By Niki Partsch
As the nation readies to celebrate Matariki and Te Mātahi o te Tau /Māori New Year on Friday 14 July, many will be turning their eyes to the predawn sky to spot the elegant star cluster in the days preceding. While those with a good camera will have the initial advantage, people willing to embrace a clear cold winter morning will reap the rewards already as the cluster becomes visible to the eye.
As interest in Matariki grows, so does the pace of our learning. For many, this year’s discovery includes understanding the syncing of the lunar and solar calendars.
This syncing is important because, while the solar calendar month length varies from 28 to 31 days, there are consistently 29.53 days in the lunar month cycle. This means there a shortfall of 11 days every year between the lunar and solar calendars.
We are already familiar with the concept of syncing the solar calendar. It takes 365.25 days for the earth to travel around the sun. To manage the extra time, every four years, known as a leap year, an additional day is added to the month of February to align the solar calendar with the astronomical year.
To synchronise the lunar calendar with the solar calendar, Māori add an extra month, known as Ruhanui, into the lunar calendar every three years. This year, we transitioned from the Māori month of Pipiri to the month of Ruhanui on 18 June 2023, the first day of the new moon. Whiro, the first day of the new moon is the starting point of a lunar month.
Matariki, the brightest star in its cluster, will be in position now for most of us to see directly. According to Professor Rangi Matamua, “Matariki must be at least 5 degrees above the horizon, with the sun at least 16 degrees below the horizon, for it to be visible to the naked eye.”
Those looking for Matariki in the sky later this month, should start by using other identifiable star groups as way finders.
Before sunrise, look to Te Puanga / the Southern Cross. From there, look down and you can see the constellation Tautoru / Orion's Belt - commonly referred to as The Pot. Next, trace a line northward from the three stars of Tautoru to a triangular-shaped cluster of stars and you will have found Te Kokotā / Hyades. Again, look towards the left, and just off the shoulder of Te Kokotā is Matariki.
This year, the national Mānawatia a Matariki live broadcast will originate from Ngongotahā, Rotorua. The official website for Matariki offers further information for those looking to explore and discover more.
Our popular Pouhere Taonga podcast features a new episode for Matariki 2023. Listen in here as we delve into the rich traditions and significance of Matariki.