E Mātai Nei I Ngā Whetū – I Gaze Up at the Stars

Issue: Volume 101, Number 7

Posted: 8 June 2022
Reference #: 1HAUWf

To help us more intricately understand the mātauranga that underpins Matariki, and the hopes of leaders within this realm for the education space, Education Gazette was lucky enough to have a kōrero with Dr Rangiānehu (Rangi) Matamua (Tūhoe).
Ana, i te atapō tonu ka rewa ake a Matariki ka kitea mai, ā koirā te tohu o te tau hau.
Therefore, in the early morning when Matariki is seen rising, this is the sign of the new year.

Night stars

Matariki is a time of year that marks changes in our taiao/environment – a sign to hunt or harvest, a signal of shifting relationships between the elements and weather, an indication of whether the year will bring hope, death, or perhaps both. Matariki is a time to reflect, to remember, to set intentions. Matariki is a celebration of all of these things, and of many more. Matariki traditions are derived from differing perspectives and relationships with te taiao, and the meaning of Matariki can differ from iwi to iwi. 

The optimum time to observe the rising of Matariki is in the phase of the moon known as Tangaroa, the moon of plenty. The Tangaroa moon phase occurs in the three or four days leading to a new moon and will fall on different dates each year. In 2022, this occurs 21 June to 24 June.

Matariki is one of many manifestations of traditional Indigenous knowledge in Aotearoa, and 2022 marks the first year that Matariki will be recognised with a national public holiday. 

Dr Rangi Matamua (Tūhoe)

Dr Rangi Matamua (Tūhoe)

Dr Rangi Matamua hails from Tūhoe and has undertaken remarkable research into Māori astronomy and star lore, te reo Māori revitalisation and development, among other topics. He is a professor in Te Pūtahi-a-Toi: School of Māori Knowledge at Massey University, as well as the chief advisor Matariki Mātauranga Māori to the Government. 

At the heart of all this is a man who loves Western science and has been an avid fan of science fiction since he was a boy.  

“What really got me interested in stars and the night sky was science fiction – sci-fi. I loved Star Trek, Star Wars, Buck Rogers, all of these early sci-fi programmes when I was a young kid.

“I loved the narratives, the kōrero, and how these stories were all underpinned by science, like light-speed, lasers, and teleportation.”

Rangi also loves string theory, astrophysics and quantum mechanics.

“I think it’s amazing, but at the same time, one of the key missing elements within the Western Academy is the relationship to the natural world, to the person or the general population.”  

In te ao Māori, the world is cyclic, holistic, and based on the relationships between the social, spiritual and natural environments. While enjoying and being fascinated by theories and practices in Western science, Rangi believes “Western knowledge has a lot to learn from Indigenous people, and vice versa.”

Mātauranga passed down

“Mātauranga Māori is knowledge Māori have which has been passed down from our tīpuna, our ancestors, in numerous ways,” he says.

Rangi was the recipient of such mātauranga in a manuscript from his grandfather, a manuscript penned by his tīpuna that explored Māori astronomy – a detailed, fundamentally scientific, inherently cyclic, and relationship-based set of observations. 

“[We’re] talking about longhand-written script from the late 1800s, and that took me ages just to learn how to read the words. But he would explain things to me. I’d ask questions. He knew a lot more than he ever let on, and I was able to have a relationship with him and ask questions openly.” 

Rangi goes on to describe this dynamic as “pretty special,” and cites he was “lucky to have the book as a resource.” 

“The book was written by my ancestor, Te Kōkau, and on his death bed, he entrusted that manuscript to my grandfather. And my grandfather gave it to me.” 

A lesson Rangi learned from his grandfather is, “if you don’t share knowledge, it’s not knowledge. The only way knowledge lives is with practice. Practice keeps knowledge alive.”

This handing down of mātauranga was a turning point for Rangi.

Regionalised knowledge

As a self-described ‘career academic’ with his foundations in te ao Māori, Rangi candidly expresses his belief that “one of the major flaws of our modern education system [is that it] tries to universalise knowledge as if there is only one way to approach or to understand something, and that’s never been the Indigenous way of approaching or understanding anything.” 

He describes the context of  te ao Māori knowledge base as being “built around our environment and vice versa. There’s more than one way to know and we need to support people to tell their kōrero and to tell their regionalised knowledge base because it has an even deeper connection.” 

He encourages us to celebrate everyone telling their own kōrero from their own people, from their own regional identity and whakairo, and that is what makes us stronger. He hopes to establish a wānanga where he can support in educating a new generation of astronomers who can go back to their rohe to share their mātauranga. 

“I hope that it impacts upon practice, whether it’s astronomy, navigation, planting, house building, childbirth, mental health… I hope we will understand where we are in the lunar calendar just as much as we understand where we are in our Western time contexts.” 

Rangi goes on to say, “That’s what I hope, but I can tell you this won’t happen if we continue to follow the universal education approach we do today.”

Transformative knowledge sharing

Rangi is excited and full of hope and says he “loves seeing regional variations of understandings and traditions, loves watching people get into Maramataka and in turn seeing people reconnect to the environment, understanding the value of our environmentally driven calendar systems, and ultimately seeing people start to decolonise time.” 

He adds that, “We’re on the cusp of some really transformative knowledge-sharing approaches, ideas, and beliefs – I’m really thrilled with what’s happened.” 

When asked how he is feeling ahead of the first Matariki public holiday, he tells us again that he is excited, but also that “on the other hand, to be honest, I’m feeling exhausted. There’s so much interest, and that’s wonderful, but I hope we can grow lots of other people who can talk about Matariki and share the knowledge in their communities. Then I can take this time off and go back home and sit in front of the fire.” 

All of these hopes are ones we should all dare to dream and achieve  – for mātauranga in education, for recognition of Matariki and te ao Māori, to develop more educators in this space, and for Rangi to be able to really and truly enjoy Matariki with his whānau. 

In the final words of this kōrero from Rangi, he says, “We’ve got a long way to go, but maybe getting a holiday is a good start.” 


Matariki and te taiao

Dr Pauline Harris (Rongomaiwahine, Ngāti Rakaipaaka and Ngāti Kahungunu) was part of the Matariki Advisory Group to the Government chaired by Dr Rangiānehu Matamua, as well as a senior lecturer at Te Herenga Waka–Victoria University of Wellington and chair of the Society for Māori Astronomy Research and Traditions (SMART). Dedicated to the collation and revitalisation of Māori astronomical star lore and Maramataka, Pauline explains some key considerations that impact how we observe and celebrate Matariki.

“There’s a lot of environmental knowledge associated with Matariki. Many of the stars in Matariki are related to different realms in the environment. We developed a set of values that underpin Matariki – one of these values is mana taiao – environmental awareness.” 

Pauline says during Matariki, it’s important to reconnect to the environment and think about how we can give back to it.  

“It’s important that we become more aware of the impact we are having on the environment and how we can make changes in our lives to help improve the wellbeing of the Papatūānuku.”

As New Zealanders, new years have been celebrated with fireworks,  with some displays also being held at Matariki. Pauline says, “Fireworks aren’t appropriate during Matariki. If we look at the values associated with Matariki around environmental awareness, we can see these two don’t align.”

Observation of the Matariki (Pleiades) constellation is an important aspect of Matariki festivities and can be done around the country in winter during the lunar month of Pipiri (May/June). How well you can see Matariki will depend on where you are. In the cities you may experience some limitations to the viewing experience. Visibility can be poor because of weather conditions, smog and light pollution, says Pauline.  

“Light pollution is largely pollution from your everyday lighting, street lighting, lighting from your homes or from parks. It’s all sources of light, even cars and car light bulbs. In cities, there’s heaps of light, neon signs and big billboards. This can be made worse with smog that will disperse light and inhibit your viewing.” 

Because of this, some stars may not be as visible from a doorstep or front deck in urban areas. She says it is an issue that confronts astronomers daily. 

“In Wellington if you go on top of the hill, a big hill, you can still see Matariki. It just depends on where you are. If you have big hills in the way then you might not get clear line of sight.”

Maramataka is the Māori stellar-lunar calendar and was used to track the time of when to conduct business, harvest and plant crops, hunt, fish and many other activities including rituals such as during Matariki. The lunar dates for Maramataka are not aligned to the Gregorian calendar months. There isn’t a round number of lunar months in one year, which is why Matariki is not fixed and shifts to a different Gregorian date each year. 

“Traditional calendars are based on celestial indicators. So the stars, the moon, the sun, but also on environmental and ecological indicators, such as plants blooming, animals migrating,” says Pauline.

These indicators can be influenced by man-made factors like pollution, climate change, deforestation and human encroachment, which has affected how Maramataka is understood. 

The values that underpin the Matariki holiday are an important guide on how we should be celebrating Matariki. Mana Taiao (environmental awareness) is one of them and is about how we can positively give back to te taiao, our environment. 

This self-reflection is about how you, your rōpū or community can foster and develop a healthy reciprocal relationship between the people and the land, water and wider environment. 

Pauline explains there are ceremonies around Matariki. One such ceremony is called ‘Whāngai i te Hautapu’ which has three parts: Te Tirohanga, the viewing; Te Whakamahara i ngā mate, remembering the dead; Te Whāngai i ngā whetū, feeding the stars. Most of the stars in Matariki are connected to the environment.

People can honour te taiao by making a change in their lifestyles and making a commitment during Matariki to improving their recycling skills, organising beach and land clean-ups, planting native flora and reducing their waste output. 

“So, this Matariki, let’s think about ‘what is your commitment to the environment going to be this year?’ or ‘how are you going to make a difference?’”

Mānawatia a Matariki

The phrase Mānawatia a Matariki comes from a traditional karakia that is intoned to open the Māori New Year. The opening lines of the karakia read:

Mānawa maiea te putanga o Matariki

Celebrate the rising of Matariki

Mānawa maiea te ariki o te rangi                                     

Celebrate the rising of the lord of the sky

Mānawa maiea te Mātahi o te tau                                   

Celebrate the rising of the new year

The themes of Matariki

Matariki Hunga Nui

Matariki Hunga Nui means the many people of Matariki. It speaks to how Matariki calls people to gather together to remember and honour those we have lost since the last rising of Matariki. It is hoped that people will take Matariki as an opportunity to return to the places they call home, and to reaffirm bonds they have with their whānau, friends and communities.

Matariki Ahunga Nui

This phrase speaks of the abundance of Matariki. Food and feasting are central elements in Matariki, and people would share the fruits of the harvest. Other forms of celebration included music, dance, art and spending time together. Matariki can also be seen as an opportunity to promote, celebrate and eat local and seasonal produce. 

Matariki Manako Nui   

Manako are wishes and desires. Māori would send their hopes and dreams into the stars during Matariki. This was a period for learning, sharing, discussion and decision making.  These wishes can be similar to New Year’s resolutions and are focused on the promise of a bountiful year to come, but the wishes and resolutions were not centred on individual wants, but on the community, wellbeing and the environment. 

With respect to wishing on behalf of the environment, the different stars of Matariki are associated with different environmental domains and there are many approaches to how people may pay tribute to them, by planting trees, cleaning the beach front, or refusing plastics.


Matariki teaching and learning resources

Celebrating Matariki together as a nation provides an opportunity for Māori language, culture, and history to be more accessible to all New Zealanders both here and overseas. It supports us to reflect the value we place in our cultural heritage and helps develop a better sense of our national identity.

A suite of education resources is now available for schools and kura to help kaiako bring this to life for ākonga. They focus on the themes of honouring the past, present, and future, with emphasis on observing how ākonga fit into the natural world and their environmental responsibilities.

The full suite of resources includes waiata, pao, videos, eBooks, ākonga worksheets, activity cards, kaiako guidance and aromatawai that are relevant from early learning to secondary schooling, in both Māori-medium and English-medium education.

These resources can be relevant at the time of Matariki, and indeed across all months of the year. The Matariki learnings are intended to bring mātauranga Matariki to life in an exciting way through their use of vibrant imagery and narratives. Whānau may also build their understanding of Matariki as these new resources can be used both in the classroom and by learners in the home.

In launching the resources, Associate Minister of Education (Māori) Kelvin Davis says, “Matariki is our first uniquely te ao Māori public holiday and is a time for us to remember the past, celebrate the present, and plan for the future. Matariki also provides ākonga with a gateway into mātauranga Māori and tikanga Māori.”

The Minister adds that these resources will directly impact the identity, language and culture of ākonga.

“These new teaching and learning resources will ensure kaiako are not left to navigate the teaching of Matariki alone. It is important to give our ākonga, kaiako and whānau a range of opportunities to learn about and personalise their Matariki learning experience.”

Resources were developed by Te Tāhuhu o te Mātauranga | The Ministry of Education in collaboration with Dr Rangi Matamua and the Matariki Advisory Group, with other materials developed to align with iwi or hapū mātauranga.

Te Tāhuhu acknowledges the fact that many kura and schools have already implemented mātauranga Matariki into their learning. These resources have been designed to support the work already underway while providing a means for more of the education sector to do the same.

Online resources 

Broaden your knowledge

To get the most out of these resources, it is important for educators to engage in their own professional learning about Matariki. Below are three different resources you could use to build your personal and professional knowledge.

Pānui | Read

Matariki: The Star of the Year(external link) by Dr Rangi Matamua seeks answers to questions like 'What is Matariki? Why did Māori observe Matariki? How did Māori traditionally celebrate Matariki? When and how should we celebrate Matariki?' It also explores what Matariki was in a traditional sense so it can be understood and celebrated in our modern society.

Mātakitaki | Watch

As part of Matariki celebrations in 2021, Dr Rangi worked alongside CORE Education to present a webinar that explores many aspects of Matariki. 

Watch Matariki Te Whetū o te Tau on the Living by The Stars YouTube channel.

Whakarongo | Listen

Over many years, Dr Rangi has presented his work about Matariki all around Aotearoa and the world(external link).

In this sound recording, he is presenting on Matariki and Māori astronomy at a Te Papa event in 2017.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 1:32 pm, 8 June 2022

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