Today is a special day in New Zealand as we mark the start of the Māori New Year with the appearance of the Matariki star. At 6am on Tuesday 14th of July the Saint Clair team met at Wither Hills Farm Park carpark and walked up to the ‘Witches Hat’ lookout to view the Matariki star cluster and what a morning we got. The air was fresh (1 degree Celsius) with a typical Marlborough winter frost and a beautiful clear sky. The bright cluster was visible to the naked eye, but further enhanced with binoculars providing us all with a great view.
After a walk back down the hill we then arrived at the Saint Clair winery to warm ourselves up with a hot coffee and a shared breakfast.
In Māori Matariki is both the name of the Pleiades star cluster and of the season of its first rising which can occur during the months of June -July. Matariki appears in the eastern sky sometime around the shortest day of the year and is thought to determine how successful the harvest crop will be in the coming season. The brighter the stars, the more productive the crop will be.
Traditionally, Matariki was a time to remember those who had died in the last year. But it was also a happy event – crops had been harvested and seafood and birds had been collected. With plenty of food in the storehouses, Matariki was a time to celebrate music, dancing, food, and family and can last up to Three days. The festival’s connection to the stars provided an opportunity for families to remember their whakapapa (genealogy) and those ancestors who had passed away to the heavens. Offerings were made to land-based gods who would help provide good crops, and new trees were planted to signal new beginnings.
Many of these traditional celebrations are still practiced today, however there are many other ways that Matariki is celebrated.
In 2021, Matariki will begin on 2 July.
There are about a thousand stars in Matariki (also known as the Pleiades), but only about seven are visible to the unaided eye, see below the names with their meanings.
Alcyone – Matariki, eyes of Tāwhirimātea
Atlas – Tupu-ā-rangi, sky tohunga
Electra – Waipuna-ā-rangi, sky spring
Taygeta – Waitī, sweet water
Pleione – Tupu-ā-nuku, Earth tohunga
Merope – Ururangi, entry to the heavens Maia – Waitā, sprinkle of water