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Matariki puts spotlight on environmental causes

Matariki puts spotlight on environmental causes

by Andrea Stevens - Friday, 18 July 2014

The rising of the star constellation known as Matariki is an important time in the Māori calendar. The team at the forefront of Auckland Museum's Matariki celebrations reflect on its historic significance and how it now plays a pivotal role in highlighting environmental awareness.

Linnae Pohatu

Ngāti Porou, Turanganui-a-Kiwa, Ngai Tahu - Tumuaki Director Māori Projects and Development

Linnae Pohatu holds A korao no New Zealand, or, The New Zealander's first book: being an attempt to compose some lessons for the instruction of the natives by Thomas Kendall, 1815.

Stevens, Andrea. 2014.© Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira

Matariki is the Māori name for Pleiades or Seven Sisters, a constellation that dips in New Zealand at the end of May and then rises at the end of June or early July, signalling the beginning of the Māori New Year. As it is for many other cultures, this time around the winter solstice is a time to reflect on past and plan for the future.

If you think back to pre-Pakeha contact, this was the middle of winter for Māori - the time to gather and store the last of the food harvest. It was a time for wānanga, to discuss and learn, recite whakapapa, sing and karakia. It was a time to look at the natural environment and think about what kind of year it might be ahead: whether it will be a good fishing season, a good kumara season, whether the birds will be fat and whether there will be enough food. When your survival depends on it, it was important to plan and observe your environment around you like this.

While I was growing up on the East Coast in the 1970s and 1980s, I don’t recall any conscious celebration of Matariki, certainly not like the modern celebrations we see today across Aotearoa New Zealand. But when I look back, I realise there were far more references, albeit subtle, to Matariki than I had consciously been aware of. There is a beautiful waiata (song) we sing at almost every gathering on the Coast, Tō Aroha, composed by the late Tuini Ngawai of Ngāti Porou:

Horohia e Matariki ki te whenua. Te māramatanga mō te motu e Kia tipu he puawai hōnore, mō te pani, mō te rawakore e.

Spread your light Matariki across the land. Be the guiding light for the country, that grows a glorious bloom for the poor and the needy.

Matariki’s importance waned after European contact, but about 12 years ago there was a renewed interest in Matariki promoted by the Māori Language Commission. I was at Te Papa at the time, and they really gave it some life and made it an event.

So to me Matariki is more than one day of the year in the middle of winter. It is a reference to one point in the season and the year, and is indicative of how intimately connected my Māori forebears were to their natural environment. As an urban-living Māori, it is a reminder for me to listen more carefully to, and be more observant of, the signs from the natural environment around us, and use it to plan for the future.

Nga Remu Tahuparae

Whanganui iwi, Ngāti Rangi, Matariki Project Manager

My family has always acknowledged the season of Matariki. But we know it as Puanga because where we come from near Whanganui, we are in the valley and don’t see Matariki, we see Puanga—a star which which rises just before Matariki. For my family it is a time for wānanga, whether that be up Ruapehu or on the awa Whanganui. It is a time for remembrance of the people who have passed on in that year, time to weave, store the last of the harvest for winter, and looking ahead to summer.

Nga Remu Tahuparae stands in front of Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tāmaki Paenga Hira in early July 2014.

Stevens, Andrea. 2014.© Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira

Before I helped organise the Matariki programme at the Museum, I went home and asked my family about Matariki, and found out more about going up the maunga and the wānanga. They taught me about three aspects – a time to wānanga (to discuss and learn), a time of whakangahau (celebration) and a time for maumahara (remembrance). I came back to the Museum and got together with my colleagues and we based our programming on these things.

We have been holding wānanga offsite and onsite learning about Auckland stories old and new. The Art Market gives us the chance to celebrate the year that’s been, acknowledging the people that have past away and celebrating the possibility of the future. This year we are holding the market in the Māori Court for the first time and our Ngā kōrero tātaki event is our wānanga this year.

Bethany Matai Edmunds

Youth Outreach Programmer

For Matariki this year, our Ngā Kōrero Tātaki is an opportunity to discuss and acknowledge youth leadership and how that exists in Te Ao Māori. As a time of reflection, Matariki also allows for regeneration, looking ahead into the next season, defining our aspirations and how we might achieve these. So by looking at youth leadership, we can help foster new generations of youth who will continue to uphold our traditions but also evolve them and move them into the future.

Bethany Matai Edmunds with the plate The Legend of Maui by Mark Cleverley of Crown Lynn Potteries, 1970. The image on the surface incorporates a manu aute (kite) – flown during Matariki – an example of a traditional object reinterpreted by a creative artist. Collection of Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tāmaki Paenga Hira, K4384.

Stevens, Andrea. 2014.© Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira

Matariki is also a really potent time for artists in the creation of new work and to use art as a way of articulating our aspirations. So the Matariki Art Market helps us connect the past with contemporary practitioners. But we see it as a continuum of art creation rather than being ‘traditional’ or ‘contemporary’. It is a living culture, and culture is by nature evolutionary. So we can be informed by tradition and by cultural customary practices, but we are free also to re-imagine and reinterpret these things within our own reality.

Entrepreneurship is a really nice space to think about during Matariki: how are we going to uphold tikanga but in a way that is relevant and meaningful for us now, and particularly for young people living in an urban environment; and how do we create a Māori space in this day and age.

One of the speakers at the Museum this week is Josephine Clarke, a founding member of The Roots: Creative Entrepreneurs. This group uses architecture and sustainable practices as their methodology, and work with youth across Auckland, getting rangatahi to understand environmental sustainability through built form and landscape. They work in urban space and are looking at sustainability and environmental awareness by getting youth involved in community and garden projects.

Further reading

Events at the Museum

The Matariki Festival celebrates this very special time with 31 days of culture, food, fun and entertainment. Join us at the Museum for two great events during July, which feature as part of the Matariki Festival in 2014.


The opinions stated here are personal reflections, and not the views of Auckland Museum.

  • Post by: Andrea Stevens

    Andrea is a freelance features writer, author and editor. Her special interests are culture and heritage, architecture and design. She was co-author for the book Beyond the State: State Houses from Modest to Modern (Penguin, 2014).




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