What is Matariki?

Matariki is the Māori name for the cluster of stars also known as the Pleiades. It rises in midwinter and for many Māori, it heralds the start of a new year. Iwi across New Zealand understand and celebrate Matariki in different ways and at different times.

Matariki is an abbreviation of ‘Ngā Mata o te Ariki Tāwhirimātea (‘The eyes of the god Tāwhirimātea’) and refers to a large cluster of stars, known in European tradition as the Pleiades. According to Māori tradition, the god of the wind, Tāwhirimātea, was so angry when his siblings separated their parents, Ranginui the sky father and Papatūānuku the earth mother, that he tore out his eyes and threw them into the heavens.

The cycle of life and death

Traditionally, Matariki was a time to acknowledge the dead and to release their spirits to become stars. It was also a time to reflect, to be thankful to the gods for the harvest, to feast and to share the bounty of the harvest with family and friends.

Matariki revived

Matariki, or Māori New Year, celebrations were once popular, but had largely stopped by the 1940s. In the 2000s, they were revived. Now, thousands of people take part in events to honour the beginning of the Māori New Year, and in whānau celebrations to remember those who have died and to plan for the year ahead. From 2022, a public holiday marking Matariki will be held in June or July each year.

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