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What is Matariki?

Iwi, hapu and whanau celebrate Matariki in many ways.  From 2022 Aotearoa will mark this unique time as a nation with an official public holiday in June.

Matariki (also known as the Pleiades star cluster) marks the beginning of the new year in the Māori lunar calendar.  This is a time for remembrance, fertility and celebration.

It is a time to remember those who have passed away.

Haere atu rā e koro ki te paepae o Matariki, o Rehua. Haere atu rā.

Farewell old man, go to the threshold of Matariki, of Rehua. Farewell.

A time to celebrating the present.

Ngā kai a Matariki, nāna i ao ake ki runga.

The foods of Matariki, by her scooped up.

Once the time of grief was over, the emphasis of Matariki shifted to celebration. Because Matariki happened at the end of harvesting, there was an abundant supply of food for feasting. People rejoiced, sang and danced to celebrate the change of season and new beginnings.

A time to look to the future.

Matariki atua ka eke mai i te rangi e roa, E whāngainga iho ki te mata o te tau e roa e.

Divine Matariki come forth from the far-off heaven, Bestow the first fruits of the year upon us.

Matariki was also a time for planning for the year ahead. If the stars were clear and bright, it signalled a favourable and productive season ahead, and planting would begin in September. If the stars appeared hazy and closely bunched together, a cold winter was in store and planting was put off until October.

The Legend and the Stars

Matariki is an abbreviation of ‘Ngā Mata o te Ariki Tāwhirimātea (‘The eyes of the god Tāwhirimātea’). 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.

Leading Tūhoe astronomer Dr Rangi Matamua says that his tūpuna counted nine stars:

Matariki: the star that signifies well-being, reflection, hope and the gathering of people; considered to be a female star which is the guardian of the other stars in the cluster. The name Matariki denotes both this individual star and the whole cluster.

Waitī: the star that represents fresh water and food that comes from fresh water.

Waitā: the star for the ocean and food that comes from it.

Tupuānuku: the star linked with food that grows in the ground.

Tupuārangi: the star of food that comes from the skies: fruits, berries, and birds.

Waipunarangi: the star representing rain.

Ururangi: the star that determines the winds for the year.

Pōhutukawa: the star associated with those who have died.

Hiwa-i-te-rangi: the star associated with dreams and aspirations for the coming year.

Others say Matariki is the mother surrounded by her six daughters, Tupuānuku, Tupuārangi, Waitī, Waitā, Waipunarangi and Ururangi. In one account Matariki and her daughters appear to assist the sun, Te Rā, whose winter journey from the north has left him weakened.

Source: Living by the Stars


While all iwi celebrate the Māori New Year in June or July, some iwi in Whanganui, Taranaki, the Far North and the South Island refer to this period as Puanga rather than Matariki. In these parts of the country, the Matariki star cluster is hard to see clearly and so iwi place importance on the star Puanga (Rigel), which is the next significant star closest to Matariki, and easier to see in twilight. Ngai Tahu in the South Island call the star Puaka.

Source - Te Ara

Finding Matariki in the sky

In New Zealand Matariki comes into view low on the north-eastern horizon, in the tail of the Milky Way, just before dawn in midwinter.

The Māori year is based on the lunar phases (cycles of the moon) and follows a 354-day system. In comparison, the Western European (Gregorian) calendar is 365.25 days long, based on the movement of the earth around the sun. This is why Matariki occurs on different dates in the Western calendar each year.

Matariki sets in the western sky during the lunar month of Haratua (mid-May to early June). This is a tohu (sign) that the harvest season has come to an end. By this time, people should have completed their preparations for the cold months ahead. Matariki reappears in the skies in the lunar month of Te Tahi o Pipiri (late June or early July). For many iwi the return of the stars marks the beginning of the Māori New Year. The correct time for celebrations of the new year is determined by the position of both the stars and the moon. Therefore, although the stars may be visible in the sky, Matariki festivities should not commence until Tangaroa, the last quarter moon of the first month of the Māori year. This time usually comes a few days after the first rising of Matariki above the horizon.

Matariki Around the World

The Matariki cluster is of great significance for spiritual, environmental and cultural reasons throughout the Pacific. Many Pacific people use its progress across the skies to track passing time and changing seasons. It is known as Matariki in the Cook Islands; as Mataliki in Tokelau, Niue, Tuvalu, Tonga, ‘Uvea and Futuna; as Matali’i in Samoa; as Matari’i in Tahiti; and as Makali’i in Hawai’i.

The Matariki stars have been the subjects of scientific observations and mythological stories in cultures throughout the world for thousands of years, including in the Middle East, Asia, Australia, Japan, Europe and North and South America.

According to Greek myth, the nine brightest stars of Pleiades are Pleione and Atlas and their seven daughters. While wandering through the woods one day, the daughters were spied by Orion, who gave chase. To save them from Orion’s dishonourable intentions, Zeus transformed them into stars and placed them in the sky. A number of ancient temples on the Acropolis in Athens face the direction where the Pleiades rise.

Twinkling in the winter sky just before dawn, Matariki (the Pleiades) signals the Māori New Year. For Māori, the appearance of Matariki heralds a time of remembrance, joy and peace. It is a time for communities to come together and celebrate.