Matariki: the eyes of the changing sky


While we talk of “winter” the sun is starting to stay longer in the sky and the earth is starting to warm. Daffodils are already out around Whakamarama and snowdrops bunching together in the paddocks have appeared. It’s the earth telling us that it is its new beginning. It is Matariki, the New Zealand New Year: the appearance of the seven stars of Matariki in our sky.

Matariki is the New Zealand Maori name of the cluster of stars also known by the Greek name the Pleiades. There are two translations for “matariki”. The first is “mata riki” tiny eyes. The second is “mata ariki” eyes of God. In Greek mythology they were the daughters of Atlas and Pleione; in Maori and Pacific tradition – the mother and her six daughters. Ancient temples and even Stonehenge in England face the rise of their Matariki.

Maori legend is that when Ranginui, the sky father and Papatuanuku, the earth mother were forcibly separated by their children the God of the winds, Tawhirimatea, became so angry he tore out his eyes and threw them into the heavens where they have remained.

In the Pacific and for Maori, the stars were and are navigational aids and indicators of the coming seasons. Their navigational aid is clearly indicated in the role of Tupaea in Cook’s voyages in the Pacific. Today many New Zealanders still plant by the seasons and the moon.

The Tai Tokerau Tourism website says:

The season of Matariki is marked by the rise of the star cluster and the sighting of the next new moon. The pre-dawn rise of Matakriki can be seen in the last few days of May every year and the new year is marked at the appearance of the next new moon which occurs during June.”

The Auckland City Matariki Festival website says Matariki rises in early to mid-June on the North East Horizon a little to the west of where the sun rises.

…it was an important time for family to gather and reflect on the past… celebrate the unique place in which we live and give respect to the land we live on….it was celebrated through education, remembrance, the planting of new trees and crops symbolising new beginnings. It was the optimum time for new harvests’ ceremonial offerings to the land-based gods Rongo and Uenuku and Whiro to ensure good crops…the perfect time to learn about the land and remember whakapapa (ancestry) who have passed from this world and the legacy left behind…traditionally a three-day celebration.

The sky was used by Maori for many reasons throughout history – reading from the vast volumes of stars was a way of preserving history, knowledge, culture and maintaining ancient practices. The time of Matariki was a celebration in all customs and beliefs so arts in its many forms were very important to this period. With the coming together of family and friends it was a time to share with each other’s skills, achievements and history through storytelling, song and dance, carving and weaving, ancient ceremonies and passing on knowledge and history. Matariki is a special time of year to celebrate being Maori, its customs and art forms and to show how unique Maori culture is.”

Auckland City Matariki Festival website notes that after European colonial settlement the celebrations dwindled but since the beginning of the 21st century have revived and are now “a special time of the year.” The celebrations are an increasingly important and popular contemporary celebration of Matariki within the wider community.

Photo0183MatarikibookletfrontpageThis year, 2015 Tauranga Moana had a more noticeable and organised Matariki Festival. There were all sorts of things planned through June and July; the blue booklet produced by the Tauranga City Library was chunkier than usual. It’s cover said “Master Chefs 2014, Shona Tawhiao, School Holiday Fun + much more!

It’s the much more that’s very interesting. There were astronomy presentations for adults and kids. Sounds of traditional musical instruments. Traditional weaving. Traditional kites created by students from all around Tauranga Moana. Conversations with traditional voyagers. Worm farming. Health workshops. Careers workshops. A Matariki Corporate dinner with $120 a go tickets! The Tauranga Art Gallery hosted Te Ao Hou a spectacular show of fashion, contemporary Maori art and performances.

There were historic walks. Traditional storytelling. Children’s clay art workshop. Stories and song for early child care centres. Evening stories – “bring your sleeping bag, come in your pyjamas.” Intellectual discussion and lecture – “Dr Rangi Matamua will examine the origins of Maori astronomy while looking at some of the major star groups before moving to discussing Matariki”. You could meet 2014 Masterchef NZ Winners Karena and Kasey Bird with their first cookbook “For the Love of…” and there were 3D design classes and spinning top classes. Some of the events were free; some had fees.

Want to know more about Matariki: the time of new beginnings go on-line. Check out the 2015 programmes and festival organised earlier this year so you’re ready to go for Matariki 2016 and the appearance of the eyes of the changing sky.

The above article quotes directly from:

  1. The Tai Tokerau Tourism website

  2. The Auckland City Matariki Festival website

  3. The 2015 Tauranga City Libraries Matariki promotional booklet and


Rosemary Balu. Rosemary Balu is the founding and current editor of ARTbop. Rosemary has arts and law degrees from the University of Auckland. She has been a working lawyer and has participated in a wide variety of community activities where information gathering, submission writing, community advocacy and education have been involved. Interested in all forms of the arts since childhood Rosemary is focused on further developing and expanding multi-media ARTbop as the magazine for all the creative arts in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand.


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