Story: Matariki – Te Tau Hou Māori

Page 3. Modern Matariki

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Matariki celebrations were popular before the arrival of Europeans in New Zealand, and they continued into the 1900s. Gradually they dwindled, with the last elaborate traditional festivals recorded in the 1940s, although some iwi retained regional knowledge. Some new Māori faiths, such as Ringatū, incorporated aspects of traditional Matariki festivities into new customs. 

Revival

At the beginning of the 21st century Māori began to revive the practice of celebrating Matariki as a time of remembrance, joy and peace. Iwi, hapu and whānau once again came together at Matariki to mourn family members, to share kai, wānanga (have discussions) and whakanui (celebrate) within their local community.  Some hold traditional ceremonies at dawn to call out the names of people who have died since the last rising of Matariki, as a form of farewell, and to cook seasonal food. 

Iwi had a significant role in reviving interest in the celebration in the wider community. When Te Rangi Huata organised the first modern public Ngāti Kahungunu Matariki celebrations in Hastings in 2000, about 500 people joined him. Since then his work has grown, with major events each year in Wairoa, Napier, Hastings, Waipukurau and Masterton. These give thanks for the harvest and pray for a bountiful planting season, bringing the whole community together in doing so. In 2021, between 2,500 and 9,000 people attended Ngāti Kahungunu’s major events.

Books by astronomy and mātauranga Māori expert Professor Rangi Matamua (Tūhoe) have helped to reinforce the special place Matariki had for Māori communities in the past, and its connection to Māori understandings of their natural and spiritual world. 

Events organised by local councils and institutions such as the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (Te Papa), Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (Māori Language Commission) and Te Wānanga o Aotearoa have also focused new attention on Matariki. Kapa haka festivals, star observations, fireworks, hangi, and concerts were held around the country. In 2017 the traditional fireworks night in Wellington, previously held in November to mark Guy Fawkes Day, was shifted to July in order to celebrate Matariki.  

The revival of Matariki also played a part in increasing the popularity of the traditional Māori kites (pākau). Hekenukumai Busby, an expert in traditional navigation, said that the ancestors of Māori, including the Polynesians of ancient history, welcomed Matariki by flying kites.

Public holiday 

In 2020, the government announced its intention to establish a public holiday during Matariki that recognised and celebrated te ao Māori (the Māori world), to be held for the first time in 2022. A Matariki Advisory Group was set up to advise ministers on when and how the new public holiday should be celebrated. The date of the Matariki public holiday will shift each year to align with the Māori lunar calendar. It usually be in late June or early July. The Advisory Group’s members were drawn from across the country to ensure that the mātauranga (knowledge) of various iwi was represented.

How to cite this page:

Paul Meredith, 'Matariki – Te Tau Hou Māori - Modern Matariki', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/matariki-maori-new-year/page-3 (accessed 4 December 2021)

Story by Paul Meredith, published 12 Jun 2006, reviewed & revised 19 Jun 2021