How to hold your own hautapu ceremony this Matariki

6:23 am on 2 July 2023
Matariki Hautapu Ceremony at Te Papa. Photo by Wiremu Grace, 2021. Te Papa

Photo: Wiremu Grace 2021 Te Papa

As the Māori new year approaches and the rising of the Matariki star cluster graces the eastern horizon, it is a good time to think about what you and your whānau will be doing to celebrate, and to remember those who have passed away.

This year's theme, 'Matariki Kāinga Hokia' (Matariki calls you home) encourages everyone to return to their whānau and their people.

While there are countless community events across the motu, there are also activities you can do right in your backyard.

According to Dr Rangi Mātāmua, a leading authority on Māori astronomy and chairperson of the Matariki Advisory Board, traditionally our tūpuna welcomed Matariki, te matahi o te tau, with "whāngai i te hautapu," which means "feed the stars with a sacred offering".

This ceremony, one of several important ones that occurred at the first sighting of Matariki, involves cooking kai and sending the steam from it up to the sky as an offering and expression of gratitude for the year before.

Last year, Sir Pou Temara, tohunga Māori, and ruānuku led a hautapu ceremony on the balcony of Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington.

They observed the stars and chanted karakia until the sun rose. While that was at the more elaborate end of the scale, you can hold your own hautapu at home.

What is involved in a hautapu ceremony?

Ngāti Whātua Ōrakei held a Umu Kohukohu Whetū, a traditional ceremonial offering to mark the rise of Matariki this morning.

Ngāti Whātua Ōrakei holds a Umu Kohukohu Whetū. Photo: RNZ / Liam Brown

There are three significant components: te tirohanga (acknowledging and reading the star cluster), taki mōteatea (remembrance of the dead), and whāngai i ngā whetū (feeding the stars).

Te tirohanga tohunga requires participants to carefully observe each star, making mental notes of the brightness, distinctiveness, colour, and distance from neighbouring stars. Based on these observations, tohunga make predictions about the productivity of the upcoming year. For example, if the star Tipu-ā-Nuku shines the brightest, it may signify a plentiful harvest of vegetables and kai grown in the ground.

The second part of the hautapu ceremony, taki mōteatea, involves remembering those who have died since the last appearance of Matariki. This includes reading te rārangi o te hunga mate, the names of those who have died, and taking a moment of personal remembrance.

The third part is whāngai i ngā whetū, which means feeding the stars. Kai representing each of the four different stars associated with food is gathered and cooked, then the steam is released into the sky as an offering.

How do I do a hautapu ceremony at home?

Matariki hautapu ceremony in Wellington.

Photo: RNZ/ Liam Brown

Before starting, gather kai for each of the four Matariki stars connected to food.

Tipu-ā-nuku is associated with everything that grows within the soil. Traditionally kūmara was used, but you can also use potato or carrot.

Tipu-ā-Rangi is connected with everything that grows up in the trees: fruits, berries, and birds, so for this star chicken or berries could be good choices.

Waitī represents all freshwater bodies and food sources sustained by those waters. For this whetū you could use eel, freshwater crayfish or watercress.

Waitā is linked to the ocean and salt water. Snapper, shellfish, or seaweed could be used to represent this star.

Traditionally the kai was prepared and cooked together in te umu kohukohu whetū, the 'steaming earth oven of the stars'. Rocks were heated on a fire, then transferred to a small pit. The uncooked food was placed on top and covered with leaves and earth.

To do it at home, simply cook the kai together in a pot over the stove or in the oven in the early morning, before Matariki rises.

Make sure to cover the pot or trays with lids or tin foil to prevent the steam from escaping, then take the kai outside around 6am before the sun rises.

Gather the whānau together and commence the hautapu ceremony. Dr Rangi Mātāmua and Sir Pou Temara have created a resource booklet with specific karakia for hautapu. Here's the first one to be recited.

Waerea te rangi e tū nei

Waerea te papa e takoto nei

Whakapūmautia tēnei kawa uruora

Te kawa ki a Matariki

Clear the sky above. Clear the earth below. Establish this ceremony. The formal ceremony of Matariki

This karakia seeks to clear space and people from any obstructions in order for the ceremony to proceed.

The following karakia acknowledges the star of Pōhutakawa and those in your whānau who have passed away since the last rising of Matariki.

E tū Pōhutukawa

Te kaikawe i ngā mate o te tau

Ruiruia ngā mate ki te uma o Ranginui

Anā! Kua whetūrangihia koutou

Behold Pōhutukawa. Who carries the dead of the year. Scatter their spirits into the cosmos. You have now become stars.

At this time, people might want to call out the names of loved ones who have died in the past year.

After the karakia to Pōhutakawa and honouring the dead, it is time to offer food to the stars. This is when you uncover the kai, allowing the steam from the cooked food to rise into the sky, nourishing Matariki. A series of karakia dedicated to each different star in the cluster follows.

You can find those here.

After this karakia is finished, the ceremony is concluded.

Tohunga Paraone Gloyne looks to the stars during the hautapu ceremony.

Tohunga Paraone Gloyne looks to the stars during a hautapu ceremony. Photo: ERICA SINCLAIR

Some extra tips:

Whāngai i te hautapu can be as elaborate or simple as you wish. The most important aspect for us as Māori is the intention behind it. The simplicity does not take any mana away from the ceremony as long as the intention is there.

You do not need to buy fancy kai. A tin of tuna could work for Waitā. Or a chicken breast or wing for Tipu-ā-rangi.

Seek out your own kōrero within your iwi or hapū and speak to kaumatua to learn more about the tradition.

Timing is crucial. You do not want to start karakia before Matariki has emerged in the sky. The idea is to begin when Matariki is visible, and to end as the dark bleeds to orange and the sun comes over the horizon. It is important to be able to see each other when the karakia is concluded. To ensure the timing is correct, try getting up early a few days before Matariki to familiarise yourself with the timings. This way, you will know when to start cooking your kai and when to commence karakia.

Matariki is a time of reflection, connection, and celebration. By incorporating te whāgai i te hautapu into your own celebrations, you honour the traditions of our tūpuna and strengthen the bonds within your whānau.

Tino Māori ake nei tēnei whakaaro, it is a very Māori way of reconnecting yourself back with the environment and reflecting on the past year. Enjoy the festivities and the meaningful moments shared during this special time. Karawhuia! Give it a go!

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