Making the most of Matariki

Issue: Volume 99, Number 11

Posted: 16 July 2020
Reference #: 1HA943

Celebrating Matariki provides an opportunity to explore the values, key competencies and principles of The New Zealand Curriculum.

Matariki cluster

Matariki is more than just a cause for celebration and kai. It’s also an opportunity for all New Zealanders to come together with Māori communities to learn their stories, culture, and language, as well as engage in some rich learning opportunities.

What is Matariki?

Matariki, the Māori New Year, is typically marked by the rise of the Matariki star cluster – also known as the Pleiades star cluster – and the sighting of the next new moon. In 2020, the Matariki cluster set on 15 May and will return from 13 to 16 July. The Matariki period is 13–20 July. 

The physical appearance of Matariki in the sky was traditionally used by a tohunga (a priest or expert) as a forecast of the year ahead. Clear and bright stars signalled warm and productive seasons, and hazy or shimmering clusters meant a cold winter was coming and ground for crops was prepared accordingly.

Each Iwi has their own stories and perspectives about Matariki and celebrate Matariki at different times. Some hold festivities when Matariki is first seen in the dawn sky; others celebrate after the rise of the full moon or at the beginning of the next new moon. 

Māori astronomy

According to Dr Rangi Matamua (Tūhoe), associate professor at the University of Waikato and author of Matariki: The Star of the Year, it is a common misconception that ‘Matariki’ means ‘little eyes’; there are no stories to support this translation. 

Matariki is actually an abbreviation of ‘Ngā Mata o te Ariki’ – The Eyes of the God. The god referred to is Tāwhirimātea, god of the winds and weather. When Ranginui, the sky father, and Papatūānuku, the earth mother, were separated from their dark embrace by Tāne, Tāwhirimātea was distraught. He tore out his eyes, crushed them into pieces and stuck them onto the chest of the sky. This is why Tāwhirimātea is the blind god, feeling his way around the sky and bringing winds from different directions.

Celebrating Matariki

Today Matariki is generally seen as an important time to celebrate the earth and show respect for the land. It is also a time to acknowledge those who have passed away and to plan for the year ahead. 

Matariki is a good opportunity for all people in Aotearoa New Zealand to come together and learn our stories and culture.

Making curriculum connections with Matariki

Matariki provides an opportunity to bring The New Zealand Curriculum principles to life, especially the principles relating to the Treaty of Waitangi(external link), community engagement(external link), and cultural diversity(external link). It is also a chance for students to explore the values(external link) of diversity, community and participation, and respect for self and others. 

Matariki is also a useful context to promote the development of key competencies(external link) and to examine the social science(external link) concepts of cultural identity, place and environment, and continuity and change.

Matariki learning opportunities

There are many ways to celebrate and learn about Matariki, including: 

  • Share stories of Matariki: Share the history and stories of Matariki. A popular Ready to Read(external link) text on Matariki explains some of the stories and beliefs associated with Matariki and describes some of the ways that Matariki is celebrated. Explore the Matariki myth of Tamarereti(external link) or learn about Matariki and the six sisters(external link), a story told by Ngāti Toa Rangatira. 
  • Connect with local Iwi and hapū: Grow connections with local Iwi and hapū, and harness their knowledge of Māori language, culture, and identity.
  • Engage with community: Host a breakfast or evening supper for your local community to celebrate Matariki together. Look for Matariki in the dawn or night sky. Encourage students to get involved in the design and organisation of the event. 
  • Take care of the environment: Work with students and community to plant trees in conservation areas, or start planning a school garden. Alternatively, organise a clean-up of a local area. 
  • Integrate Matariki with mathematics: Home Learning Television showed a senior maths lesson, now available on demand, in which Stephen McConnachie and Ronnie Taulafo explore the Matariki cluster of stars, to identify when Matariki rises, and how to locate the cluster in the morning sky. There are also a number of NZ Maths units and activities(external link) that provide opportunities to integrate Matariki with mathematics and statistics. 

Professor Matamua won the top science communication prize at the Prime Minister’s Science Awards in June.

For more information, visit ‘National events and the NZC’ on the NZ Curriculum TKI site.

The nine stars of Matariki

According to Dr Rangi Matamua, it is a common misconception that Matariki is ‘seven sisters’. There are nine stars in the Greek tradition of the constellation: seven children and their parents. In the Māori tradition, there are also nine stars:

Matariki (Alcyone) – the mother of the other stars in the constellation. Rehua (Antares) is the father but is not considered part of the Matariki constellation.

Pōhutukawa – connects Matariki to the dead and is the star that carries our dead across the year (Sterope/Asterope).

Tupuānuku – is tied to food that grows in the ground (Pleione).

Tupuārangi – is tied to food that comes from above your head, such as birds and fruit (Atlas).

Waitī – is tied to food that comes from fresh water (Maia).

Waitā – is tied to food that comes from salt water (Taygeta).

Waipunarangi – is tied to the rain (Electra).

Ururangi – is tied to the winds (Merope).

Hiwaiterangi/Hiwa – is the youngest star in the cluster, the star you send your wishes to (Celaeno).

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BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 2:20 pm, 16 July 2020

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