26 June 2024

Amid midwinter’s brisk chill, the star cluster known as Matariki to Maaori – and as the Pleiades in other cultures – will soon reappear on the horizon at the break of dawn, rising in the sky to signal the start of the Maaori New Year.

2024 marks the third official Matariki public holiday in Aotearoa on 28 June 2024. It is a kaupapa that embraces three key principles: Matariki hunga nui (remembrance), Matariki ahunga nui (celebrating the present), and Matariki manako nui (looking to the future). Together, we remember and honour those who have passed since the last rising of Matariki, celebrate the present with gratitude and look to the future to plan for the seasons ahead. This year’s theme is Matariki Heri Kai, inspired by the Maaori proverb, ‘Matariki whetuu heri kai’, meaning ‘Matariki, the bringer of food’. For our tuupuna (ancestors), Matariki was pivotal for harvesting. In April/May, the Matariki star cluster would disappear from the skies, signalling that it was time to preserve crops for the winter season. When it reappeared in July/July, they would read the whetuu (stars) to predict the abundance – or scarcity – of kai in winter. Each star of Matariki holds significant meaning in te ao Maaori and holds different associations, according to Tainui koorero toku iho (oral traditions):

  • Waipuna-aa-rangi is the star connected with rain, frost, mist, and dense fog.
  • Ururangi is associated with the element of wind.
  • Matariki is known as the mother to her six star children.
  • Waitii is connected to fresh water, springs, streams, rivers, lakes, and wetlands.
  • Waitaa is the star linked with the ocean.
  • Tupu-aa-nuku is the star connected to hua whenua, or produce of the Earth.
  • Tupu-aa-rangi is the star associated with native bird life, berries, and fruits.

In 2009, Matariki celebrations began in Kirikiriroa, Hamilton, with a dawn karakia (prayer) and breakfast to commemorate the birthdate of King Korokii Te Rata Mahuta Tawhiao Potatau Te Wherowhero. According to Tainui history, on 16 June 1906, the birthdate of King Korokii, the Matariki cluster was seen shining directly above Waahi Paa with a sign known as Te Waka o Tainui visible within the cluster.

So, how can we come together for Matariki in the present day? There are numerous ways to celebrate Matariki with your whaanau. Building on the Heri Kai theme, you can enjoy feasting on kai that reflects each star’s associations with where we source our food – Tupu-aa-nuku with gardens, Tupu-aa-rangi with the forest, Waitii with fresh water, and Waitaa with the ocean.

Find our Matariki display in Centre Place next to Jamaica Blue. .

Join in the festivities of Matariki ki Waikato, where over 30 events are taking place across Waikato until 28 July. As part of the festival, The Lido cinema at Centre Place is hosting a Matariki Film Festival from 26 June to 3 July showcasing stellar work from local indigenous filmmakers and creatives. We’re especially looking forward to seeing Ka Whawhai Tonu – Struggle Without End, a movie set in Aotearoa in 1864 which tells the story of a crucial battle in the first land wars in the Waikato rohe (region).

You can also celebrate te ao Maaori by discovering our beautiful Matariki display capturing the essence and maatauranga (knowledge) of the Maaori New Year, with graphics designed by Whakaaro Factory and featuring a raranga (flax woven) centrepiece, by local artist, Sema.

Above all, Matariki is a time to cherish those you love, honour those who have passed, express gratitude for the present, and plan for the future. Whatever your plans are for Matariki, let good intentions and the values of Matariki guide your celebrations.

A new year is upon us e te whaanau. Maanawatia a Matariki!

Written by Skye Ross (Ngaati Kahungunu)