Matariki – The Promise of New Beginnings

New Zealand High Commissioner Philip Hewitt addressing guests


27 June 2024

Matariki, the Māori New Year, was celebrated under the stars on a crisp winter evening in Pretoria on 18 June.  High Commissioner of New Zealand to South Africa, Mr Philip Hewitt explained that in Māori culture, Matariki, known as the Pleiades star cluster, is celebrated at its first rising in late June or early July, marking the beginning of the new year in the Māori lunar calendar. 

This year Matariki will be celebrated by many families across Aotearoa New Zealand on 28 June. 

The incredible work of a young Māori artist, Ms Hāriata Mann was displayed at the event. Hewitt explained that Hāriata studies communication design and te reo Māori (the Māori language) at the Auckland University of Technology. She was chosen by the University to create a collection of artworks to celebrate the rise of Matariki.  

Her work depicts the nine whetū, or stars, of the Matariki constellation. “Hāriata’s works showcase the spirit and ancestry of Matariki. Each whētu is encased in a border which, starting from the top left corner, tells one origin story of the cluster,” said Hewitt. 

“The name Matariki has its origins in Te Ao Māori at the time of the separation of Papatūānuku (the earth mother) and Ranginui (the sky father). After their son Tāne (god of the forest) separated the sky from the earth to let in the light, Tāwhirimātea (another son and the god of weather) waged war against him and the other gods, for he wanted his parents to remain together. 

“He battled with all of his brothers until he was defeated by Tūmatauenga, the god of warfare and mankind. In a display of rage against his brothers and a sign of love for his father, Tāwhirimātea plucked out his eyes, crushed them in his hands, and threw them into the sky where they stuck to his father’s chest and became the stars of Matariki. Thus, the name Matariki comes from the phrase 'Ngā mata o te ariki Tāwhirimātea', 'the eyes of the god Tāwhirimātea'

“After such a dramatic birth, the celebration of Matariki has evolved to be guided by three principles: 
1.    Remembrance - honouring those who have died since the last rising of Matariki. 
2.    Celebrating the present - gathering together with family and friends to share kai as we are doing here tonight. 
3.    And looking to the future - looking forward to the promise of a new year and new beginnings. 

“It is also the time to prepare for the planting of crops for the year ahead,” explained Hewitt. “Environmentally, Matariki is significant as it encourages sustainable practices and respect for the land, promoting activities that connect with nature.” 

In South Africa the Pleiades cluster is known in Xhosa and Zulu as IsiLimela (the 'digging stars'), whose appearance indicates the beginning of the planting season. 

High Commissioner Hewitt with New Zealand High Commission staff at the celebration
In conclusion Hewitt raised a toast to embracing opportunities, and on the eve of South Africa's presidential inauguration, to working together to realise a peaceful, just and united South Africa and world.
by Anisha Pemjee - TDS
Photos - New Zealand High Commission in South Africa

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