Matariki: ‘historic’ moment as New Zealand celebrates first indigenous holiday | Maori – Low Calorie Diets Tips

OOn the volcanic peak of Maungakiekie, astronomers and stargazers crowded into the freezing early mornings to watch the New Year’s constellations rise. Observatories across the country have opened their doors. At Takaparawhau, overlooking Auckland, 1000 people gathered at dawn to open an earthen oven to watch steam and smoke rise into the dark sky as an offering to the stars.

Across Aotearoa, New Zealand, people have gathered before sunrise and on chilly winter nights this week to honor Matariki, the Māori New Year. This year marks the first time the celebration has been officially and legally recognized, making it the country’s first indigenous holiday.

“I think it’s incredibly important,” says Olive Karena-Lockyer (Te Aupōuri, Ngāti Raukawa), an astronomy teacher at the Stardome Observatory. “It’s from here, from Aotearoa. It’s not imported, like Christmas or Easter or the Queen’s birthday,” she says. “It is for us and what is relevant to our environment.”

Matariki is the Māori name for a star cluster known elsewhere as the Pleiades. Visible from New Zealand for eleven months of the year, the constellation disappears from the sky for a month in winter, reappearing in mid-June around the time of the winter solstice. His rise is recognized by many iwi [tribes] as the beginning of a new year. The holiday focuses on three principles: commemorating those who have died, celebrating the present with family and friends; and looking ahead to the future promise of a new year. It is believed to be one of the first indigenous festivals to be recognized as a public holiday in a settler-colonial state.

Karena-Lockyer will be guiding public visitors through the Matariki lights in the Stardome Observatory this year and says learning about Matariki has been transformative for her own connection to the culture and place. “It was kind of a perfect match between my interest in astronomy and my cultural identity and finding a place in it,” she says.

Jacinda Ardern speaks during a visit to Wainuiomata Intermediate in Wellington.
Jacinda Ardern speaks during a visit to Wainuiomata Intermediate in Wellington. Photo: Hagen Hopkins/AAP

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, speaking at a dawn ceremony on Friday, called it “a moment. A waypoint on a long and important journey.”

“This is now an official holiday, not dividing us by Maori ancestry or otherwise, but uniting us under the stars of Aotearoa,” Ardern said. “It contains enough space for each of us to build our own meaning and traditions.”

“This is a historic moment for all of us,” Deputy Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Kiri Allan said when the law was passed. “It will be the first national holiday to explicitly recognize and celebrate Mātauranga Māori [Māori scientific traditions]’ she said, giving ‘a unique, new opportunity to embrace our distinctive national identity and help establish our place as a modern Pacific nation’.

The rise of Matariki has been celebrated in New Zealand, but has also been the subject of controversy.

Māori cultural advisors and academics have warned businesses against commercializing the holiday. This month, Tātou, a Māori cultural communications agency, launched a campaign entitled “Matariki is not for sale”. “Nobody wants to see a Matariki Big Mac,” executive director Skye Kimura told Stuff.

Nice start for our new holiday: Matariki via Tararua Range and Petone at 6.20am

I understand that the unusual glow of the sunrise is partly due to particles from Tonga’s eruption (in January) floating high in the atmosphere. They catch the sun earlier when the rest of the sky is darker pic.twitter.com/n07lpTBcxn

— SeánDG (@SeanDG) June 23, 2022

In turn, some business owners have said adding another holiday to the calendar is too much of a burden for shops and restaurants already struggling with high inflation and low tourism. The novelty of the holiday has also led to some disagreement over appropriate ways of celebrating: some councilors staged fireworks after being warned by cultural advisers that it was inappropriate.

For Karena-Lockyer, it was also exciting to see the holiday come to the fore – and an opportunity for all New Zealanders to learn more about Te ao Māori – the indigenous culture and belief. “Every year there’s a little more knowledge and with it a little more meaning and more action,” she said.

Matariki advises New Zealanders on observing the natural world and its rhythms, she said. She quotes a Whakatauki [proverb]: Tuia ki te rangi, Tuia ki te whenua, Tuia ki te moana, Erongo te po, Erongo te Ao. “Look at the sky, the land, and the sea to understand the difference between day and night,” she says.

“It’s about making connections and understanding that there are connections between what the sky is doing, what the land is doing and what the sea is doing. If you can understand these environments, you will understand what you should be doing in them.”

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