Cover image: Matariki (Maori New Year)

Matariki (Maori New Year)

Every year around late June and August. 

Celebrating the Maori new year, remembering the dead and looking forward to the future.

Updated 4 months ago

About the event

Matariki is the traditional Maori New Year celebration. Named Matariki after a star cluster in the southern hemisphere, the day marks the first time the Matariki cluster ‘rises’ after a month of not being visible in New Zealand. The setting and rising of Matariki is used to mark the ending and beginning of the Maori Lunar calendar which also marks its other months by the rising of other stars.

This period of a few days is used as an opportunity to mourn the dead, educate the young about traditional knowledge and predict the weather for the upcoming months. Since the colonisation of New Zealand, Maori observance of Matariki declined significantly. However, over the last decades New Zealand has seen an increase in cultural activity around Matariki and, in 2009, it was made a public holiday following the initiative of Maori MP Rahui Katene. 

How to approach it

This day offers a great opportunity to dive into a very different culture’s traditions and consequently can be used to stimulate student’s curiosity about other cultures. There are many ways you could approach this. You could, for example, ask your students to research an aspect of Matariki such as the history behind it, the mythology or the different traditions such as the reciting of laments (te taki mōteatea). Matariki means ‘eyes of the God’, specifically the God Tāwhirimātea who supposedly threw his eyes into the sky at the anger of seeing his Father Sky and Mother Earth separate from each other. You could tell this story to your class or get them to act it out. Ask students: what can we learn from this different tradition? What inspires you? What are you confused or interested by? What would it be like to live as a Maori today? 

In the same way as the summer solstice, Matariki is a great example of a tradition that marks the changing of the seasons. This is a great way to encourage students' connection to nature and the natural cycles around us. Matariki is used as a marker to measure different agricultural, hunting and fishing seasons. Ask students: what other ways can we observe the passing of the seasons? Why is it important to be connected to the world around us? What examples are there of ways in which we are not connected to nature? How could we celebrate and participate in natural cycles more?

Conversation starter

Matariki is the traditional New Year celebration of New Zealand’s native people, the Maori. Matariki follows the rise of the Matariki star cluster and Maori use this time to think about the new year ahead, to mourn the dead they have lost and to try to predict the weather in the months to come. See if you can find more information about how the Maori celebrate Matariki. What is similar and what is different about Maori New Year and the New Year celebrated in the UK?