Matariki – the stars and their story
The reappearance of the Matariki stars in our night sky signals the beginning of the Māori New Year. Matariki is a time for us to reflect on the past and celebrate the future.
Matariki is the Māori name for the spectacular star cluster of stars known as M45 or The Pleiades in other parts of the world. There are more than 1000 stars in the star cluster the Pleiades!
A possible explanation for the name Pleiades comes from the Greek, pleos, meaning `full’. The plural is `many’, which is appropriate for a star cluster (Gibson, S., Pleiades Mythology). In Aotearoa, one of the names Māori give the stars is Mataariki, shortened to Matariki. The stars are nga mata o te ariki Tāwhirimātea, the eyes of Tāwhirimātea, god of weather, including thunder and lightning, wind, clouds and storms.
The stars are:
Matariki – signifies reflection, hope and our connection to the environment
Pōhutukawa – connects with those who have passed on
Waitī – ties to bodies of fresh water and the food within it
Waitā – ties to the ocean and the food within it
Waipuna-ā-rangi – associated with the rain
Tupuānuku – is for food that grows within the soil
Tupuārangi – is for food that grows up in the trees
Ururangi – is the star associated with the winds
Hiwa-i-te-rangi – the youngest, is the wishing star that also ties into our aspirations for the coming year
As Matariki (Te tau hou, new year) is observed by the cycle of the Moon, it is not in sync with the Gregorian Calendar, so the date for Matariki changes every year. Here is a great website which gives you precise details about the timing of the various Moon phases.
The established view accounts for the New Year being the sighting of the heliacal rising of Matariki just after the New Moon – Whiro.
Since the count of the month begins with Whiro – the New Moon, most iwi (tribes) observe the New Year just after the occurrence of the New Moon, combined with the sighting of the heliacal rising of Matariki during Pipiri (approximately June). Whiro is accounted as Te Tahi o Pipiri, which means the first of Pipiri.
As with all oral traditions, it is difficult to piece together what people were observing 300 hundred years ago. From time to time, other interpretations surface, such as the observance of the New Year by the sighting of the heliacal rising of Matariki around the Last Quarter of the Moon (known as Tangaroa).
Other cultures have lunar calendars and calculate their New Year according to the phases of the Moon: Chinese, Muslims, Jewish, Indian and Christians, which is why Easter, Ramadan, Chinese New Year and Diwali all fall at different dates each year.