In the final days of May each year, a cluster of tiny stars intermittently twinkles as it rises on the north east horizon. To astronomers this constellation is known as Pleiades but to the Māori people of New Zealand, it is Matariki - a celestial signal of an ending and a beginning.
Matariki has two common English translations:
mata riki or 'tiny eyes'
mata ariki or 'eyes of god'.
But while there are two translations, for the Māori there is only one universal theme of Matariki. This is the beginning of a new life cycle, and the celebration of traditional Māori new year. The new year is marked by the next new moon after the appearance Matariki.
Preparation and ceremony
In days gone by, Matariki was a time to prepare for the year ahead, a time to learn and a time to celebrate the future. Matariki was also a time of ceremonial offering to the land gods Rongo and Uenuku in the hope of a good harvest in the year to come.
As Matariki appears in the middle of the winter, at a time when all crops have been harvested, it was an important signal to the Māori people that they needed to be prepared with sufficient preserved food stocks to last them through to the next harvest.
Once this important task was completed, the people were free to focus their attentions on other winter-time occupations such as learning, sharing, family and celebration.
End of harvest
The end of harvest was a plentiful time for all, and with village food stocks replenished to the brim, it was time for Māori to feast on and to share what was left of the harvest. During Matariki, guests and visitors were showered with gifts and great hākari (banquets) were held in celebration of the New Year and the future.
The tradition of Matariki continues and is very much alive in modern day Aotearoa.
Exhibitions, lively festivals, concerts and cultural performances are among a growing myriad of entertaining events that take place throughout the country during the celebration of Matariki.
Matariki celebrations vary in style and timing from region to region but the underlying principle of sharing, learning, feasting and festivity is constant throughout.
Matariki is a celebration unique to Aotearoa, and a chance for everyone to forget the winter blues by embracing the warm spirit of Matariki ahunga nui - Matariki provider of plentiful food.