Whakahirahira a Matariki - Matariki Exaltation
Matariki is being celebrated as a public holiday for the first time in 2022. Friday 24 June will be a national holiday. This is to commemorate the traditional celebration of Matariki in Māori culture. Matariki was the start of the Māori New Year and appeared near the horizon in the sky around the time of the winter solstice. It had three major elements. Matariki was a time to remember those who have passed, especially those we’ve lost since the last rising of Matariki. It was a time for celebrating our identity and coming together and sharing with food (traditionally, following the taking of the harvest), waiata (song) and kōrero (storytelling). It was also a time to think about, plan and look forward to the future.
Māori tell beautiful stories about Matariki. Matariki is the largest star in the grouping. She is said to be the whaea (mother) of Ururangi, Tupu-a-rangi, Waipunarangi, Tupu-a-nuku, Waitī, Waitā, Hiwa-i-te-rangi and Pōhutukawa. Her daughters travel with her across the sky to be with their grandmother, Papatūānuku. Pōhutukawa is the star that represents the dead and those who have passed on. Interestingly, at Cape Reinga, a lone pōhutukawa on the rocks at the tip by the sea is the gate through which the spirits of the dead are said to pass as they leave New Zealand and return to Hawaiki. Waitī is the star that is connected to fresh water and all the creatures that live in rivers, streams and lakes. Waitā is the star associated with the ocean and the many kinds of kai (food) Māori gather from the sea. Waipunarangi is connected to rain, and translates as ‘water that pools in the sky.’ Ururangi is the star which determines the nature of the winds for the year. Hiwa-i-te-rangi represents our aspirations for a prosperous season ahead. ‘Hiwa’ means ‘vigorous of growth.’ Tupuanuku is the star connected to kai grown in the ground. Tupuarangi is the star connected to the kai that grows above the ground, which includes many parts of the forest, including the birds and the fruit that we pluck from trees. Different rohe (iwi territorial regions) have subtle differences in the way they tell a story of Matariki. Some consider there to be seven stars, others see an eighth or a ninth star. In Taranaki, because the hills block the view of Matariki, the new year is marked by the appearance of a star called Puanga (Rigel in Greek). Different cultures across the world have told different stories about Matariki. The Greeks saw this star cluster as the Pleiades. They were said to be the daughters of the sea nymph Pleione and the titan Atlas, and were associated with rain. The Japanese viewing the same stars called them Subaru. Subaru means “united" in Japanese. The symbol of the company Subaru is the six star logo.
Another story Māori tell about Matariki is that the stars are the eyes of the wind god, Tāwhirimatea. Tāwhirimatea, one of the sons of Papa and Rangi, is said to have been so upset by the separation of his parents by his brother Tāne that he tore out his eyes in rage and cast them into the sky. This story explains the name Matariki. Mata (eyes) and riki (little) refers to his twinkling eyes. An alternative explanation for the name is the kupu (word) ariki means godly chief. Matariki appears at a special time each year. Matariki has an annual heliacal rising - when it becomes visible near dawn above the eastern horizon, becoming the "morning star", after spending the year behind the sun, thereby rendered invisible. For Māori, the heliacal rising of Matariki was an important part of the maramataka, the lunar calendar that, using the movements of the celestial bodies, signaled times to fish, plant and harvest. For the Ancient Greeks, the rising of the Pleiades heralded the start of the sailing season. Matariki has several unique astronomical characteristics. It is a star cluster. Star clusters have a shared gravity. Constellations, however, are stars grouped by astronomers. It is among the nearest star clusters to earth at a distance of about 444 light years. The Matariki stars are highly visible stars to the naked eye. We are so very lucky to be able to mark the date that Māori traditionally celebrated the Tau Hou (New Year) with a New Zealand public holiday!
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