Reflecting, reconnecting and stargazing: Matariki makes its mark at Ara

News News & events

08 Jun 2018

An experience of a lifetime awaits Ara Institute of Canterbury students who will sleepover at the wharenui on campus before embarking on an early morning trip to the Port Hills to witness the rise of the Matariki constellation on the horizon.

This is just one of many events Ara will offer students throughout the mid-winter celebrations of the Maori New Year, Matariki.

Matariki: According to Maori myth, the star cluster was formed when Ranginui the sky father and Papatūānuku the earth mother became separated by their children and Tāwhirimātea the god of the winds was so angry that he tore out his eyes and threw them into the heavens.

Reimana Tutengaehe, a tutor in Te Puna Wānaka at Ara, will be on hand to share his knowledge.

“Matariki is about a lifecycle really. Traditionally speaking when Matariki first begins we farewell the dead, and then we look up to each star in the constellation to acknowledge how they correspond to our natural environment. So traditionally, Maori would use the stars to determine if it was going to be a good year for fishing, or for crops and harvest,” Tutengaehe says.

However, times have changed. Modern culture is not so concerned with fruits of the earth, and life no longer revolves around a successful crop when a quick trip to the shop can solve dinner woes.

So what is Matariki all about in 2018?

Tutengaehe says we can now view Matariki as “a time for getting together, having a feed and relaxing.”

The rising of Matariki encompasses many rituals that differ from iwi to iwi, but in general, the tradition is based around remembering, reflecting, reconnecting and planning for the future.

This year Ara will acknowledge Matariki from 11-15 June, however Tutengaehe says the timing of Matariki is flexible, as “it’s based on stars and moon phases.”

Amongst the programme of Ara events hospitality students from Oamaru will serve kai to guests, there will be a traditional hāngi (earth oven) and a Kī-ō-rahi tournament, and while it may seem out of place, Yoga by Kotte will host a UV yoga dance party at City campus.

Tutengaehe says the event which features a live DJ, is just for fun, however Maori also knew how to party. “Even back then, once all the work was done the celebrations began, and for about six odd days, everyone was just partying and eating food.”

Matariki has experienced a revival of sorts in recent years. While it popped up in grass roots for many years, this practise of our nation’s first people is now becoming more mainstream.

“The practise itself has been, you could say dormant, across a large portion of the country for a fair amount of time now.” Tutengaehe says. “My own experience of Matariki as a child, was that we knew about it, but we didn’t necessarily practise it, especially as the astronomical knowledge in my family had diminished. It wasn’t until my early teens that Matariki was starting to become a normal practice nationwide. Then it wasn’t until the last five or so years that Matariki has really been coming into the public arena.”

Matariki events are now becoming more common, with celebrations such as Wellington’s waterfront Sky Show in July, which will replace the capital city’s 22-year Guy Fawkes tradition.

“I think that for Maori particularly we wanted to find an event where we could be Maori. That sounds a bit strange and philosophical… but we have very few venues, or events now where we can perform our own customs without fear of being looked down upon. So that’s probably why Matariki has resumed importance for Maori,” Tutengaehe says, and adds that all New Zealander’s can find value in Matariki.

“Every culture has its own take on life, and some aspects of culture, regardless of which, are really good practices. Matariki is one of those transferable customs that everyone could do, because we all need opportunities to remember the dead, to reflect on the past year, set goals for the New Year and plan ahead.”

The cluster of stars that make up the Matariki constellation hold strong significance within many cultures, and are also known collectively as the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters.

Find out more about the Ara Matariki events schedule: