Sunday, June 14, 2009

Celebrating Matariki

Auckland. April 2009. Ajr
When Te Rangi Huata of Public Dreams Trust organised his first Matariki, or Maori New Year celebrations in Hastings in 2000 he set the wheels in motion for the revival of one of New Zealand’s most ancient celebrations. People all round New Zealand are, or are about to celebrate Matariki, or the Maori New Year. Later today in fact, I’m going to a Matariki kapa haka performance at Christchurch Art Gallery. Matariki is the Maori name for Pleiades, a particularly distinctive cluster of seven stars, which can be seen at some time from most parts of the world. Also known as Messier 45 and the Seven Sisters, the cluster features in the mythology of many cultures - Greek, Aztec, Mayan, Pawnee, Navaho, Australian Aboriginal and Polynesian – and the time of the cluster’s rising (once a year in mid-winter – usually late May or early June) has always been a major indicator of the seasonal changes throughout the ancient world. For Maori in New Zealand, the arrival of the first new moon after the rising of Pleiades in the eastern dawn sky marks the end of the year’s traditional harvest and the beginning of the ‘new year’ planting season. Traditionally Matariki was a time to remember those who had died in the last year; but it was also a celebratory time – with crops harvested, seafood and birds collected and plenty of food in the storehouses, it was a time for singing, dancing and feasting. Matariki celebrations were popular among Maori before the arrival of Europeans and they continued into the 1900s. One of the last recorded traditional festivals was staged in the 1940s. But the celebration dwindled and it was not until the dawn of the 21st century that the tradition was revived. An estimated 500 people attended Te Rangi Huata’s first festival in 2000. By 2003 numbers had risen to 15,000 and the popularity of Matariki throughout the country has been on a steady rise ever since. Matariki is gaining in popularity because it celebrates Maori culture and in doing so brings all New Zealanders together. It’s becoming a little like Thanksgiving or Halloween, except it’s a celebration of Maori culture here in New Zealand. It’s New Zealand’s Thanksgiving perhaps. The celebration of the rising of Matariki and the beginning of the Maori New Year is an opportunity for all New Zealanders to share in aspects of Maori culture and iwi (tribes) throughout the country will be staging a wide range of individual events from late May to July – everything from fireworks, hot air balloons and traditional Maori kite (manu tukutuku) displays to Maori art and craft exhibitions, kite-making workshops, song and dance, street performances, lavish dinners and astronomy evenings.

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