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Matariki Rising

The mark of a new year

The rising of Matariki

Join Dr Rangi Matamua as he shares his knowledge around the rising of Matariki.

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The Mark of a New Year

Every winter, the rising of the stars of Matariki (and Puanga) herald the end of the lunar year and the start of the next within the Māori world. Traditionally, Māori viewed the rising of Matariki as the time to farewell those who have passed in the previous year, celebrate the arrival of the new year, and prepare for the coming year in the custom of the local iwi. Specific customs can vary from iwi to iwi; however, they are commonly themed around new beginnings. 

The rising of Matariki in the morning sky is observed in the lunar month of Pipiri (around June or July in the Gregorian calendar). In Pipiri, Matariki cannot be seen during Whiro, the new moon or the first lunar phase. Most Māori iwi wait until the lunar phase of Tangaroa, the last quarter phase of the moon, to observe and celebrate Matariki. In this way they take direction from the stars to affirm the connection between their celebration and the environment. The kaupapa is about responding to the environment and aligning with it rather than trying to shape it to suit ourselves.

Observance, Ceremony, and Celebration

Ngā tikanga me ngā whakahaere

For many, the ceremony to welcome Matariki will often take place at a high vantage point. For others it is performed at a marae, community centre, or even at home. After gathering, the whānau prepares a small hāngī while they wait for Matariki to rise. This hāngī is especially prepared for Matariki and is called ‘te umu kohukohu whetū.’

The first sighting of Matariki is greeted with karakia and the acknowledgement of those who had passed away in the previous year. Following this is acknowledgement of each whetū (star) within Matariki. Tohunga Kōkōrangi would then read the tohu, or signs, from the stars.

The conclusion of the ceremony includes the opening of the umu, allowing the steam to rise up and give sustenance to Matariki, particularly the whetū connected to kai. Finally, there is a formal acknowledgement and welcoming of Te Mātahi o te Tau (the New Māori Lunar Year). 

Reading the Stars

Te pānui i ngā whetū

Reading the tohu (signs) in the whetū (stars) indicates the success of the season ahead. Clear bright stars are a good omen and hazy stars predict a cold, harsh winter. If one star is brighter than another, there will be lots of kai from the source it represents. If one is dimmer, or completely missing, then that kai source may be diminished in the year ahead.