Matariki is the Māori new year and an important time in New Zealand. Lawrence Wharerau, our Outreach Curator Māori Specialist – Kaitoko Kaupapa Torotoronga ā-Iwi, provides some background on the festival and describes the footage in our special programme Kānapanapa mai ana a Matariki.
In New Zealand we are all becoming familiar with the notion that Matariki heralds the beginning of the Māori new year. Interest in learning more about Matariki and its observance has increased across the past three decades or so – and with good reason.
Ko Matariki kei runga, ko te tohu tēnā o te tau!
Matariki is above, signalling the new year
The Significance of Matariki
Matariki signifies many things, but at its heart it is all about celebration and spending time with whānau. Marking the beginning of the Māori calendar and occurring in winter, Matariki gives reason for iwi, hapū and whānau groups to gather for communal celebrations. Seated around fires in the warmth and glow, food, stories and kōrero are shared.
Those who had passed on during the previous year are recalled and remembered. Storytelling, wānanga, whakapapa , future projections, planning and resolutions all occur during the Matariki season.
The idea of making resolutions, planning and reviewing are all the same as celebrating the northern hemisphere new year – in the same way and for all the same reasons – only six months removed. This is due to the positions of the northern and southern hemispheres and the tilting of the planet on its axis. Matariki is a kāhui whetū (constellation) of seven to nine visible stars that is visible in different parts of the world at different times of the year.
Matariki remains important for agriculture and timing for laying crops and preparing the land for planting in the warmer growing months. The coming of Matariki brought the harvest festival where pre-European arrival Māori feasted on the crops they had planted, harvested and prepared for long-term storage over the lean growing months of winter.
There may also be ceremonies to atua including Rongo, Haumietiketike, Tāne Mahuta, Uenuku, Whiro and Tangaroa.
Matariki ahunga nui
Matariki provider of plentiful food
Accompanying the resurgence of interest, many resources have been developed to promote understanding of the significance of Matariki. Television programmes covering Matariki have been created for many audiences. Events are held around the country to view and herald the rising of the constellation.
Libraries and community groups publish information and education resources for whānau and tamariki. A Google search provides more than a million results for the term Matariki, without entering its many other names or terms. Each of these names also has their own information and traditions attached.
Professor Rangi Mātāmua has presented a series of online lectures available on his website and Facebook – these have enjoyed a massive uptake. His Instagram channel provides a large number of ways to identify, locate, celebrate and integrate Matariki understanding and activities.
Observing and Marking Matariki
Locating Matariki can be a challenge in some areas. The actual day of its rising with the sun – thus pinpointing the best time to restart the yearly cycle – varies from region to region. Differing landscapes and locations makes it important to consult with local experts in astronomy.
Different geographical locations could mean you don’t have a clean line of sight to the horizon, due perhaps to surrounding hills or maunga, so you may need to adapt and use what you can see in the early morning sky.
Some iwi mark the new year focusing on other stars like Puanga (Rigel) or Atutahi (Canopus) and their rising. Some iwi ensure they have the correct moment by also looking west to check the setting of various constellations in relation to Matariki, or that other indicator stars are on the rise.
Despite the variation, Matariki is always close to the winter solstice. Some iwi take the mark from the new moon while others the full moon. As with implementing maramataka to guide fishing, planting and harvest cycles, it is always best to consult your local experts.
Matariki kanohi iti
Matariki rarely seen
Matariki Around the World and Today
Finally, Matariki is visible in most parts of the world and it is held in similar high esteem by many cultures. Pasifika, Japanese, indigenous Australian and ancient Greek, Mayan, Aztec, Incan and Egyptian cultures all revered the star cluster and used it for the timing of seasons. Different cultures give it different names: Subaru in Japan, Pleiades in Greece, and Tiānquiztli in the Aztec Empire.
Matariki is important because it is a time to reset and reflect, to gather with loved ones, learn about the past and consider the future. For these reasons, it’s not surprising that there is an ongoing resurgence in interest in Matariki.
Kānapanapa mai ana a Matariki
This Matariki presentation looks at material in the collections of Ngā Taonga regarding the growing, gathering and preparation of food for storage over the lean winter months. It shows the importance of food preparation and storage leading up to Matariki and to highlight how these were traditionally performed. Much of the mahinga kai (gardening) practices demonstrated needed to be completed before the Matariki season. Crops would be harvested, prepared and put into storage for later access. All the items except the last were captured in the silent film era.
Last year we commissioned musical accompaniment from Taonga Māori Pūoro musicians Haumanu ki Te Papa for this collection – they composed this responding to the images on screen. This year we have added a narration track to contextualise and explain what the images are portraying.
Muttonbirding remains an essential part of the traditions and practices of Ngāi Tahu, Waitaha and Ngāti Mamoe iwi from the deep southern regions of Te Waipounamu. The tradition of pōhā tītī (storing and preserving muttonbirds in a bull kelp bag) has changed little over the centuries except for the use of the bull kelp pōhā being replaced by plastic buckets – though a handful of practitioners continue to use traditional methods.
Scenes of Māori Life on the East Coast (1923)
Kūmara is an essential traditional Māori food source. Rich in carbohydrates and fibre, legends abound as to how the crop made its way to Aotearoa from its natural home in South America. Food was stored in underground rua kūmara, or pākoro as they are known on the East Coast where this film was taken in the early 1920s. This provides a consistent environment for prolonged storage over the winter months.
Feasting is another component of Matariki. Hāngī is the most popular and common form of traditional cooking and is still practiced today, albeit with more modern approaches such as hāngī cookers often used.
Hapuka Fishing in New Zealand (1925)
Reaping bounty from the ocean was and will always be an essential source of food around the world. Footage from the 1920s showing big hauls of hāpuka and crayfish along Wellington’s south coast near Taputeranga indicates how much the fisheries have been depleted because of unsustainable practices used over the last hundred years. The impact saw the creation of the Taputeranga Marine Reserve in 2008, which has seen the region become a nursery for fish stocks, a recreational playground and a scientific research facility. Rises from sea levels seen in this film due to climate change is also quite apparent to those who have frequented the area.
Māori Eeling (1930s)
Though the title of this item references eels, the excerpt focuses on corn – one of the oldest cultivated and harvested crops. Introduced to Aotearoa by missionaries in the early 19th century, it soon became another staple of the Māori diet. Corn is versatile and would be dried, fermented, cooked in hāngī and mixed with other ingredients to add taste and consistency.
Eel History Was a Mystery (1968)
The final item shows eels and their place in the Māori diet. Knowing breeding patterns of animals and changes in season is essential to planning food gathering. Traditional Māori knowledge of the migratory patterns of eels played a crucial part in the gathering of this quintessential food source. Eel History Was a Mystery shows this mātauranga being applied by Māori from the Wairewa district of Little River on Banks Peninsula. Kuia Hine Kenehi demonstrates eel preparation before smoking for long term storage. This is the only film in the presentation that has its own sound track and narration.
Further Matariki resources and information: