Today marks the start of Matariki, the Maori New Year.
Matariki is the Māori name for the cluster of stars also known as the Pleiades. It rises just once a year, in mid-winter – late May or early June. 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.
Cycles of life and death
Traditionally, Matariki was a time to remember those who had died in the last year. But it was also a happy event – crops had been harvested and seafood and birds had been collected. With plenty of food in the storehouses, Matariki was a time for singing, dancing and feasting.
Matariki, or Māori New Year celebrations were once popular, but stopped in the 1940s. In 2000, they were revived. Only a few people took part at first, but in just a few years thousands were honouring the ‘New Zealand Thanksgiving’. A special feature of Matariki celebrations is the flying of kites – according to ancient custom they flutter close to the stars.
The Northern hemisphere celebrates mid-summer but here it’s over-shadowed by Christmas and New Year which follow it.
Matariki provides us with an opportunity for a mid-winter celebration.
Some have suggested making it a holiday but the changing date would make that problematic.
Besides, we shouldn’t need an official holiday to celebrate – it’s something we can do with family and friends by ourselves or in our communities as we choose.
The coldest weather is almost certainly still to come, but we’re now nearer spring than autumn which is as good an excuse as any for some fun.