One of the more beautiful New Year celebrations I’ve been fortunate enough to research, Matariki is both the name of the Maori New Year festival, and the star system seen above, known as Pleiades, or The Seven Sisters.
When translated, Matariki means: the eyes of God. The story goes that the paternal sky god, Ranginui, was separated from the maternal earth goddess, Papatūānuku. They had 71 sons, the eldest being the god of wind and storms, Tāwhirimātea. The 70 younger brothers separated their parents, and Tāwhirimātea was so angry with them he ripped out his own eyes and flung them into the heavens.
He then went out of his way to fight each of his brothers, and their children, for the harm they had done to his parents.
I find that story beautiful; seeing how much he wanted to protect and care for his parents, the raw fury of betrayal, the burning energy driving him to seek revenge…that’s one hell of a way to start a year!
The festival begins at the “first rising” of the star system, i.e. the time when these stars can be seen above the horizon just before sunrise. This usually occurs around the end of May-July; for 2020, it’s due to fall on the 13th July.
So how do people celebrate Tāwhirimātea ripping out his own eyes?
Given the time of year, this is a time for cultivating the land and showing appreciation for nature. For many it is also a time for respecting the dead. Children play with colourful kites, and traditionally those who are old enough are taught to fish, farm and hunt. The old beliefs state that the brighter the stars shine at this time of year, the better the harvest will be.
This festival was ignored and neglected for a long time, and it has only been in recent years that people have accepted it as an official holiday again in New Zealand. Personally, my knowledge of New Zealand’s history is appallingly limited, but seeing Matariki has given me a newfound burst of interest. I’m going to look into researching the history a bit more, and in the next few weeks intend to post a brief timeline of key dates.
Until then, if anyone has any information on the festival, culture and/or history of the Maori people I would love to hear it.