9 Jul 2023

My Matariki: 'As a Māori, it's making me really want to learn more'

5:53 am on 9 July 2023
Wairangi Steven Heke

Wairangi Steven Heke: "It’s quite a victory getting the public holiday, just a bit of recognition for Māori and good for everyone." Photo: Venessa Hodgkinson

Four Māori New Zealanders explain what Matariki means to them.

Wairangi Steven Heke (Ngāti Koroki-Kahukura, Ngāti Whawhakia) is an educator, based in Invercargill.

“I was from that era where – while my dad didn't necessarily believe this - his brothers and all that they were like, ‘Māori is not going to get you anywhere’, that sort of thing.

“What I did know ages ago was the names Pleaides and Subaru, how it's got all these different names, but that was only through my own individual horoscope studies, things like that. I think at first for me, I thought it was like a gimmick, but then really, when you go into it, it's connected to heaps of other interconnected stories and legends and that.

“I like it a lot more now, I guess I find it really interesting.

“I don't really know much about Matariki here, there are several events on and while it's celebrated, it’s possibly not to the capacity that it is in bigger centres with more Māori population.

“The glare from the city makes them less visible, but yeah, the stars pump down here.”

“When Matariki rises, I’ll have my own personal hautapu ceremony, a cool little cleansing process, I suppose.

“I'll write stuff on a paper and burn it. Sort of like where you let your loved ones go for the year, that sort of thing. People are making their own moves, companies are getting involved, and loads of community-based things are happening, so it is really more than just the idea of, ‘Oh well that's Matariki and this is our legend’. I think it's quite community binding and it's something that, even though it's localised in lots of ways, I feel like it's a good sort of generic thing for the country to have.

“I’m really happy with what Matariki has become. It’s quite a victory getting the public holiday, you know, just a bit of recognition for Māori and good for everyone. Everyone likes a public holiday, right?”

Fiona Cassidy

Fiona Cassidy: "What I really like about it is it actually puts us as an indigenous race front and centre." Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Fiona Cassidy (Te Aupouri, Ngāti Kuri, Te Rarawa) is a senior public relations practitioner. After growing up in the “far, far” north, she’s now based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara.

“I always knew about seasons - the season for planting, the season for war, the season for rest - but I didn't actually realise when I was growing up that they were part of the bigger thing.

“I think the concept of Matariki came up when I moved to Wellington and have been part of what I would say is the regeneration of understanding where we've come from and some of our history. So I've probably been aware of Matariki now for about 20-25 years and what I really like about it is it actually puts us as an indigenous race front and centre, and that recognition that actually it's something we can all do.

“I think if we take a step back and say, why do I think it's important for us as a country, it's actually about recognising who we are as a country and recognising that we can coexist and that we can actually celebrate who we are. Because I think we've been quite reticent about that as a country. Māori haven't been, but Pākehā have been ‘Oh, don’t go near that Māori thing’.

"But I think it's changed quite significantly and it's actually really become a, I don’t want to say celebration because I don't know if that's the word, but it's recognised in different ways, wherever you go in the country. So I think it's much, much more significant in terms of who we are as a nation.

“I think I'm a little bit more focused on taking the good things going forward and I think that since Covid it's been quite a different world in the way that you think. There's a lot of hurt and mamae out there. My family and I are really quite connected and going, what are we going to do in the next year. I actually like that whole contemplation thing. To me it’s that time to go, so where do we stand and how are we going forward and what do we need to do, and I do it more around the social stuff and the whānau stuff. I'm not interested in how successful you are as a business person, but how do you make more time for whānau.

“I think what Matariki is doing for me as a Māori is making me really want to learn more. My reo’s ok, it's getting better, but it's that continual commitment to wanting to understand my past more so I can take it forward. We always talk about that we as people, that when we walk, everybody walks with us. But what does that mean? Who are they? So I'm getting much better at knowing my ancestry and knowing where I come from and it's a continual journey, but I think what Matariki does is give you that time so you can sit down and think about it.”

Gisborne artist Nick Tupara

Nick Tupara: “I think Matariki is a symbol of the changes that are happening in Aotearoa." Photo: Josie McClutchie 2023

Tai Rāwhiti artist Nick Tupara lives in Gisborne.

“We had a recognition of the new year but mostly, because we’re the Tai Rāwhiti, we grew up with the sun rather than the stars, and they had a lesser impact from my recollection.

“Over here on the coast we have Matahi o te Tau, a marae out at Te Araroa. Matahi o te Tau, the first day of the new year. Back in the day they would do karakia to Matariki at Matahi o te Tau and up behind there is Whetu Matarau, the mountain, a big mountain which was used a lot for ceremonial, sort of celestial stuff. Down on the coast, on the seaside below the mountain is Matahi o te Tau. So I kind of grew up with that sort of stuff. I don’t think we really went on about it but it was always held and respected.

“From my understanding here in the Tai Rāwhiti it’s seven stars. The addition of the others is interesting the way it impacts on us over here.

“Especially with Pohutukawa, because the natural assumption says there must be a natural connection to the tree, and my undertsanding is that Pohutukawa isn’t present any further south than the Tai Rāwhiti. Pohutukawa here is more about the pohutu, the springing forth, the eminence of a kawa, and pohutukawa is just that, checking your kawa. How’s that gone for you, is adjustment needed in the way you run your life, is it going to plan or not?

“So it’s a time to reflect on the successes but also those things that didn’t quite go to plan. Reflect on the kawa of your life. It’s the same with my art. I’m doing pieces at the moment and it’s time for me to reflect on my creative input.

“There are exhibitions galore and I’m trying to get a handle on that stuff and get works prepared for distribution around different kaupapa that are happening. So it is a real opportunity for artists to have a presence.”

“The trick is that most of these things don’t come with a huge amount of resource, but it creates opportunites. We have these things, we put these things in place for our people, it’s a creative time to express, and they don’t give us the resources to really unleash it.

“I think Matariki is a symbol of the changes that are happening in Aotearoa. You know, this is really the first Māori public holiday for the nation and I think the nation is catching up to us.

“But also I think it’s making people question themselves and it’s setting many people – even many Pākeha people - on a journey of realisation that this country has a whole different character than that they grew up with. I think they want to find a relevance, they want to find the Pohutu for them and I think Matariki is a safe way that non-Māori people can begin to discover some of that.

“It can be confronting for them, but I think that’s a good thing and certainly I think Pākehā people are beginning to enjoy the uniqueness that is Aotearoa, something Māori have probably taken for granted, by and large. You know, we’re brown all the time.”

Sharlene Rogers

Sharlene Rogers: "There’s a lot of kōrero around what’s important around Matariki time." Photo: Janine Jackson

Sharlene Rogers (Ngāti Whātua o Kaipara) lives in Whangarei.

“My dad’s birthday is on the 18th of June, and we always come together as a whānau around that time. We’re a really close-knit family and it always felt that it was a good time of the year because it was around the shortest day as well, so it was like a new start.

“I didn’t really know about Matariki but my Nan, dad’s mum, definitely used the maramataka for planting and growing, everything revolved around the moon for her. And also my dad’s whānau, they were commercial fishermen so the tides and the moon were really important for getting oysters, when to go fishing, when not to go fishing, all that sort of stuff, so I think it’s just something I’ve always had, it’s about being in tune with the land, right?

“Recently I attended a Matariki ceremony in Te Whanganui-a-Tara through my mahi with the School Trustees Association.

“It was really moving actually, we all stood in a circle and took turns remembering those who had passed. We also listened to a kōrero from (celestial navigation expert) Jack Thatcher. He’s from Tauranga so his kōrero was from there, around Mauao, but it was great and I’d like to see some kōrero like that up here. I looked in Whangārei and there’s not a lot I have to say, sadly, that’s from a Māori perspective.

“It’s funny, my sisters and I planned to climb our maunga, Tokatoka, for Matariki but it’s really slippery and dangerous up there at this time of year and if you get to the top, there’s not a lot of room so we won’t do that. We’ll still climb Tokatoka, just not at Matariki.

“I think this (Matariki) for me is more real, it’s about what’s important, it’s about survival, so I like that fact and that more people have become a lot more aware. I don’t know if it necessarily needs to be a public holiday but I guess people acknowledge it more, and there’s a lot of kōrero around what’s important around Matariki time.

“Plus it means the days are starting to get longer, and for someone who loves being outside, I really like that and I’m sure our tūpuna, sitting around a fire in the whare, knowing that it’s going to get warmer, I’m sure it was an important time for them too.”

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