Matariki signals the Maaori New Year. It is a time of renewal and celebration in New Zealand that begins with the rising of the Matariki star cluster, also known as the Pleiades.
Listen below to Les Tuteao of Te Ahurei Maori Tourism explaining the significance of Matariki and each of the cluster's seven stars, according to local Tainui oral traditions.
What is Matariki? Why is Matariki important?
Matariki is an open star cluster, that consists of several stars. According to the traditional custodians of Kirikiriroa-Hamilton, Ngaati Wairere and by extension, Waikato and the people of Tainui. It consists of seven stars. They are:
Ururangi (wind patterns)
Waipuna-aa-rangi (rain, frost, mist)
Waitii (freshwater food sources, e.g. eels)
Waitaa (saltwater food sources, e.g. fish)
Tupu-aa-rangi (grown in the sky, e.g. birds, fruits)
Tupu-aa-nuku (grown in the earth, e.g. kumara)
Matariki (placed centrally, conductor role)
As shown above, each of the seven stars are associated with a specific food source, or weather pattern. Therefore, Matariki was vital to our ancestors, as a key environmental sign, that foretold the pending fortunes, or misfortunes of the people.
After a month-long absence in the night sky, Matariki would reappear before dawn, during the lunar cycle of Pipiri (late June) to mark the completion and the beginning of a new, lunar year. Over a series of mornings during that moon phase, our Tohunga Whetuu (Star Priests) would observe and interpret the ascent of Matariki, before the sunrise.
By doing so accurately, our Tohunga Whetuu could determine where to direct the collective energies of our people, in terms of food gathering, ensuring the survival of our people and our traditional way of life. For example, if Waitii was dim, whilst Waitaa shone brightly, our Tohunga Whetuu would instruct the people to focus on fishing and diving, as opposed to trapping eels.
Spiritually, it was both, a time to farewell those who had passed on in the preceding year, as their souls leave Earth to become stars. But also, a time to gather and celebrate, sharing in each other’s lessons and experiences, reaffirming familial ties and looking towards the future with hope.
Matariki ki runga.
Star 1 – Waipuna-aa-rangi
According to Tainui oral traditions, Waipuna-aa-rangi is the star associated with rain, frost, mist and dense fog. The poetic translation of her name means ‘pools of water in the sky’. Hence, she is the most prevalent star throughout the Matariki period. Active and present in the weather patterns we see and feel during the cold Winter months.
Within the Matariki family, Waipuna-aa-rangi, aligns with the feminine element. She is acknowledged as a daughter of Matariki and sister to her star siblings. Waipuna-aa-rangi, maintains an expressive and highly emotive personality, always willing to share her feelings, which manifests via the frost, mists and frequent rains.
She shares an especially close bond with her star brother, Ururangi (winds). Together, they both compliment and challenge one another’s natural traits and tendencies. In the Northern Hemisphere, she is known as Electra. According to Greek oral tradition, associated with tears.
Star 2 – Ururangi
Consistent with traditional narratives of the Tainui people, the star Ururangi is connected to the element of wind. When deconstructing the name, Uru is a Tainui reference to a person’s head, but also to the Westerly winds. With Rangi meaning sky or the heavens, therefore ‘the strong head winds of the sky’ is the figurative meaning of the name.
Ururangi is acknowledged as the son of Matariki, brother to his celestial siblings, therefore consists of masculine energy. An impassioned and dynamic entity, he is easily stirred and irritable, with his outbursts manifesting in sudden gales, violent tempests and storms, that burst forth from nowhere.
Ururangi maintains close ties with his sister, Waipuna-aa-rangi. As they are placed near each other within the Matariki star cluster. Their complimentary natures often working together during our Southern Hemisphere Winter, demonstrated in the seasonal cycles of wind and rain. In the Northern Hemisphere, his name is Merope, who is considered a female star within Greek mythology.
Star 3 – Matariki
In our oral histories, the Tainui people refer to Matariki, who is one of seven stars in the Matariki star cluster, as the mother to six star children, who are placed around her in the night sky, while she occupies the centre of the star cluster. Acting as both, a conductor and a source of stability for her star children. The Star, Matariki is associated with health and wellbeing.
During the first rising of Matariki, our tohunga (experts) believed, that if Matariki shone bright in the night sky and her star children seemingly closer to her, it was a sign of prosperity for the coming year. Conversely, if she appeared dim with her star children seemingly more distant, it was a sign of pending misfortune.
In the traditional narratives of Ancient Greece, she is known as Alcyone and associated with the wind.
Star 4 – Waitii
Following the star lore of the Tainui Whare Waananga (Tainui House of Learning) the star Waitii is linked to fresh water, springs, streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands. As well as the food sources thereof, being eels, freshwater mussels and freshwater crayfish.
In the traditional narratives of the Tainui people, the name Waitii was also applied to sweet water, or more specifically drinking water. With water, being ‘wai’ and ‘tii’ being an affectionate dialectical term for sweet. Thus, the term was applied to our sources of drinking water, throughout classical Māori society.
Elegant and fluid, like a cascading waterfall, gliding effortlessly over smoothened rocks, the star Waitii embodies femininity, being a dutiful daughter of Matariki, she shares a special bond with her brother Waitaa (saltwater). In the tales of ancient Greece, she is known as Maia, Maiden of Spring.
Star 5 – Waitaa
The oral histories of Tainui Waka, say that Waitaa is the star connected to coastal waters, vast seas and mighty oceans. As a natural consequence, Waitaa is also patron star to the great food stocks of the seas, referred to as Te Kete Nui a Kiwa, meaning The Great Food Basket of Kiwa.
For generations, our oceans have been a major source of sustenance for Maaori. Containing innumerable types of fish and highly prized shellfish delicacies, such as kina (sea urchin) paaua (abalone) and kuutai (mussels). Waitaa glistening in the dark morning sky before dawn, serves as an auspicious sign for our fishermen and divers.
Confident in his masculinity, Waitaa is one of the three sons of Matariki. His personality reflects the movements of the world’s oceans. Majestic and ominous in the same breath. Highly intelligent, with immeasurable depth, yet wild and ferocious. Consistent with Greek myth, Waitaa carries the name, Taygete and is referred to as female.
Star 6 – Tupu-aa-nuku
Within the tribal domain of the Tainui people, Tupu-aa-nuku is the star associated with hua whenua, or produce of the Earth, such as kuumara (sweet potato). Naturally, Tupu-aa-nuku was the favoured star of our gardeners, with successful crops and effective gardening implements being dedicated to their patron star.
When dissected, Tupu, meaning ‘to grow’ and nuku, being ‘of Papatuuaanuku or Mother Earth’ when combined, the poetic translation of Tupu-aa-nuku, becomes ‘to grow in Mother Earth’, hence the affinity to mahi maara (gardening), sowing and harvesting in accordance with the tohu whetuu (star signs) and the rhythms of the Maramataka (lunar cycle).
Associated with fertility and bounty, Tupu-aa-nuku embodies femininity and nurturing, hence, is a daughter of Matariki. Generous in nature and vital in sustaining life. She is known as Pleione in Greek folklore, the wife of Atlas and mother to the stars of the Pleiades star cluster. The word, Pleiades, literally means ‘of Pleione’.
Star 7 – Tupu-aa-rangi
Close to 1000 years ago, when the Tainui Waka first circumnavigated the top half of the North Island, both East and West coasts. Our ancestral stories tell of entire forests, bursting with song, a deep resonant chorus of our native manu (birds) ringing forth from the land, bellowing out to sea. The sounds filling the hearts of our ancestors with hope.
Some of our great orators believe that Tupu-aa-rangi, the star connected to native bird life, berries and fruits, played a prominent role in welcoming our voyaging ancestors to Aotearoa-NZ, present and acting as celestial marker. Meaning ‘to grow in the the sky’ Tupu-aa-rangi, is the favoured star of our bird snarers and hunters.
Bold and assertive within his male energy, Tupu-aa-rangi is a son of Matariki. Whose personality resembles our native bird life, dynamic, curious, learning and sharing. In Greek mythology, he is Atlas, the father of the Pleiades star cluster, responsible for holding the world aloft.
Below is a selection of books from our collections and online resources to help you discover more about the history of Matariki and how it is celebrated.
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