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Matariki: Celebrating the Māori New Year, 25 - 28 June 2019

By Arwen Hann
© ChildForum 

matariki celebrations

This article discusses the reasons for the celebration of Matariki and history in a way that you can discuss and share with children.

It gives ideas and teaching and learning activities for marking this culturally important event within the curriculum of early childhood education centres and home-based services. 

In late May or early June, a cluster of seven stars becomes visible in the sky.  Leading Māori astronomer, Dr Rangi Matamua has found that some of his own tūpuna were able to see nine stars. 

The cluster which is known to Māori as Matariki is also known by other names including the Pleiades and the Seven Sisters (a common misconception that Matariki is seven sisters). 

Matariki translates as mata riki which means tiny eyes, or Mata Ariki which means eyes of God.

In Māori tradition, there are nine stars: Rehua (Antares) is the father but is not considered part of the Matariki constellation.

One belief is that the stars are a mother and her daughters (Tupu-ā-nuku, Tupu-ā-rangi, Waipunarangi, Waitī and Waitā, and Ururangi) who help the sun after it has been weakened on its winter journey from the north.

Others believe that the stars are the eyes of the wind god Tāwhirimātea. He is said to have become angry when the sky father, Ranginui, and the earth mother, Papatūānuku, were separated from their children and tore out his eyes and hurled them into the sky.

Matariki celebrations are held at different times by different iwi, but celebrations most often begin at the next new moon after Matariki has risen.

It is the new moon following the rising of Matariki that signals the New Year. May 27th is listed as the day that Matariki sets and June 25th - 28th as the rising in 2019, which is when you can see Matariki just above the horizon before the sun comes up.

For Māori it is a time to reconnect with the past and plan for the future.

Traditionally Matariki was celebrated by gathering with whanau (family) and remembering whakapapa (genealogy) and family members who have passed away.

Offerings were also made to gods in the hope of good crops and new trees were planted to signify new beginnings.

Crops were planted in accordance with how the stars first appeared in the sky. If the stars were clear and bright then the crops were planted earlier.

If they were hazy then it was a sign a cold winter was ahead and planting was delayed.

Recent years have seen a revival in the celebration of Matariki and many communities now hold annual events including cultural performances and traditional Māori crafts and food. 

Ways to celebrate Matariki:

  • Set up some traditional Māori craft activities such as weaving.
  • Make stars to represent the Matariki cluster and learn more about constellations.
  • Pick some traditional Māori stories and legends to read or tell at your centre or learn some Māori songs.
  • Gather native plants – maybe plant a native plant at your centre.
  • Organise a hot chocolate and star biscuit evening, inviting parents and whanau along. Sitting in a group, sharing stories, singing waiata and passing around the biscuits that children have made.
  • Invite families to stay instead of taking their child home at the end of the day; bringing a plate for a shared dinner.  As the sky darkens set up a camp fire in the sandpit and toast marshmallows.
  • Late in the day look at the sky with a telescope to see if you can see any stars.  Invite an astronomer to talk with the children.
  • Darken the room that children sleep in and put some glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling. 
  • Many libraries also have special story sessions or craft activities to mark Matariki so plan an excursion to your local library. 

A song to learn the names of the stars

Matariki Macarena
Waiti Waita Waipunarangi
Tupuanuku Tupuarangi
Ko Ururangi te patutiki o te Whanau Matariki


Other article and links

Te reo Māori in early childhood eduction -  a list of articles and references

Supplier of Māori resources to early childhood education services: costumes, piupiu, rakau, dolls, flax baskets

Are you thinking of working toward your centre or ECE service becoming bicultural?  Pick up some tips by reading the story of one early childhood service  

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