Matariki: It's Our Responsibility to Make a Change
words & illustrations by Macy Taylor (she/her)
Matariki is more than just another public holiday, and it shouldn’t be treated like one. As we begin to celebrate Matariki as a country, we are presented with a dilemma. Many say that Matariki must be profitable, but that would completely go against the cultural origins of the holiday. After all, the Māori new year isn’t about buying the latest tech, going out with the boys, or booking a nice restaurant.
Matariki should be about reflection and celebrating the new year, right? Sadly, Labour spoke a lot about its economic benefits when faced with opposition from National. They said it could boost the economy by $310.4-496.1 million, especially for the struggling hospitality industry. Then, Associate Minister of Culture and Heritage Kiritapu Allan said "What do we do when we have a day off? We go out and we spend money.” Which is true. A 2008 study by the central bank of Malaysia concluded that GDP increased by 0.34% ‘per extra holiday’.
Astronomer Dr Rangi Mātāmua (Tūhoe) says he’s worried about seeing ‘the Matariki possum’ join the ranks of the Easter Bunny and Santa, a symbol for the commercialisation of Matariki, like many holidays we celebrate today. They used to have deeper cultural meaning, but have instead been lost to consumerism.¹
Concerns about this holiday becoming diminished are linked to Waitangi, which until now was the closest thing we had to a celebration of Māori culture. Waitangi is surrounded in controversy due to how different groups view Te Tiriti, and Matariki shouldn’t suffer the same fate. Already, Matariki is being disrespected. Last year, councils let off fireworks, ignoring the requests of local iwi.²
So, what can we do to avoid Matariki becoming the Kiwi Thanksgiving? We should stop thinking about money, and respect tangata whenua and the origins of Aotearoa. Take the time to go see loved ones and the people that have made you who you are. Look out for those who may be alone, and invite them over for a home-cooked meal. Take the opportunity to learn some mātauranga Māori, whether that’s online, at a historical location, art installation, or local marae.
We have to be mindful of people who are using Matariki to drive sales. Let’s treat this new year as something worthy of honour and respect, instead of another day off to get coffee and run some errands. Don’t fall into the trap of treating Matariki like every other holiday. It’s sacred and special, and deserves to be treated as such.
1 The Spinoff, 2022. ‘The Easter Bunny and the Matariki Possum’.
2 Stuff, 2022. ‘Councils ignore Māori advice’