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Matariki: Seven Sisters in the sky


Matariki is a time of new awareness and to give thanks to the land, sea and sky.

Beyond earth’s boundaries, in the depths of the open sky, a unique celestial event is presently being orchestrated. Stars are disappearing from view and will remain hidden until June 6, when the seven-star formation will again reappear.

Beginning in the final days of May, Matariki or ‘Pleiades’, returns to the skies of Aotearoa symbolising a new life cycle with the first new moon to rise after the stars, marking the beginning of the Maori New Year.

Similar to the resolutions of the calendar’s New Year, Matariki is a time of new awareness and to give thanks to the land, sea and sky. Traditionally for Maori, the star cluster also served as a navigational aid and a gauge for the seasons to come with clear stars indicating that the New Year would be warm and fruitful.

In pre-European days, Matariki was a vibrant celebration, a great annual event beginning with the preparation and storage of the harvest. Once the task was done, people had time to reflect on the year gone by, spending time with whanau, playing games, weaving, carving and fostering inter-tribal relationships by sharing ideas and new technologies. Another favoured and highly symbolic pastime was Manu Tukutuku, the crafting and flying of kites. Believed to be connectors between the heavens and earth with the ability to see beyond the real world, kites were considered to be like birds and to have spiritual connections with the gods. They inspired ambitious cloud piercing kites, Manu Atua, which required many hands to operate the kilometre long ropes as they soared.

In modern day Aotearoa, there are many ways to observe Matariki, from festivals, exhibitions and cultural performances to domestic rituals, star-gazing and quiet contemplation.

Evening rituals and dawn ceremonies to remember those who have passed and to rejoice in those yet to come, laying to rest issues from the past and, due to the event being a traditional time of winter harvest, preparing and replanting vegetable gardens for the coming season, all uphold the underlying spirit of Matariki, a time of sharing, reflection, learning and festivity.

Students at Mangawhai Beach School are currently on a path of discovery, seeking deeper understanding of celebrations found in the various cultures of New Zealand. Students will be looking at how they can honour the event by choosing an activity that acknowledges the meaning of Matariki; Papatuanuku - respecting mother earth; Whakapapa - acknowledging the family; Ranginui - looking skyward; Takoha - sharing and kindness; and Hakari - Matariki shines on the New Year.

Matakohe’s Kauri Museum is also having an exhibition displaying the cultural story of Matariki beginning in June.

Many generations of eyes have gazed in wonder when the Seven Sisters appear in the winter skies and over the next few weeks many more will look heavenwards. Remembering the historical and culture value of the star-cluster and all those that have gazed on their brightness throughout the ages, connects all star-crossed gazers, in time.

Several Maori legends tell the story of the seven stars, including being the houses of seven gods and the place people’s spirits ascend to when they die, seven chiefs looking down to earth with only one of their eyes, and a mother and her six daughters.

Another story tells of Tane who was so jealous of a brilliant star loved by all the people, that he smashed it into seven pieces but the star still shone as bright as before. Matariki itself literally means ‘eyes of God’ or ‘little eyes’.

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