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What Does Matariki Mean To Us?

by Vivien Whyte (she/her)

associate editor


July 14th marked the second time Matariki was celebrated as an official public holiday in Aotearoa. For many Pākehā and tauiwi (non-indigenous/settlers) communities, this puts Matariki at the forefront of their minds for the very first time, opening a kōrero about what Matariki means for Aotearoa. Reflecting on this, I asked some of my tauiwi peers what Matariki means to them, and how it interweaves with their identity and a greater national identity.


For Eda, the day is going to be set aside for connecting, learning and taking the time to reset. She’s planning on going to the Hautapu at Orakei and then the Auckland Art Gallery, which is putting on a line-up of free events. The rest of the day is going to be set aside for reflection and refreshing - whether it’s cleaning her house, doing some journaling, reading or learning some more te reo.


Darryn will be heading along to Takaparawhau (Bastion Point) to join the Umu Kohukohu Whetū, hosted by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei. He’ll also be hosting something small with friends and whānau. If the weather holds up, he may head up Maungarei (Mt Wellington) to see Matariki.


For Serena, she’ll be spending Matariki reflecting, journaling, and hosting spaces for family and friends to come together to enjoy the holiday. She also finds it important to spend time learning more about Matariki, the stars and what it all means. As part of this, she plans to focus on her wellbeing through being with nature, spending time in silence, reading a book, having discussions and celebrating both the things that have happened and the things that will come. “Figuring out what to let go, and who you want to become.”


What does Matariki mean to you as tauiwi?


All three reflect on the fact that this is a truly special public holiday. Far from being commercial or religious, Matariki invites us to slow down, connect with whānau and friends, to remember those souls who have passed to the beyond and to celebrate. Eda emphasises the personal resonance of this holiday: “While it’s quite difficult to define what that means, it’s very easy to relate to on an individual level, in terms of the fact that everyone has a relationship with the environment and a relationship with loved ones.” Reflecting on the broader picture, Darryn says, “In some way, it's sad that it only became a national celebration last year. Like Ahorangi Rangi Mātāmua would say, one of the biggest forms of colonisation is time. So, as a time of reflection too, as tauiwi, it makes me turn my mind to the bigger story of what happened on this whenua (land).”


Eda and Serena both draw similarities between Matariki and other cultures who celebrate celestial movements. For Eda, “Being on the whenua here, it makes sense to observe the celestial and environmental changes and their influences on the land and people. After all, that's what Matariki came from - the observation of the stars and what that means in terms of harvest and energy.” Eda explains that since the maramataka (lunar movements/calendar) has an influence on the land, it inherently has an influence on the people. She says, “I think any living thing in Aotearoa is influenced by the rise of Matariki. I’d like to learn more about Matariki as a window into Te Ao Māori, as well as understanding myself on a physical and spiritual plane.” For Serena the holiday evokes a feeling of nostalgia. Seeing the stars, acknowledging the astrological calendar, and tikanga are all things that remind her of Diwali. This connection has the potential to act like a bridge of solidarity and connection between all cultures, offering both reason and heart to how we, as migrants, might find a sense of place and belonging in Aotearoa. Serena stresses the beauty and humanity in being able to show pride in our own cultures, while being able to celebrate and honour Matariki. Eda echoes this. “Matariki helps us all understand how Te Ao Māori is beneficial for all of us, and for understanding our identity as non-Māori in Aotearoa.”


Why do you think it’s important that Matariki is something we all get involved in?


Celebrating Matariki as a public holiday comes with a risk of seeing it as an isolated event - similar to the way we see Christmas, Gregorian New Years or Easter. As simply a day off, time for sales, or themed parties. Eda reflects that “As a nation, we’re still figuring out how to collectively celebrate or observe Matariki.” Quite apart from any capitalistic or commercial holiday tendencies, she emphasises the need to strip it back to what Matariki is really about.


Darryn underscores these risks of tokenising Matariki on paper, which, sadly, goes hand in hand with recolonising this time. “We can and should respect this time by getting involved, looking to mana whenua, and recognising the differences across the motu of how Matariki is celebrated, or Puanga (which some iwi observe). To leave behind tokenism and celebrate with respect brings us closer to what Professor of Tikanga, Tā Pou Temara, said last year - "This is when we came of age".


Building on this, Serena emphasises how low the bar really is when getting involved with Matariki through celebrating, appreciation, reflection and learning. She emphasises that we have a responsibility, as tauiwi, to proactively explore, embrace and uplift Te Ao Māori. By embracing the true essence of Matariki, we can avoid tokenism. We can open connections for everyone living in Aotearoa and contribute to a flourishing future.


What has your journey been with learning about Matariki and how does that relate to reflections on your place in Aotearoa as a whole?


Learning about Matariki has been part of a wider journey for Eda, Darynn and Serena, going hand-in-hand with a deeper understanding of both Te Ao Māori and profound reflections on their identities and place in Aotearoa as a whole. Eda reflects on growing up in an environment that’s very monocultural and Eurocentric. “Stepping out of that makes you realise how ignorant you’ve been and complicit with white supremacy. Naturally, that comes with guilt and I think that’s okay; many Tauiwi people will feel guilt.” Eda says that in this process, she found a lot of beauty in Te Ao Māori, as well as existential lessons around our relationship to the universe. She says, “I can definitely relate it back to my culture - of collectivism and something bigger than right now and the individual - and it’s prompted me to look into my own whakapapa.”


For Darryn, his learning about Aotearoa began at university. “I only properly learnt about Te Tiriti then, and importantly, the historical and political context that existed before, during and continues today. I owe a lot of my journey to Ahorangi Maria Bargh, who also took me to my first protest. I also became involved with Asians Supporting Tino Rangatiratanga. Much of this shaped my learning, before learning Te Reo, and then about Matariki.” These political and historical contexts have been an essential part of his understanding of Matariki and Aotearoa. He says, “It enriches this time when I reflect about how I, as tauiwi, connect to this land and remember those who have gone, and to dream about the future.”


For Serena, learning about Te Ao Māori has played a significant role in understanding herself as Tangata Tiriti and recognising the power and purpose of her own culture and mātauranga. Through understanding herself as Tangata Tiriti she acknowledges the privilege of being in Aotearoa and the importance of actively participating in Te Tiriti o Waitangi.


As a nation, we are on the cusp of a future in which every kid growing up in Aotearoa will engage with, build an understanding of, and celebrate Matariki. But we also have this opportunity right now - we should all build a relationship with Matariki in a truly special way. Matariki means something different to everyone across Aotearoa, but it also opens up opportunities to explore what it means to truly celebrate ourselves, Te Ao Māori and our connection with each other. This is an invitation for us to reflect, learn, celebrate, connect and explore.

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