We have a wonderful Winter Celebration here in New Zealand, and it’s called Matariki.
Matariki is the Maori New Year. The exact timing of this celebration each year depends on when the seven stars of Matariki appear low in the north eastern sky. It’s a time of the year when traditionally, Maori people would harvest crops, celebrate having whanau (family) time, and honour loved ones who’d passed that year.
When I was growing up, I didn’t really hear much about Matariki. I just don’t remember it being an occasion that we celebrated or even mentioned. That’s just the way it was back then.
However, since my tamariki (children) have been in early childhood education, I have learned a lot more about Matariki. And now, I think it’s a wonderful celebration, one that I am fully embracing and wanting to make firm as part of our family’s yearly traditions.
There’s a lot to love about Matariki…
I love that we gather with our communities to share kai (food) together.
I love that we often do this around a fire; there’s something magical about open flames and darkness isn’t there.
I love that it’s a bright spot in the month in which the shortest day falls. A celebration that brightens up the dark winter days.
I love that the celebrations can last for a few weeks, because of the fact that the stars are present in the sky for a while.
I love that Maori legend names the seven stars of Matariki as women; women who are revered and celebrated for their roles as Whaea (mother), daughters, and sisters (you can read more about this here).
And most of all, I especially love that we’re celebrating our country’s unique cultural history in our yearly calendar.
I believe that as New Zealanders we have such a special opportunity and honour to learn more and embrace our cultural history.
I have really only touched on the very basics of Matariki here, as it’s only something that’s quite new to me in the last few years. However, I am intensely proud of the fact that my tamariki can roll their r’s and correctly pronounce the word ‘Matariki’ (and they will correct you if they hear you say Ma-ta-ree-ki without rolling your r!).
This month we have been learning “Tirama Tirama Nga Whetu” (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star). We have harvested harakeke (flax) together and attempted to weave stars with them. We have made fried bread at Playcentre, attended a Kindy whanau celebration, and we’ll be going to two more community Matariki celebrations this weekend coming.
New Zealand’s national museum Te Papa has a vision that Matariki will become a National Celebration.
“In 2016, Te Papa began developing a bold, new plan to elevate Matariki to be ‘an indigenous event of national identity’. We believe that Matariki can be strengthened to become a true and distinctive Aotearoa-New Zealand cultural event that can help meet the need for New Zealanders to have our own events of cultural and national significance.”
Te Papa has been integral in raising the profile of Matariki and last year conducted research about the community’s level of awareness about it. This research showed that almost 70% of people had some level of awareness of it, but not a very deep understanding. There was more awareness of other cultural events such as Chinese New Year.
I can relate to this, seeing as only 5 years ago I had very little awareness of Matariki myself. But now that I’ve experienced it and learnt more about it, I’d love to see it placed as a public holiday, as a time when our cultural history is celebrated, and whanau and communities get together. I look forward to seeing this journey of awareness grow and develop as our nation becomes more aware of and embraces this wonderful winter celebration.
Here are some resources about Matariki that I’ve found helpful:
An audio story (by Bedtime FM)
Kid’s activities (by Christchurch City Libraries)
An interactive quiz about Matariki (you’ll have to read a bit more than just this blog post in order to answer these questions!)
Te Papa Website – a wealth of information about Matariki
Enjoy your celebrations, wherever you are in this great country of ours.
Much aroha and wananga (love and learning),
This post was written based on knowledge from attending Playcentre workshops, from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa website, and from Christchurch City Libraries material.
P.S. I tried very hard to change my macbook’s keyboard settings to Maori, so I could use a macron over the ‘a’ in Maori. But, I couldn’t do it. When I figure out how, I will come back and change it.