Sunday, 25th June 2000


Matariki, the Maori new year
by Ross Nepia Himona



On Friday night, Maori in Central Wellington gathered at the Maori owned Paua Bar to celebrate with song, dance and food, the season of Matariki, the Maori new year.

Te Huihui o Matariki is the constellation of Pleiades, and its rising is widely celebrated in the Pacific, where Matariki is also known as Matali'i, Mataliki, Makali'i, Mata-ali'i, Makahiki, and other variants. There is also some variation from place to place as to whether it is the heliacal (dawn) rising, or the evening rising, that is celebrated. In some places in Aotearoa New Zealand it is not Matariki at all, but the heliacal rising of Puanga (Rigel), that heralds the new year. In my tribes we celebrate the dawn rising of Matariki, and the plenitude of food-supplies that the season brings with it.

The dawn rising occurs in June, close to the winter solstice. However the evening rising celebrated in much of the Pacific occurs in November/December. It seems that here in Aotearoa we long ago changed our celebration to suit our colder climate, and perhaps to gain a six month lead on our brothers and sisters across Te Moana-nui-A-Kiwa, the Pacific Ocean.

Traditionally Matariki was greeted by lamentation for those who had passed on since the last celebration, and by singing, dancing, joy, festivity and feasting, to mark the regeneration of the world for yet another round of seasons, in an eternal parade of passing seasons.

On Friday I silently hoped that Matariki would bring not just an end to the ordeal of the hostages in Suva, but a new beginning, a regeneration, for our brothers and sisters in Fiji. As that drawn out crisis stutters to an end, there does seem some hope that the hostages will be released in this auspicious season, that the lamentations may be cried, and that celebration and festivity may begin again.

Matariki is a time also to pause and meditate with reverence upon the wonder of the thousands of years that the indigenous peoples of the Pacific have bathed in the healing and life-giving radiance of Matariki, throughout the whole of the peopling of that vast ocean. A time to look back over thousands of years, and reflect upon the relative insignificance of ones own fleeting lifetime in that parade of lifetimes.

A time to stand back and place into perspective, within an historical record of thousands of years, this short five-week crisis in Fiji; perhaps itself heralding the beginning of an end to a slightly longer 126 year crisis, occasioned by the Cession of Fiji to the British in 1874.

It is too easy to be caught up in the European remembrance of time in the Pacific, spanning a mere two centuries or more; and to adopt their time-starved sense of urgency, panic and disaster when harmony is temporariy disrupted. We Pacific peoples ought to remember that it is our sense of time and history that matters in this region, not theirs, and that we have survived thousands of similar events, including the devastation of colonisation; and we are still here.

As we gaze upon Matariki in this new Maori year, let us remember that Matariki has looked down upon us for many thousands of years, and will for thousands of years to come.


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