What is Matariki?
Matariki is the Māori name for the cluster of stars also known as the Pleiades. It rises in mid-winter and for many Māori, it heralds the start of a new year.
Matariki literally means the ‘eyes of god’ (mata ariki) or ‘little eyes’ (mata riki). According to myth, when Ranginui, the sky father, and Papatūānuku, the earth mother, were separated by their children, the god of the winds, Tāwhirimātea, became so angry that he tore out his eyes and threw them into the heavens.
Traditionally, it was a time for remembering the dead, and celebrating new life. In the 21st century, observing Matariki has become popular again. Kites, hot-air balloons and fireworks help mark the occasion. In the early 2000s Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (Māori Language Commission), the Ministry of Education and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, became involved in the revival of Matariki celebrations.
When is Matariki?
Different tribes celebrated Matariki at different times. To some tribes the new year in mid-winter was signalled by the dawn rising of Matariki (the Pleiades), while to others it was the rising of Puanga (Rigel in Orion). For many iwi the appearance of Puanga in the night sky signalled the start of winter. Puanga was said to be one of the parents of the climbing plant puawānanga.
The Maramataka Māori (Māori Calendar) has closer to 355 days in its year cycle as opposed to 365 days in the Gregorian calendar which apparently follows the sun. Pipiri, the time of Matariki’s rising in the early morning, does not match up with June. Additionally, just because Matariki is visible does not mean it is the right time to read the stars for what the year ahead will bring. Matariki must be read when the moon is in the right phase in Pipiri: when the moon is in Tangaroa at the end of its third quarter and into the last quarter. The celebrations take place after this.
An excellent source of information is Dr Rangi Matamua's 2017 Matariki : the star of the year book which covers traditional practices, traditional ceremonies and beliefs as well as whether Matariki has a purpose in a modern context. Dr Matamua is an associate professor at the University of Waikato and his research fields are Māori astronomy and star lore, Māori culture, and Māori language development, research and revitalisation.
Listen to a 2017 Te Papa podcast featuring Dr Matamua sharing a Māori perspective of astronomical and cosmological links relevant to Matariki.
There is a helpful table on page 58 of this book, projecting the setting and rising of Matariki every year from now to 2050, showing how the period of Matariki varies year to year.
For 2018, June 7th is listed as the day that Matariki sets and July 6 - 9 as the rising, which is when you can see Matariki just above the horizon before the sun comes up. Dr Rangi Matamua's 2017 Matariki : the star of the year book also states the celebration period to be 6 -13 July for 2018.
Listen to Rereata Makiha, a member of the Māori Astronomy Society sharing his knowledge on Matariki on tumekeFM96.9 radio station here.
The Ministry does not provide funding for events celebrating Matariki. We suggest that event organisers talk to their local Council about what support might be available.
How to find Matariki (the Pleiades)
You can check out ‘A beginner’s guide to finding Matariki’ on Te Ara's blog.
YouTube also features video clips about Matariki.
The Ministry does not have any printed Matariki resources. However you can download the following Ministry desktop wallpaper from our website.
Another free download includes three Matariki colouring book pages for tamariki to print and colour from Auahi Kore's website.
Each year Te Whakaminenga o Kāpiti produces a maramataka (calendar) that covers the period 1 July to 30 June and includes information for fishing and planting by the moon. The new maramataka will be available for purchase from July at Kāpiti Coast District Council Service Centres for $10 each. More details about the 2017 resource is here.
Visit Te Papa's website to download a maramataka poster.
Library Graphics, a website providing visual information for schools libraries includes Matariki posters.
The Kiwi Families parenting website includes useful information on Matariki, including a number of Matariki craft ideas.
Where to find Matariki events
Details about 2018 events will be added closer to the time.
In 2018 the Matariki Festival will celebrate the Māori New Year with events across the Auckland region from 30 June to 22 July.
Wellington will formally make Matariki, the Māori New Year, a major city celebration in 2018. Plans are already under way for a programme of events for the month-long period of Matariki, which occurs around June and July every year.
The Puaka Matariki festival is unique to Ōtepoti Dunedin, marking the Māori New Year through community events from 6 to 22 July.
Updated on 17th April 2018