Matariki: A Season Worth Celebrating

Something strange is happening in our community. There’s a new festival being celebrated that isn’t imported from the northern hemisphere but is a reawakening of life in our own part of the world. Something special happens in the wonder of creation in our night sky around this time of year. There’s a cluster of stars called Matariki or the Pleiades which disappears for a month or so and then reappears in the early morning just before daybreak. These stars have just disappeared, and in early July they will reappear.

The Matariki cluster is sometimes called the Seven Sisters because usually seven are visable to the naked eye. Actually the cluster is about 400 stars and the closest is about 440 light years away. Known in many cultures because it disappears and rises again in both north and south hemisphere. The starts are known by another name in Japan– Subaru. In Greek world of Jesus the rising of the Pleiades was considered to mark the time of safe sailing in the Mediterranean. The Pleiades are among the first stars mentioned in literature, appearing in Chinese annals of about 2350 BC, and they are also mentioned in the Bible in the books of Amos and Job as part of God’s creation.

For Maori the new rising or sighting of Matariki signals the Maori New Year. Matariki translates to “Eyes of God” (mata – ariki) or ‘Little Eyes’ (mata – riki). This star cluster rises usually sometime in June (it’s late this year being early July), and usually the actual celebration is held at the first new moon after the sighting.

Matariki celebrations usually last about a month and are starting to catch on again in NZ as we look to develop our own celebrations. There is quite a push on to replace queen Birthday weekend with a Matariki New Year celebration sometime in June.

Traditionally for Maori it’s a time for whanau to gather to commemorate loved ones passed, and to celebrate the arrival of newer additions to the family. It is a time to celebrate unity, faith and hope through aroha. Because traditionally the food stores were full after harvest celebratory feasts were held as whanau and guests shared food together.

One of our Maori ministers in the PCANZ, Rev Hone Te Rire, explains the importance of Matariki…. “As youngsters my kuia, koroua, and parents remembered family reunions and re-strengthening of family ties with extended whanau. It is a time of aroha, giving of gifts, and sharing of food. In my Tuhoe whanau we use the term matemateaone, which means to strengthen our connections to our whenua, our marae and our families – close and extended – the people and places that have nurtured us.

Nowadays there are often other festivities – flying of kites and fireworks seem to be popular. Traditionally giving of food to others and helping whanau with restorative work around their homes or working bees on the marae were other ways to celebrate Matariki. Karaoke and disco nights and gathering together in the wharekai (dining room) for a succulent kaihakari hangi.

Hone says, “The emphasis on families and whanau living together in peace and unity is reflected in Pauls letter to the Corinthians (1:10) Let there be no divisions among you. That you are perfectly united in mind and thought. The values of Jesus are reinforced in the kaupapa Maori values of whanau (family), manaaki (caring), tumanako (hope), kaitiaki (stewardship), rangatira (leadership) and aroha (love).
My parents and grandparents taught me these values through action not word alone, every time during the season of Matariki. I am now teaching my children and mokopuna the same values.” He challenges us as a body of Christ, to celebrate Matariki not only in showing support from a bicultural perspective, but also for the important values that Matariki encompasses.”

So what do we take from Matariki. I warm to the reality that it arises from the gift of creation and of human experience in our patch. It’s not imported but it’s about our night sky and the traditions of this place we all call home. Good religion honours local experience and local tradition.
I like the reality that Mataiki is not about a single star rising but a cluster… a family of stars …. Its about community and Hone gives us two wise sayings from Matariki
“Matariki ahunga nui”
(Matariki brings us together)

“Matariki – whiria te tangata”
(Matariki – weave the people together)

The heritage of Matariki being a time to remember people of our past, to reach out to one another, to celebrate family and community. In this it is a clebtration of the kingdom of God. Whanau, Manaaki (caring), and Aroha are values of God.

The season of harvest is over it is time to give thanks to God for sustenance. As God has been generous to us so we too should be generous to each other and caring of creation….. It’s a time to celebrate our calling to stewardship – Kaitiaki.

In the midst of the darkness of winter the stars appear… like the star of Bethlehem saying the darkness will not win. The rising of the Makariki cluster brings hope that the darkness will never win. We celebrate Tumanako.

19 June 2018