Sourced by Pauline Stewart.
Matariki is the Maori name for the star cluster also known as Pleiades, that rises in midwinter and marks the beginning of the new year in the Maori lunar calendar. To mark this celestial event, very significant in Maori culture, a special day was set aside in 2022 for a national public holiday in New Zealand to coincide with the reappearance of the constellation in the night sky. The star cluster is visible for 11 months of the year, disappearing in the lunar month of Haratua in May/June, and rising again around a month later, in the north-eastern skies, during the lunar month of Piripi – usually occurring late June or early July. This is Matariki.
In 2023, Matariki falls on Friday, 14 July in 2023. The dates of the Matariki Day holiday have been set for the next thirty years.
The Matariki Story
Matariki translates ‘tiny eyes' or 'eyes of god’.
There are lots of different stories associated with Matariki but all of them connect broadly with this translation.
One is that when Ranginui (the sky father) and Papatuanuku (the Earth mother) were separated by their children, Tawhirimatea (the god of the wind), was so upset that he ripped out his own eyes and threw them into the sky. This story is called The Eyes of Tawhirimatea.
Another version tells the story of a mean fisherman that captures seven fish in his net. Tāne, the God of forests and birds, takes pity on the seven fish, and throws them into the sky where they become stars. This version is very similar to the story told to the children at Kuaotunu Steiner Kindergarten for their Matariki celebration combined with their lantern festival.
“One day, a mother fish said to her little fish:
Now listen carefully, dear children,
Be sure you keep close into the rocks.
Do not venture out into the open sea.
Today, Tatairamaka goes fishing.
Tatairamaka was a giant who fished with an enormous net.
His net made magic and had been woven from flax that grew near Spirits Bay.
On this day however, the sea was smooth, the sun was at its brightest.
rainbow colours danced about the little fish as they played their games.
Without warning, disaster struck…
The big net of Tatairamaka hit the water and all the fish were caught.
They cried, making the sea salty with their tears.
Tane, the God of light, heard their cries and felt sorry for them.
He took away Tatairamaka’s net and hauled it up into the high heavens.
There, the seven fish were turned into seven sparkling stars. We can see these stars now in the night sky. These stars make up the cluster we know as Matariki.
The little fish were returned to the stars.
You can see them right now in the evening low above the horizon.
Seven of the stars have names. They are Waiti, Waita, Waipunarangi, Tupuanuku, Tupuarangi, Ururangi, Hiwaiterangi and Pohutukawa.
But one star remains nameless. It has been left for all children of the world.
Just before going to bed, you may put your name on this star and I this way you will be amongst friends as you sleep.
The story is available in many libraries and online. Thank you to Amanda Roche, Kindergarten Director at Kuaotunu for the transcript above.
“Happy Matariki" in te reo Māori - "Ngā mihi o Matariki, te tau hou Māori".
The theme for 2023 is Matariki Kāinga Hokia. This year, everyone is encouraged to:
Return to their whānau and their people, wherever and whoever that might be.
Pause to remember, reflect and honour our loved ones who have passed since the last rising of Matariki.
Celebrate and give thanks for what we have been blessed with.
Ka mahuta a Matariki i te pae, ka mahuta ō tātou tūmanako ki te tau
When Matariki rises above the horizon, our aspirations rise to the year ahead.
The stars of this small dipper – shaped cluster are also called the seven sisters, the Starry Seven, and the Seven Atlantic Sisters. The ancient Greeks called the constellation Pleiades (or Seven Sisters) and took pride of place in Greek legend. The seven stars were the daughters of the gods Pleione and Atlas - Maia, Taygete, Alcyone, Celano, Asterope, Electra and Merope. According to this version of the story, the daughters were the companions of the goddess Artemis. But they were so beautiful that they soon attracted the attention of Orion, a handsome huntsman. So, Zeus turned the seven sisters into stars to save them from Orion's focus. After his own death, Orion was also placed in the sky. It is said one can still see Orion, chasing after the seven sisters.