Matariki is an abbreviation of ‘Ngā Mata o te Ariki’ – The Eyes of the God. The god or deity referred to is the god of wind, Tāwhirimātea. Dr Rangi Matamua is one of the key speakers on Matariki with events happening throughout the country – the Rotorua one was sold out in days!
I’ve sourced much of the below from his book 'Matariki: The Star of the Year'.
When Ranginui, the sky father, and Papatūānuku, the earth mother, were separated after much deliberations by their children such as Tumautauenga and Tane Mahuta. It was decided that Tāne Mahuta separate his parents. Tāwhirimātea did not agree and was angered, sending wind and rain down to the earth. He also tore out his eyes, crushed them into pieces and through them into the sky, Ngā Mata o te Ariki’ – The Eyes of the God. This is why Tāwhirimātea is sometimes known as the blind deity, feeling his way around the sky and bringing wind and storms.
Each tribe has its own variation of the story. Jim Williams, a scholar from Ngāi Tahu speaks of Te Waipounamu (South Island) and Rekohu / Wharekauri (Chatham Islands) having New Year traditions based on Puaka or Puanga (Rigel in Orion).
Astronomy is the oldest science. From day one, people have looked to stars, however in recent times with technology and science progressing to a point, the stars are a mere decoration.
People saw that the motions of the stars were regular and predictable. Matariki has been coined the Māori new year, however, to understand this, we need to take a broader view of what Matariki is, the role of the stars and how other parts of the world used the constellations.
Constellations made the patterns of the stars easy to remember. The ancient peoples knew for example that when the constellation Orion started to be fully visible winter was coming soon.
The stars allowed farmers to plan ahead and form agriculture, and constellations made it easier to recognise and interpret the patterns in the sky.
But not only was it agriculture, around the world it was a reference to power; Augustus, the first Roman Emperor, referred to Caesar's comet, which helped to establish the divine nature of kingship as well as his association with Capricorn, the zodiacal sign of the winter solstice.
Other parts of the world
In Greek mythology the Pleiades were the seven daughters of the titan Atlas and the sea-nymph Pleione born on Mount Cyllene.
Zeus immortalised the sisters by placing them in the sky, forming the constellation known thereafter as the Pleiades. A number of ancient temples on the Acropolis in Athens face the direction where the Pleiades rise.
In India, this cluster is called the Krittika nakshatra, though to be the six wives of the star Rishis of the Great Bear.
The constellation is also known to the Aztecs (who called it Tianquiztli), the Maya (Tzab-ek), the Persians (Parveen/parvin), the Sioux and Cherokee of North America, and the Chinese.
The Japanese also use the star cluster in their corporate logo for Subaru.
Māori used the stars to navigate their way around the pacific to Aotearoa as well as plan for the year.
Nowadays, it’s used metaphorically to symbolise a new start. So for this Matariki, treat it as another time to put things in place, set goals, but try it from a Māori perspective, using the Te Whare Tapawha model:
Tinana – a physical goal or something for your physical health
Whanau – a whanau goal or something for your wider family to achieve wellbeing
Wairua – a spiritual wellbeing goal. The values and beliefs that determine the way people live, the search for meaning and purpose in life, and personal identity and self-awareness
Hinengaro – a mental wellbeing goal. Coherent thinking processes, acknowledging and expressing thoughts and feelings, and responding constructively