Friday, June 24, 2022 history was made. Matariki, sometimes referred to as the Maori New Year, was celebrated as a national New Zealand holiday for the first time. Until then, no celebration by an indigenous people was so recognised anywhere in the world. It centres on a cluster of stars that in the west were known as the Pleiades or Seven Sisters. They are 410 light years away and part of the constellation Taurus.
The Maori named them after the brightest of nine stars they call Matariki, the mother of the other eight. Each star is honoured for a specific thing.
Probably forever people everywhere have been fascinated by the night sky. If you have ever been in a remote location far from the pollution of city lights on a moonless night, the stars are a staggering, awe-inspiring, humbling, mystical sight. This was the night sky people saw every cloudless night before Edison gave us light. In the 16th century people looked to the stars for omens and to predict the future. They were considered the source of our fate and the idea that our lives are written in the stars, spawning the popularity of horoscopes.
Some resisted this notion. In his play Julius Caesar, Shakespeare has Cassius say to Brutus “The fault…is not in our stars, But in ourselves.”
Far away from these western influences, Maori and other Polynesian people viewed the stars quite differently. They were god-like beings helping us to navigate life. They called us to remember those who preceded us. They called us to unity. They called us to care for our environment. They called us to dream. The of Matariki celebrated at the Winter Solstice was a reminder to be fully human not by chance but by choice.
Matariki is at the heart of Maori identity. The values it uplifts are values peoples of any culture or place on the planet can cherish and seek to embody. To learn more listen to Maori voices tell the story: