matariki Celebrations In New Zealand?

Today Matariki is a time for recognising New Zealand’s history, culture and traditions. There are a number of celebratory events, activities and gatherings held around the country.

Matariki at the Wellington Museum – Te Papa is a popular choice, or the month long calendar of events held at the Christchurch Arts Centre. Auckland’s Matariki Festival is always a big hit, with a series of over 100 events held over a three week period. Where ever you are in New Zealand there is bound to be Matariki celebrations near you.

The Auckland Matariki Festival

Spanning 23 action packed days this year’s host iwi, Te Kawerau a Maki, gives Auckland the chance to come together and experience the excitement that is Matariki.

The 2018 festival dates are set from June 30 to July 22. During this time there are a wide range of events set in the Auckland area (both free and paid), kicking off with a dawn prayer or Karakia at the Arataki Visitor Centre. Other Matariki Festival events include:

  • Several prominent buildings being lit up with Matariki colours, this includes the Sky Tower, Museum and Civic Building just to name a few.
  • Other Festival highlights include Manu Aute Kite Day, a great way for the kids to get involved. Kite Day occurs at several locations simultaneously across the city.
  • Matariki On The Waterfront provides a great family event with entertainment, great food, games and more over a three day weekend at the end of the Festival.
  • Some inspiring films are on show from the Wairoa Maori Film Festival; He Wiki Kiriata Māori Māori Film Week screenings.
  • Matariki on the Move: Waiata, which features well-known female vocalists Annie Crummer, Betty-Anne Monga, Maisey Rika and Ria Hall is always a popular feature.
  • Get hands on with the Cascade Kauri Pā Harakeke planting day at Pae o Te Rangi Farm, Te Henga Road Stockyard, Te Henga (approximately 40 minutes drive from Auckland).
  • Authentic Hangi food is also on offer at four different locations and from four different Chefs around Auckland. These Hangi Feasts are spread throughout the Festival with the first kicking off on the 1st July at Kumeu and the last on the 22 July in Auckland Central, bookings are essential.
  • There are also loads of workshops, concerts, art displays, food, entertainment and much more on offer over the three week Matariki celebration.

Matariki is the time to be with family and friends, reflect on the past, celebrate those who are not with us and prepare for the year ahead.

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