Why is Matariki important?

Matariki morning sky

I’ve been thinking a lot about Matariki lately.  Why is Matariki important for Aotearoa?  What does it mean to live this Maramataka life? And I realised I was missing the wood for the trees.  Or the universe for the stars shall we say. 

You know, there’s a reason you feel sluggish and unmotivated at this time of year.  It’s the end of the old year and the very beginning of the new.  It’s winter.  It is the season for hunkering down, going in. Seeking rest and rejuvenation so that you can be restored, ready for the spring that will inevitably come with all its needs and expectations.

We’ve simply got it flipped upside down here in Aotearoa at the moment. We live a Northern hemisphere timetable in a southern hemisphere world. 

Look at the earth.  What does she do over winter?  Yes, she rests.  The plants slow their growth or even die away completely. Withdrawing to rest in the warmth and the safety of the earth.  Animals, birds, insects, they all rest over winter.  Some hibernating the entire way through.  Most living off the stores they built up over the warm months. Living safe and warm in burrows, in nests, in holes or hives.  Resting, reserving their energy, staying where it is safe and warm and waiting out the winter.   The earth rests, the animal’s rest. It is the natural way of things over the winter.

Why do we think we are any different?  Humans need rest too. We all know this. We all have to sleep each day. And if we don’t sleep, or we don’t find rest, we start to go a little dolallie.  We get snappy, grumpy, stressed out.  Our body and mind may even give up entirely and force us into a state of rest.  

Just as winter is a time of rest for the planet it is also a time of rest for humanity.  Over winter don’t you naturally find that you want to sleep longer, stay home more, be with your whanau where it is safe and warm?  That’s because our bodies want to rest and this is the time for it. 

Look to the north, that is what they do over winter.  Stay in, sleep, rest, stay warm, rejuvenate. And it just so happens their winter lines up with their New Year and all that entails.  Then, as the new year unfolds so does the earth.  The crocuses are first to come out with the snowdrops.  Then baby animals arrive as the days become longer and the buds burst on the trees.  So to the socialising starts up in earnest again, BBQ’s, weddings, dining out with friends.  And the mahi, as the ground needs planting, the animals need more care, business gears up again.  

It all makes such perfect sense when you think about it.  The cycle of the seasons, rest and energy, cold and warm, short days and long.  All the earth knows it.  

And that is what Matariki is about, recognising the cycle of the seasons – the work, the rest and the rebirth.    It is not just some stars in the sky. 

When the Matariki star cluster reappears in our skies it is midwinter.  Traditionally everyone was in a period of rest. The crops had been harvested, seafood and birds collected, the kai stored, the gardens laid out.  The busy work over the warm seasons was done and the people retreated inward, using this winter time to do the jobs that could not be done over the busy growing period. 

Then Matariki would reappear on the horizon, marking the beginning of the new year. But that’s not really a good way to describe it. It actually marked the beginning of the seasonal cycle again.  When those stars rose the tupuna knew where they were in the cycle of the year.  They knew that from there on in the days would get longer, and warmer and spring was coming.  They knew that the time of busy-ness was a few short moons away. So this was time, this midwinter time was time to rest. A rest that is as essential to humanity as it is to whole earth. 

So while all this Matariki focus is awesome, it really is my hope that once you start celebrating Matariki you too will begin the journey into a new understanding of Aotearoa and the cycle of life in the southern hemisphere.  

Hopefully, this new understanding will help you shift your yearly cycles into one that fits more comfortably with our seasons here in Aotearoa.  One that leaves you feeling rested and ready for the year ahead. Not strung out and exhausted because you are pushing yourself when the earth is resting.   And ultimately, we hope that all this learning will propel you on to a journey of a new understanding of Te Ao Māori.  Because when we all understand one another better the world will be a better place.  Right?

Matariki hunga nui, Matariki ahunga nui

Matariki has many admirers, Matariki brings us together.


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Kāhu hawk pounamu pendant

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