Professor Rangi Mātāmua awarded NZ Order of Merit for services to Māori astronomy

9:32 pm on 24 May 2024
Astronomy Professor Rangi Mātāmua  awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit

Astronomy Professor Rangi Mātāmua says he is humbled by the honour. Photo: RNZ / Ashleigh McCaull

Interest in Matariki continues to grow, says the man who led the drive for it to become a public holiday.

Astronomy Professor Rangi Mātāmua was awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit on Friday in Wellington alongside several other Māori for achievements in their fields.

Sir Pou Temara, alongside an array of tohunga, led a hautapu ceremony at Te Papa to mark Matariki becoming an official holiday for the first time in 2022.

Professor Mātāmua chaired the Matariki Advisory Group and was appointed chief advisor to the Labour government which led to the milestone.

On Friday, he was honoured with the Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Māori astronomy.

"I was really humbled and you know I think it's these times, you think about all the people that have an influence in your life and lead you to these situations so it was a lot of reflection I guess," Professor Mātāmua said.

Next month will be the third time Aotearoa celebrates the Māori new year as a public holiday, and Professor Mātāmua has been described as instrumental to that happening.

"In the two years that it's been established, we've seen it grow from 50 percent of the country celebrating Matariki to 60. Been massive growth, massive real interest and I hope that that's reflected in any support across any sector that we see in Matariki," Professor Mātāmua said.

Professor Mātāmua was also Kiwibank's New Zealander of the Year in 2023 for his work in communicating the importance of mātauranga Māori.

With that mātauranga Māori he said there were plenty of tohu throughout the year, including Matariki, to show what is happening with the taiao.

"Throughout the year there are many many different signals and signs telling us about weather and what is happening that is connected to species, flora and fauna, let alone astronomical markers. So I think that what happened last year is a real indication of the fact we really need to be more connected with our environment and really be aware of what's happening in our environment.

"It speaks to us every day, it's just we are not listening, often enough we are not taking heed of the signs that are in the environment... the environment's not the issue, it's us, whether or not we pay heed to those signs and do something about it."

Several other Māori were also given awards today, including musician Tama Waipara, who was appointed a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Māori music.

Tama Waipara  who was appointed a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Māori music.

Tama Waipara after being appointed a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Māori music. Photo: RNZ / Ashleigh McCaull

Waipara and his table of supporters stood up to waiata tautoko Professor Mātāmua when he received his award , shortly before he also went up and was honoured.

He was both humbled and whakamā about receiving his accolade.

"Feels somewhat disingenuous to be accepting an honour as an individual for something that belongs to all of us, but having said that I'm not accepting it as an individual, I'm here representing the kaupapa and once I got my head around that, I was kei te pai," Waipara said.

He won Best Roots Album at the New Zealand Music Awards in 2014 and has been a major influence and mentor towards developing Māori musicians such as Teeks.

He also has a new album on the way.

"There are waiata that ko te reo te whenua, that sing the song of our place and our land but more as a means of realising our connection to each other, so there's a a lot of emphasis on the separation of who we are. This actually amplifies our connection," Waipara said.

'East Coast Moon' is his most popular song which he sung with Maisey Rika in 2020 and has more than 1.5 million streams on Spotify.

The pair worked together with other Māori musicians to record an album and concert to tautoko the preservation of Ihumātao in 2019.

The same year he also became the founder, chief executive and artistic director for Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival.

He echoed Professor Mātāmua and hoped to see tautoko towards Māori art.

"On a superficial level, it's a huge contributor to our economy , the creative economy alone. So I would expect that an intelligent governance entity would continue to support and champion the thing that makes us special," Waipara said.

Astronomy Professor Rangi Mātāmua  awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit

Photo: RNZ / Ashleigh McCaull

With all the mahi Professor Mātāmua has been doing towards Matariki, he was looking forward to some downtime.

"I'd like to go hunting actually, I've probably got to go back and mow the lawns at the marae if I'm absolutely honest, that's probably next on the list, I have a book coming out next year which will be my major publication on Māori astronomy. That will have near on a thousand Māori stars and and a hundred and something odd constellations and all the narratives connected to those astronomical bodies," he said.

Both Professor Mātamua and Waipara have dedicated their honours to their whānau for supporting their careers.

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