Matariki: Preparations and celebrations!
As part of the 2023 Matariki celebrations, many people will be heading out under the starry sky to welcome the Māori new year and watch the Matariki star cluster rise. Thinking about how to do this, where to go and what to look for are often questions that arise for first-timers of this auspicious occasion, so I wanted to share some of my personal insights and practices to give you a chance to reflect on these ideas for yourselves and offer some tools in your ‘stargazing kete’.
Kua tō te waka o Rangi: Te waka o Rangi has set
During the Gregorian calendar month of May Matariki begins to set below the horizon, meaning that it was no longer in view to the east of Aotearoa, in the morning. In the Māori Lunar calendar, this aligns with the marama (month) of Haki Haratua and the Tangaroa moon phases. The setting of Matariki also symbolises that the spiritual canoe, Te Waka o Rangi, has set and Taramainuku, the captain of the waka (canoe) would be collecting the spirits of those who had passed since last Matariki.
It signals the year coming to a close and indicates that we should be preparing for the colder months and planning ahead, especially in terms of kai.
Once people have readied themselves for the change of season, they will start to plan their Matariki celebrations. This could involve activities such as reciting karakia and karanga, practising waiata and entertainment, organising food to share with others and preparing spaces where people will come together.
Ko Ruhanui e pīataata ana: Ruhanui is shining
At the beginning of the year, on some of my morning walks, I noticed drastic changes in my environment. The wind was already feeling cooler, the shades and colours in the landscape were darker and the stars looked different in the morning and night sky.
This was the catalyst for me to dive back into my journals and look at what I had noted around the same time last year, the year before and even as far back as three years prior. I found a journal entry and videos about ‘Ruhanui’ and ‘Te Tau Toru Nui o Matariki’ - the three-year cycle of Matariki by Professor Rangi Mātāmua and realised that we had arrived at the third year of the cycle, indicating that we would need to recalibrate our system of time.
Ruhanui, as explained by Prof. Rangi Mātāmua is the twin star in the constellation of Pipiri. Pipiri and Ruhanui are the heliacal stars that rise around the same time each year, usually around June. Ruhanui is present each year when Pipiri rises but is referred to as an additional month and inserted in the third year of the Matariki cycle. This is due to the 11 day difference between the Gregorian calendar and the Lunar calendar. Over three years, this would accumulate and be a total 33 days difference. Our tūpuna Māori would use Ruhanui, the twin star, as a way of realigning our system of time. These concepts are further explained in videos by Prof. Rangi Mātāmua and are an interesting watch!
I made the connection to these tohu (indicators) because I was prioritising time to observe and read my environment. This is a different type of literacy and my own process has evolved over years of walks, star-gazing, learning and making sense of things. For others, who are exquisite readers of their respective environments and puna mātauranga (bodies of knowledge), the process will look different. Embrace the journey that you are on and know that it doesn’t have to be the same as I’ve described. As I share my experiences, I invite you to think about your own contexts and make meaningful connections.
Ka rewa a Matariki: Matariki will soon rise
As an avid star-gazer, my advice would be to start exploring the taiao (environment) around you long before the Matariki public holiday date, especially if you plan on heading out to watch the star cluster rise during the Tangaroa phases.
Tātai arorangi (Māori astronomy) is indeed science but early in my journey it sometimes felt like I needed ‘luck’. It could be hit or miss. The first time I ventured out to watch Matariki rise, I was met with many barriers because I set off ill-prepared and unorganised. I realised I was not that well attuned to my environment and instead of luck I needed a plan.
So, before you prepare to look for the stars, there are other aspects you could consider like:
- Finding ‘East’ in relation to your location (where will the sun rise from)
- Identify a relatively high and accessible viewing spot (often the only way to do that is to walk to the top of it)
- Recognise where spots of high or low light pollution are (street lights, traffic lights houses and cars)
- Identify barriers that could limit your view and visibility (hills, high rise buildings, and trees).
Some ways that I explore the taiao and check some of these aspects is to:
- Get out early in the morning (and also at night)
- Go for a hīkoi, travel around locally and further
- Look up to the sky
- Look out at my surroundings to know where the hills are, what way the wind and rain falls, where there are clearings, trees, roads or buildings
- Download a good astro-camera app and use a tripod or stand
- Take plenty of photos to document what I notice
- Journal about what I see, feel and think in those moments.
This allows me to notice changes in the taiao especially on different moon phases and at different times of the day, tune into the weather and elements that are unique to where I live and understand also how that impacts my whānau and I.
If you or people in your community are planning Matariki celebrations, it may be in your best interest to find out these things, in relation to where you are, so that you are well prepared for the best viewing experience.
When you have taken these things into account, only then might you feel prepared to head out and watch Matariki rise.
There are many resources that support how to view the Matariki star cluster but an easy tip that is often referred to from the famous Beyonce song is…“to the left, to the left…”.
Find Tautoru (Orion's belt) constellation, from there shift your sights “to the left” to arrive at Te Kokotā (Hyades) and “to the left” again you should land on Matariki. While you’re there, don’t forget to also take note of the other elements that are working in sync with the stars in the sky.
To sum up my insights, I encourage you to head out a couple of times before the Matariki public holiday and tune into the environment around you. Make a plan of where you will go, what things you need to consider and how you can ensure things happen smoothly. I hope that you can now prepare for your star-gazing ventures, with some new tools in your ‘stargazing kete’.
I wish you all a wonderful experience as you gather with whānau and friends to celebrate Matariki.
Mānawatia a Matariki!
Mātāmua, R. (2020). Living by the stars. Video: Okoro o Ruhanui.
Mātāmua, R. (2023). Living by the stars. Video: Whiro o Ruhanui.
Hahana. (2023). Video: How to find Matariki.
Matariki- Free resources curated by Tātai Aho rau
Matariki seminar by Dr. Rangi Matamua
Origin stories & karakia podcast by Dr. Rangi Matamua
Calendar and stars, in depth podcast by Dr. Rangi Matamua
A Matariki LEARNZ fieldtrip by Jamie Taylor
Matariki: Our past, our future blog by Anahera Mc Gregor