Story: Matariki – Te Tau Hou Māori

Twinkling in the winter sky just before dawn, Matariki (the Pleiades) signals the Māori New Year. For Māori, the appearance of Matariki heralds a time of remembrance, joy and peace. It is a time for communities to come together and celebrate. In the 2000s, it became more common for both Māori and Pākehā to celebrate Matariki. From 2022, a public holiday marking Matariki will be held in June or July each year.

Story by Paul Meredith
Main image: Matariki (the Pleiades) star cluster

Story summary

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What is Matariki?

Matariki is the Māori name for the cluster of stars also known as the Pleiades. It rises in midwinter and for many Māori, it heralds the start of a new year. Iwi across New Zealand understand and celebrate Matariki in different ways and at different times.

Matariki is an abbreviation of ‘Ngā Mata o te Ariki Tāwhirimātea (‘The eyes of the god Tāwhirimātea’) and refers to a large cluster of stars, known in some European traditions as the Pleiades. According to Māori tradition, the god of the wind, Tāwhirimātea, was so angry when his siblings separated their parents, Ranginui the sky father and Papatūānuku the earth mother, that he tore out his eyes and threw them into the heavens.

The cycle of life and death

Traditionally, Matariki was a time to acknowledge the dead and to release their spirits to become stars. It was also a time to reflect, to be thankful to the gods for the harvest, to feast and to share the bounty of the harvest with family and friends.

Matariki revived

Matariki, or Māori New Year, celebrations were once popular, but had largely stopped by the 1940s. In the 2000s, they were revived. Now, thousands of people take part in events to honour the beginning of the Māori New Year, and in whānau celebrations to remember those who have died and to plan for the year ahead. From 2022, a public holiday marking Matariki will be held on a Friday in June or July each year.

How to cite this page:

Paul Meredith, 'Matariki – Te Tau Hou Māori', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 June 2024)

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