In Western astronomy it is known the Pleiades, and it forms the shoulder of Taurus the Bull.
Matariki marks the start of a new phase of life. It is a time of festivity for Māori, the tangata whenua, or first people of New Zealand.
Matariki is an important time in the Māori calendar and is associated with the start of the cold season when the pātaka kai (food storehouses) are full and the land is at its most unproductive.
What happens at Matariki
Matariki is a celebration of people, language, spirituality and history. It is the time when people gather to share kai (food), rituals, entertainment, hospitality and knowledge.
Every year, the month of June is filled with events celebrating Matariki involving:
- theatre, comedy, music and dance
- arts and crafts, including carving and weaving
- speakers and storytelling at local community centres and star observatories, passing on knowledge and history
- traditional ceremonies
- family activities
- activities on the land, including bush walks and planting of native trees.
How to spot Matariki
Keep an eye out in late May or early June for Matariki to rise on the northeast horizon, around the same spot as the rising sun.
The best time to spot Matariki is around half an hour before dawn.
Matariki is viewed as a signal of what kind of year lies ahead. If the stars are clear and bright, it is a sign that the year ahead will be warm and bountiful. If they are hazy and shimmering, a cold, unproductive year is expected.
Matariki and Māori New Year
Matariki marks the start of the Māori New Year. Most iwi (Māori tribes) celebrate Matariki, although depending on the tradition of the iwi, the start of the New Year is marked variously by:
- the first pre-dawn sighting of Matariki
- the rising of the next new moon following the sighting of Matariki
- the rising of the next full moon following the sighting of Matariki.
Māori New Year is a time to:
- reflect on, acknowledge and celebrate the year gone by
- show respect for the land and learn about the land we live on
- remember the whakapapa (ancestry) who have passed on to the next world, and the legacy they have left behind
- turn to the future - welcome the new generation to the world and make plans for the year ahead.
Matariki and Māori legend
Traditionally, Matariki has two meanings: mata-riki (tiny eyes) or mata-ariki (eyes of God).
Māori legend tells of a time when Ranginui (the sky father) and PapatÅ«ānuku, (the earth mother) were forcibly separated by their children.
The god of the winds, Tāwhirimātea, became so angry he tore out his eyes and threw them into the heavens, where they have remained ever since.
History of Matariki
Matariki celebrations were popular before the arrival of Europeans in New Zealand. The celebrations gradually became less frequent, with one of the last traditional festivals recorded in the 1940s. Matariki celebrations were revived at the beginning of the 21st century in New Zealand.
Matariki across the world
Matariki's seven stars can be viewed from anywhere in the world and the constellation is globally recognised as a key navigational aid for sailors. It features in many cultures and acts as an important signal for seasonal celebrations around the world.
Europe: Pleiades, the Greek name for the cluster, is described as seven sisters, the daughters of Atlas and Pleone. In Greece, several major temples face straight towards Matariki, as does Stonehenge in England.
Māori and Pacific cultures: In Māori and Pacific stories, Matariki is described as a mother surrounded by her six daughters.
Japan: In Japan, Matariki is known as Subaru.
Other: The Matariki cluster of stars has also been celebrated by Africans, American Indians, Australian aborigines, Chinese and Vikings.
Unity, harvesting and planting, paying tributes to ancestors and looking ahead to the future are all themes of these celebrations.