Matariki – a celebration of New Year in Aotearoa

Kia ora

Matariki is the Maori New Year (Tau Hou) – due to be celebrated in New Zealand 05 June – 05 July 2008. This time span reflects that Matariki is celebrated by different tribes at different times. For some, it is when the group of stars known as Matariki or the Pleiades is first seen in the pre-dawn sky, late in May. For others it is the full moon after it rises that is celebrated and still others centre their celebrations on the dawn of the next new moon.
Traditionally, depending on the visibility of Matariki, the coming season’s crop was thought to be determined – the brighter the stars, the warmer the season and the better the crop. Matariki was also a time for family to gather and reflect on past and future, to remember whakapapa and the legacy they left behind.

Here are two translations of the word Matariki: Mata Riki (Tiny Eyes) or Mata Ariki ( Eyes of God). Either way the eyes are thought to watch over the land and its people. During Matariki, we celebrate our unique place in the world. We give respect to the whenua (land) on which we live, and admiration to our mother earth, Papatūānuku. Throughout Matariki, we learn about those who came before us. Our history, our family, our bones. Matariki signals growth. It’s a time of change. It’s a time to prepare, and a time of action. During Matariki, we acknowledge what we have and what we have to give. Matariki celebrates the diversity of life. It’s a celebration of culture, language, spirit and people. Matariki draws and intrigues me as an appropriate mid-winter celebration – the rising of Matariki our signal that the Celtic winter solstice is close by. It is also our time where we can prepare for spring and growth as the Northern hemisphere does during their New Year in January. It signals a time of gathering together to talk and eat, a personal time to draw into self–reflection as the days shorten.

As a place to start last year I gathered in my home with celebrant colleagues. After a shared dinner together we met in the living room with an open fire and lit candles.

I led a “Breathing to come together:”

Cosmic breathing He ha ao whanui

I breathe in Puritia te manawa
I am land He whenua ahau
I breathe out Tukuna te manawa
I am listening E whakarongo ana ahau

I breathe in Puritia te manawa
I am river He awa ahau
I breathe out Tukuna te manawa
I am flowing E rere ana ahau

I breathe in Puritia te manawa
I am kauri He kauri ahau
I breathe out Tukuna te manawa
I am strong E tu rangatira ana ahau

I breathe in Puritia te manawa
I am rain He ua ahau
I breathe out Tukuna te manawa
I am refreshed E tu noa ana ahau

I breathe in Puritia te manawa
I am rock He kamaka ahau
I breathe out Tukuna te manawa
I am centered Kua hou e te wairua
– Powell, Anne, “Firesong”, Steele Roberts Ltd 1999

As part of our sharing circle we named and celebrated people who had died and we shared aspects of ourselves that we were dying to or complete with.

We finished with a poem called Warning of Winter – Ursula Bethell (p.135, “Spirit in a Strange Land: A selection of New Zealand spiritual verse”, ed. Paul Morris, Morris, Paul, Ricketts, H & Grimshaw, M, A Godwit Book Random House Publishing 2002) before having a cup of tea and cake of course!

“Give over, now, red roses;
Summer-long you told us,
Urgently unfolding, death-sweet, life-red,
Tidings of love. All’s said. Give over.

Summer-long you placarded
Leafy shades with heart-red
Symbols. Who knew not love at first knows now,
Who had forgot has now remembered.

Let be, let be, lance-lilies,
Alert, pard-spotted, tilting
Poised anthers, flaming; have done flaming fierce;
Hard hearts were pierced long since and stricken.

Give to the blast your thorn-crowns
Roses; and now be torn down
All you ardent lilies, your high-holden crests,
Havocked and cast to rest on the clammy ground.

Alas, alas, to darkness
Descends the flowered pathway,
To solitary places, deserts, utter night;
To issue in what hidden dawn of light hereafter?

But one, in dead of night,
Divine Agape, kindles
Morning suns, new moons, lights starry trophies;
Says to the waste; rejoice, and bring forth roses;
To the ice-fields: Let here spring thick bright lilies.”

At the level of community find out what is happening in your local area – perhaps get up before dawn and witness Matariki for yourself. Other ideas include developing a recycle plan for your home or local area, plant native trees and shrubs or draw out a plan for a spring garden and start to gather the seed and seedlings. Perhaps learn the plants which you can eat and which help to heal and pass this knowledge on.
And for fun you could make and go fly a kite on the New Year!

At a personal level Matariki is a time to reflect on your own whakapapa (or story), to spend time with family, record oral histories, perhaps create something to remember those who have recently passed on. As you look to Matariki look to your future, start something new, create an image for the year ahead. When my mother turned 70 we gifted her a book of family stories, that is the stories that each of us associate with her.
Matariki is a time of giving – giving thanks for the bounty we experience, giving to those who are in need and giving the gift of something of ourselves to others.

In 2009 Matariki will be celebrated on 24 June and in 2010 on 14 June.

Arohanui Kerry-Ann

Other References and Resources for this article:
Batten, Juliet, Celebrating the Southern Seasons, Tandem Press, Auckland 1995
Hakaraia, Libby, “Matariki”, Reed Publishing NZ 2004