Feeding the stars

This year, for the first time, New Zealanders will celebrate our new public holiday, 'Matariki' - an ancient celebration connected to harvest cycles. This is the first in a series of stories as we count down to Matariki.


Across the country, calendars are being marked and preparations are being made. Iwi will mark this significant winter event in different ways. Local councils, community and school groups will engage in a variety of gatherings and activities. Star gazing, whanau (family) time and food will likely be common to most if not all celebrations. A few will attend  'Hautapu Matariki'. This traditional celebration marks the crucial shift to a new seasonal cycle. Offerings have historically been made to the Matariki star cluster.

One year ago, on 4 February 2021 it was announced that Matariki would be our new annual public holiday. In a few short months on Friday June 24, 2022, we celebrate this ancient time marker for the first time as a nation.

For all New Zealanders it is an opportunity for discovery and reflection.

Matariki is the mid-winter rising of a cluster of nine stars (or seven to some). Traditionally Matariki has been a marker of time, the beginning of a new harvest cycle.  By reclaiming and sharing this knowledge, we reconnect ourselves with ancient time-keeping systems tuned to the work of planting and harvesting and times of rest.

Across the Pacific the star cluster is recognised and celebrated. Slight linguistic variations exist, but the name is essentially the same, including - Makali’i  in Hawai’i and Samoa, Matari’i in Tahiti and Mataliki in Tokelau.  Matariki is also used in islands other than New Zealand including Rapa Nui Easter Island. In the northern hemisphere the cluster is widely known as Pleiades (Greece), Subaru (Japan) or the Seven Sisters (England).

Iwi celebrations will vary but for many there will be hilltop ceremonies involving three key elements. As Matariki rises there will be expert-led readings of the stars - giving a prediction of the year to come. Next is Taki Moteatea where the names of those lost over the previous year are called out. Lastly there will be Umu Kohukohu Whetu a traditional umu (earth oven) containing selected kai (food) from sea, forest, freshwater and mara (garden). When the covers are lifted, the steam that rises upwards is known as the feeding of the stars.

Like Easter, the date will vary each year according to the lunar calendar. Dates have been set for the next three decades to coincide with the appearance of the star cluster and rising of the new moon.

Our uniquely Aotearoa New Zealand public holiday will always fall on a Friday, allowing a mid-winter long weekend for us all.

Niki Partsch