Te tau hōu Māori: whakanuia!

Sounding conch shells at Matariki celebrations, Wairau Bar, Marlborough, 2009 (pic: Marlborough Express)

Sounding conch shells at Matariki celebrations, Wairau Bar, Marlborough, 2009 (pic: Marlborough Express)

Tēnā koutou, me ngā mihi o te tau hōu Māori ki a koutou katoa! Ae rā, ko te wā o Matariki tēnei, o Puanga rānei. Greetings of the Māori New Year to you all! To some iwi the new year is heralded by the appearance of the constellation Matariki (the Pleiades) in the sky, while to others it is the rising of the star Puanga (Rigel) that marks the start of the new year.

As you can read on Te Ara, Matariki/Puanga is an ancient festival, but one that had largely died out by the mid-20th century, before having a spectacular revival around the turn of this century. While I’m happy to be corrected, this year may in fact mark the 20th anniversary of Matariki’s modern revival.

In June 1995, Wellington’s Evening Post newspaper reported on a two-week festival, Te Whakanui i a Matariki, being held in the capital, mostly at Pipitea marae. Activities were to include kite-flying (which is traditionally associated with Matariki), demonstrations of Māori arts and talks on Māori issues. One of the key organisers of the event was the artist Diane Prince, and the event’s patron was Whetū Tirikātene-Sullivan, MP.

The modern festival of Matariki really took off in the early 2000s, particularly after it started to be promoted by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission). In 2004, Libby Hakaraia published a popular book, Matariki: the Māori New Year, introducing Matariki and its associated customs.

Today Matariki/Puanga is widely celebrated in communities across the country. Many people have also suggested that the Māori new year should become a new public holiday. In 2009, Māori Party MP Rāhui Kātene’s private Member’s Bill, Te Rā o Matariki/Matariki Day Bill, which would have made Matariki a public holiday, had a first reading but was not supported to go to select committee.

There are two main reasons given in support of such a holiday (apart from wanting another day off work!). First, that we should have a holiday that is truly indigenous and based on the seasons of this land. Second, that we need a day of celebration, in contrast to Waitangi Day, which (rightly or wrongly) many people associate with contention and protest. Some people have suggested that a Matariki/Puanga holiday could replace the Queen’s Birthday holiday, or that the Māori new year would be a more appropriate time than Guy Fawkes Day for fireworks.

What do you think about the modern revival of Matariki/Puanga?

One comment added so far

  1. Comment made by Nicola Romeril || June 20th, 2015

    New Zealand has lost so many wonderful traditions . I am glad to see Matariki being celebrated again. The winter solstice and Maori New Year. Having lived in Switzerland for many years , I feel christmas is more a mid winter celebration since many centuries then a christian celebration. I am certainly taking it on . I would love to see it replace our Waitangi Day , its not a day anyone is proud of. Since Matariki also celebrates the new , then what a great new beginning for NZ. We are such a proud nation , lets celebrate together a day we can rejoice in.

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