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'Not just unique to Māori' - Astronomer explains the importance of Matariki

The two stars of pipiri rising above the horizon yesterday signalled the first day of the Māori year. But stargazers will have to wait to see Matariki and celebrate Māori New Year, astronomer Rangi Matamua says.

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The two stars of pipiri rising above the horizon yesterday signalled day one of the Māori year, but stargazers will have to wait to see Matariki, astronomer Rangi Matamua says. Source: Breakfast

“We follow a lunar stellar system of time, Māori did, there are many different variations across the different regions and different tribes about how the system is applied,” the University of Waikato indigenous studies and astronomy academic told Breakfast.

Matamua says while yesterday was the first day of the Māori calendar year yesterday, it was not time to celebrate the New Year yet.

“We have this idea in our mind which is very western, everything has to start at the first and it’s a numerical thing whereas for Māori we wait for the triangulation of sun, plus star, plus moon,” he said.

“While it is the first month of the Māori year, we’re not actually in the New Year, Matariki is invisible until later on in the month.

“You have to align Matariki with the correct lunar phase which is actually the last quarter of this month which will be on the second to the fifth of July.”

Matamua did not want stargazers wasting their time looking for Matariki as he gave advice for seeing the star once it rose in about a week.

“Hate people to be out there on top of hills and then ringing us saying what are we looking at because it’ll still be below the horizon,” a laughing Matamua said.

“If you’re looking east near where the sun is going to rise, you’ll see Orion’s belt, that is the pot, the three stars of Orion’s belt, you’ll see it sitting on the horizon just before the sun.

“You go left, and left a little bit further and you’ll see this small cluster of stars, that’s Matariki.

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“We’ll see Matariki rising in probably about a week’s time and slowly start to become more visible as it gets higher and higher away from the sun.”

Matariki provided a guiding light for cultures across the Pacific, not just in Aotearoa.

“It’s not just unique to Māori, it’s right across the Pacific, from Hawaii to Easter Island even into Melanesia and Micronesia,” Matamua said.

“It was a star that was so important and right across the world in ancient cultures.

“To fertility, to rebirth, here in Aotearoa it happens to rise around the middle of winter just before the sun does.”

The Gregorian calendar had also flipped the annual cycle of many cultures, including Māori, Matamua said.

“All cultures around the world pretty much celebrated their New Year in the middle of winter.”

“What we’ve done is imported a northern hemisphere celebration of new years and that’s why we do in in the summer. It’s completely reversed our understanding of time so when we’re meant to be working hard and flat out in the summer and the harvest in the autumn we’re actually on holiday and when we’re meant to be resting in the winter, according to the Māori calendar, we’re running around like crazy people when it’s snowing and there is ice.”