In Maori culture, Matariki is both the name of the Pleiades star cluster and the celebration of its first winter rising, marking hotoke›winter harvest, and New Year on the maramataka lunar calendar.
Astronomical observation varies throughout New Zealand, which traverses almost 15 degrees of longitude, but the early morning rise of Matariki (‘‘little eyes/gods’ eyes’’) low on the northeast horizon on Friday, June 24 is designated its first appearance for around two months.
Also known as The Seven Sisters, Subaru, and other names by different cultures, Matariki is a star cluster dominated by middle›aged luminous Blue›type stars in the constellation Taurus, and for Aotearoa, its distant, frosty gaze arrives with the season of chill in a tradition ancient and global.
Samhein (October 31) in the northern hemisphere marked winter solstice and the death of the year for millions of celts for millennia, and in similar fashion, Matariki Tikanga saw whanau retreat from gathered harvests and full pataka (food stores) and hunker down with winter free›time to remember the past, be thankful for the present and hopeful for the future.
Matariki traditionally included ritual fires, takaro and haka, and as the event gains traction with its first observance as a statuary Kiwi holiday on Friday, June 24, schools and communities are celebrating.
Song, karakia and crafts will feature in curricula during the weeks around June 24, including a multimedia art co› operation between Lawrence Area School and Tuapeka Goldfields Museum.
An evening Market of lights, food trucks, kapa haka and fire spinners will take place on Thursday, June 23 at Milton’s Coronation Hall.
Poumahaka Kahui Ako will join Heriot School, Blue Mountain College, Kidzway, Tapanui, Waikoikoi and Waikaka Schools together on Thursday, June23 at West Otago Community Centre for shared kai and performances.
Pupils will manage a hangi lunch at Clutha Valley School on Wednesday, June 22, and from Waihola to the deep Catlins, schoolwork and assemblies will acknowledge the seasonal feast, including an assembly at Rosebank School at 2.20pm Thursday, June 23.
As a marker of transition, Matariki became a natural time for families to mourn and honour those who had passed away in previous years and were believed to have transformed into stars, and besides social commemorations, maori tohunga looked to Matariki to divine the upcoming year.
Bright, clear stars promised a warm and successful season while hazy stars warned of cold weather and poor crops
Formed within the last 100 million years and at a distance of 444 light years, scientists consider reflection nebulae around Matariki’s brightest stars to be a dust cloud in the interstellar medium through which the cluster is passing.