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Te Tikanga o te ingoa o Matariki


Join Dr Rangi Matamua as he shares with us extensive knowledge around the name Matariki.

Matariki Lecture with Rangi Matamua
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How Matariki got it's name

Mata Ariki

We understand Matariki to be a truncated version of the long name ‘Ngā Mata o te Ariki Tawhirimātea’ which translates meaning ‘the eyes of the god Tawhirimātea’. This name originates from the turmoil which occurred soon after the separation of Ranginui and Papatuānuku. Of from the pantheon of gods who was present during the separation of Rangi and Papa, was Tāwhirimātea, who was enraged by the actions of his godly brothers and sought retribution against them. Tāwhirimātea (Māori gods of wind and weather) smashed all of his brothers except Tūmatauenga (god of war and humanity). Theirs was an epic battle however Tāwhirimātea was vanquished as a subsequence.

Tāwhirimātea decided to flee into the skies. However, before he departed, he plucked out his eyes, crushed them in his hands, and threw them into the sky in a display of rage and contempt. The eyes of Tāwhirimātea stuck to the chest of Ranginui, and there they remain to this day as the Matariki star constellation. Hence, the name ‘Ngā Mata o te Ariki Tawhirimātea’ or ‘Mata Ariki’, which has been shortened even further to Matariki as we know it.

They have been known since antiquity to cultures all around the world,[1] including: the Celts (who call them Tŵr Tewdws); Kanaka Māoli – Hawaiians (who call them Makaliʻi[2]), Aboriginal Australians (from several traditions); and the Persians In Hindi and Urdu (who called them پروین Parvīn or پروی Parvī),[3]; the Arabs (who called them الثريا al-Thurayya[4]); the Chinese (who called them 昴 mǎo); the Quechua; the Japanese (who call them 昴 / スバル Subaru); the Maya; the Aztec; the Lakota; the Kiowa;[5][6] and the Cherokee. In Hinduism, the Pleiades are known as Krittika and are associated with the war-god Kartikeya. They are also mentioned three times in the Bible.[7][8]

Mata Riki?

Matariki is often translated as ‘little eyes’, and this appears to have come from the famous ethnographer Elsdon Best and subsequent authors have continued to support this name meaning. However, besides Best’s rough translating of ‘Mata riki’ being small points or small eyes no greater meaning has been found. This reflects a literal translation of the word ‘Matariki’, and his interpretation lacks a greater connection to Māori understandings of cosmology.

A historic view of the Matariki star cluster
What we know as Matariki, is Pleiades to most of the world. The Pleiades are a prominent astronomical figure for many cultures throughout the world, and it has been featured, observed, celebrated and worshipped since as far back as 20,000 years ago.
Matariki (Pleiades) in the ancient world
Te Orokohanganga: Rangi and Papa
Ranginui eloped with Papatūānuku, together they became the primordial sky father and earth mother bearing over 70 children including Tāwhirimatea, Tāne and Tangaroa, all of whom are male. Both Ranginui and Papatūānuku lay locked together in a tight embrace, and their sons forced to live in the cramped darkness between them.
Matariki ki Te Moana nui a Kiwa
The peoples of Polynesia are undeniably connected as represented in langauge similarities, art, tikanga, stories, and ocean navigation. These connections are also reflected in the way that Pleiades is observed throughout the various people of the Pacific.