Matariki is celebrated as the traditional Maaori New Year. Originally it was a time of remembrance, fertility and celebration.
Matariki is the Maaori name for a small cluster of stars seen in the southern skies. You have probably seen them many times at night but have known them as "The Seven Sisters". The official name is Pleiades which resides in the Taurus constellation.
Literally translated Matariki has two interpretations – Mata Riki (Tiny Eyes) and Mata Ariki (Eyes of God). A widely held belief in Maaori folklore is that Matariki is a mother surrounded by her six daughters. The names of the various stars in the cluster are; Waipuna-ā-rangi, Uru-ā-rangi, Matariki, Waitī, Waitā, Tupu-ā-rangi, Tupu-ā-nuku.
New Zealanders can see Matariki low on the north-eastern horizon at the end of the Milky Way. You can see it clearly at the end of May or in early June. Matariki celebrations usually begin on the day of the first new moon following its rising.
Historically the Maaori people used the night sky to determine the time, the seasons and to navigate the seas. Back then they did not have GPS or calendars to rely on, instead they had to look up at the night sky to figure out their location on the sea or if it was a good time to plant their crops. The brighter the star, the warmer the weather which could mean a more productive harvest.
Matariki celebrations were very popular before the arrival of Europeans in New Zealand but as time went on celebrations began to dwindle. The last traditional festival was recorded in the 1940s.
The revival of Matariki in the 21st century can be largely attributed to one man, Te Rangi Huata from Hastings. He is a member of the Public Dreams Trust and in this role he put his energy into making Matariki a significant festival in New Zealand. His festivals are run to bring communities together in a celebration larger than themselves.
Now the whole of New Zealand is celebrating Matariki and acknowledges the importance of this festival to our culture and New Zealand as a whole. Matariki brings families together to share and learn family history and the stories of the stars.
Matariki is often celebrated for three days with a collection of fireworks, kite flying and hot air ballooning.
In 2013, Hamilton’s Matariki celebrations are scheduled to take place throughout June.
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