19 Jun 2022

Celebrating Matariki around the world

From Sunday Morning, 3:20 pm on 19 June 2022

New Zealand will celebrate its newest public holiday this coming Friday when Matariki - the first-ever public holiday to recognise Māori New Year - takes place.

The holiday will shift each year to align with the Māori lunar calendar, Maramataka, but it will always be on a Friday.


Matariki Photo: Public Domain, ex NASA

In celebration of Matariki, Māori astronomer Professor Rangi Matamua (Ngāi Tūhoe) and journalist Miriama Kamo (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Mutunga) have come together to create a new children's book, Matariki Around the World (with illustrations by Isobel Te Aho-White), which explores the origins of the Matariki cluster through nine name whetū (stars) and includes stories about the same star cluster from the Pacific Islands to Australia, Asia, the Americas, Europe and Africa.

Kamo is an award-winning journalist and the anchor of TVNZ's flagship current affairs programme Sunday. Her first children's book was the popular The Stolen Stars of Matariki.

Kamo says Matariki is not just a tale for ancient times but has many lessons for today.

The star cluster Matariki has a number of names across cultures including the Pleiades, the Seven Sisters and the Daughters of Atlas.

Kamo says Matariki means tiny eyes or the eyes of God.

"It comes from that story of Tāwhirimātea getting really cross at his siblings and then throwing his eyes up to Ranginui and them sticking to his chest and becoming the cluster that we know as Matariki now."

Kamo says across the west coast it is the star Puanga which is more readily associated with the new year.

"It's really just because Matariki doesn't rise up above, you know those mountains behind them."

Miriama Kamo is an award-winning journalist and the anchor of TVNZ's flagship current affairs programme Sunday.

Miriama Kamo is an award-winning journalist and the anchor of TVNZ's flagship current affairs programme Sunday. Photo: Supplied

Kamo says there are a number of factors in determining whether or not we see the Matariki stars including where you are in the country and the atmospheric conditions.

"But that's why, you know, they were so important and the way that they rose and the way that they appeared to iwi just told so much about the year ahead."

For example, early Māori navigators used all the natural elements in the taiao or environment to determine when it was the best time to sail and it also determined when to plant, harvest or fish, she says.

It is mātauranga or knowledge that is still useful, not just in ancient times, Kamo says.

"I argue that it's as vital now as it's ever been and arguably more so as we go into the climate crisis."

Kamo defers to co-author Rangi Matamua as being the expert on Matariki but she says it has been a pleasure to learn from him as they wrote the book.

"But I would love to really get into this mātauranga and try and make it matter in my life every day."

Kamo says when researching stories from other cultures about the star cluster, she was particularly entranced by the Scandinavian stories of the Vikings and the Japanese one, where they refer to the star cluster as Subaru meaning gathered together.

It is interesting that across cultures the stars have often been interpreted as daughters, she says.

A great effort was made to get the stories right, she says.

"So Rangi's got a lot of amazing contacts across the world, other astronomers that he was able to talk to, and where we couldn't find somebody that we could talk to, we chose stories that were the most told of all those stories and so the most readily available versions of these stories."

Ururangi is the star which is associated with the winds, but Kamo says there are many different words for wind in Māori.

"There are words for winds from the east or a wind that's howling from the south or from the west or north, or winds that come off the sea and winds that come off the land," she says.

"Anyone that thinks that there's a limited number of words in te reo Māori will be surprised I think to realise that in fact it's a very deep and sophisticated language and no less sophisticated than any other language on this planet."

Hiwa-i-te-rangi is the star associated with granting our wishes, and realising our aspirations for the coming year.

In the book, Rangi Matamua challenges readers to think about what they wish for, Kamo says.

"You could of course wish for a new toy or a new car or whatever, but how about if we use this opportunity to start thinking about our wishes and our dreams for each other and for the planet."

Kamo says Matariki is a beautiful way to be able to engage with climate change issues and to act from it.

Matariki is also a time to remember those who have died and Kamo says she lost her father on day one of lockdown in August last year.

She says they were not able to have a tangi and "it was a very upsetting time".

"Dad had to be taken away from the hospital immediately and we didn't get to see him again."

Kamo says Matamua gave her a "beautiful gift" telling her to take his acknowledgement space in the book to acknowledge her father instead.

"Because he (her father) will, according to our customs, he will be released into the stars this Matariki with the others who have passed in the last year.

"He will be released into the stars by Pōhutukawa and also there's another variation of that story Tupuānuku, who's an atua who collects the souls of those who have passed - and then they go into the heavens and become stars themselves."

Asked which are her favourite Matariki stars Kamo says she is particularly fond of Hiwa-i-te-rangi and Pōhutukawa because they are in her first book and they play such important roles.