What is Matariki?
In te ao Māori (the Māori world view), Matariki is the name for the cluster of stars which are also known as the Pleiades.
Traditionally, the appearance of Matariki heralds a time of remembrance, joy and peace, where communities come together to celebrate the start of the new year. It is a time to acknowledge the dearly departed and to release their spirits to become stars, to be thankful to the gods for the harvest, to feast and to share the bounty of the harvest with whānau and friends.
Matariki translates directly to “eyes of god” (mata ariki) or “little eyes” (mata riki). It is an abbreviation for “Ngā Mata o te Ariki Tāwhirimātea” (The eyes of the god Tāwhirimātea). Tāwhirimātea is the atua/god of the winds and weather. According to Māori mythology, Tāwhirimātea was so angry when his siblings separated their parents, Ranginui the sky father and Papatūānuku the earth mother, that he tore out his eyes and threw them into the heavens.
About the stars
A cluster is a group of stars that are near each other in space. When seen from Earth, the stars in a constellation appear to be close together in a pattern. There are about 500 stars in the Matariki cluster, but only around six/seven can be clearly seen from Earth without use of a telescope.
Contrary to popular belief, many Iwi believe there to be nine main stars in the Matariki cluster, each seen as an individual with a defined purpose that is intrinsically connected with te ao Māori.
- Matariki is the mother of the constellation. She is connected with wellbeing, and often viewed as an omen of good fortune and health.
- Pōhutukawa is connected with the dead, and in particular those who have passed on from our world since the last heliacal rising of Matariki.
- Tupuānuku is associated with food grown in the ground and traditionally, when Matariki sets in the western sky at dusk during the month of May, it indicates that winter is coming and the harvesting of the gardens should be completed.
- Tupuārangi is associated with the food that comes from the sky, connecting Matariki to the harvesting of birds and other elevated foods such as fruit and berries from the trees.
- Waitī is connected to fresh water and all creatures that live within rivers, streams and lakes.
- Waitā is associated with the ocean, representing the many kinds of food that Māori gather from the sea.
- Waipunarangi is connected to the rain.
- Ururangi means ‘the winds of the sky’ and is said to determine the nature of winds for the year.
- Hiwa-i-te-rangi is connected to the promise of prosperous season.
Read more here.
Where can you see Matariki for yourself?
From early June, and on a clear morning just before sunrise, you should be able to see Matariki in the north-east. If you find Tautoru (Orion’s belt/’the pot’) and trace northwards to look for a faint sparkle of tiny dots, about the same width as Tautoru is long – this is Matariki!
In summer, Matariki can be seen in the same location shortly after sunset.
Watch the Te Papa video guide for finding Matariki here.