My Māmā's love for Matariki

8:48 am on 14 July 2023

First person - As the country marks the rising of Matariki, Te Ao Māori journalist Ella Stewart (Ngāpuhi) writes about her Māmā's adoration of this special time of year, which has brought their whānau closer together in their māoritanga.

An illustration of a house at dawn. The house has an orange front door and is decorated with twinkly lights. The nine stars of thee Matariki cluster can be seen above the house.

Photo: Quin Tauetau

My Māmā loves Matariki.

She's obsessed.

If you drive past her house right now, you'll see it adorned with star decals, twinkly lights, and bunting hung over the door. She gets very festive.

But, my mum's affection for Matariki isn't new. It's something I vividly remember from my childhood. It all began with a Matariki-themed project my mum undertook while studying to become a primary school teacher.

One day, on the way home from school, we walked up the road to the local stationery shop. There, she bought one of those big pieces of plastic card, the sort you use for school art projects or science fairs. Coreflute I think it's called.

Once we got home Mum booted up our trusty old desktop PC and opened a new Word document. She diligently typed up all information she could find about the star cluster of Matariki. Formatting the facts into text boxes for easy cutting after printing.

Using a glue stick, she carefully adhered the facts to the board. Alongside the facts, she created interactive Matariki-themed activities - after all, it was a project for teachers' college. The end result was a valuable resource for the whole whānau to enjoy.

During the early 2000s, finding information online about our culture was even more challenging than it is now. So the information displayed on that piece of plastic card wasn't mātauranga passed down from our tūpuna. No, it was information she found on Google or in library books.

That piece of card with its glued-on Matariki facts and activities remained with us long after she submitted it as an assignment. Mum just couldn't get rid of it. Years later, she offered it up to a family friend who was starting his bachelor of education at AUT. He declined, and secretly, I believe she was quite pleased he did.

That project was just the start of Mum's love affair with Matariki.

From then on, Mum and Dad took us to various Matariki celebrations.

By "celebrations," I don't mean the traditional hautapu ceremonies done now with karakia and tohunga, as those weren't widely accessible yet. Instead, I would be roused from sleep in what felt like the middle of the night, bundled up in thermals and blankets, and marched up the local maunga with the hope of catching a glimpse of the star cluster rising on the horizon.

Another time our parents took my sister and me to an event hosted by the Stardome Auckland Observatory. We learned about the different whetū (stars) of Matariki, what they represent, and who they are. While it wasn't exactly an event steeped in Te Ao Māori it helped me deepen my understanding of my culture.

I've asked Mum about those Matariki celebrations since and she describes them as efforts to reclaim our culture. "It was something I could take you to that had the Māori-ness I was looking for. I couldn't give you the Māori knowledge, I didn't know it. It was a way to give you a part of your culture."

The illustration shows a family of four standing on a maunga gazing at the cluster of Matariki at dawn.

Photo: Quin Tauetau

While my mum is Māori, our tūpuna, like many others, left their whenua to seek work in the big city. Consequently, they also left their culture and traditions behind. Mum has done her best to reclaim our culture and you can see it shine through with her love of Matariki. She taught herself all she could with the information that was available at the time. In doing so, she also taught me and my sister an important lesson - to take pride in our whakapapa and culture.

So in 2022, when Matariki was officially declared a public holiday, Mum rejoiced. She had always been a staunch advocate for making Matariki a public holiday, though she never thought it would become a government priority.

As I've grown into an adult, life has become busy and crowded. Holidays have suddenly become more complicated. On Christmas day, my partner and I have to be in multiple places at once, driving back and forth between celebrations. But Matariki is just for my side of the whānau. Now, every year when Matariki comes around, we travel up to Te Tai Tokerau to visit the places where our tūpuna are from. We spend time together cooking and eating kai, and reflecting on those we've lost.

Mum may not be an expert in Matariki - she readily admits it. But when she speaks about this special time of year, you can hear the adoration of it in her voice.

In a world that often feels disconnected and fragmented, Matariki reminds us of the resilience, strength, and enduring mauri of our people. It reminds us of the importance of honouring our tūpuna who came before us.

When I was little I didn't like being dragged out of bed in the cold. However, looking back now, I couldn't be more grateful. It's thanks to my Māmā's love for Matariki, our family has discovered a sense of identity and belonging, a gift that will forever illuminate our path.

During this time of year, I find myself thinking of the following whakatauki - Titiro whakamuri, kōkiri whakamua. It means look back and reflect so you can move forward.