Matariki: Celebrating the joy of Maori New Year

Published on Tuesday, 14 July 2020
Last updated on Wednesday, 21 October 2020

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The start of the Māori New Year is underway, heralded by the rise of the star cluster known in Māori as Matariki, and bringing with it a joyful celebration of people, culture, language, spirituality and history. 

As young children love space, stars and celebrations, this national festival provides countless opportunities for cultural experiences, learning and fun during its official dates from 13 – 20 July.

Matariki is richly underpinned by Māori tradition and practice. It is an event all about whānau (family), coming together and celebration. By offering young children meaningful learning opportunities during this time, educators can nurture their cultural understanding and respect for Maori heritage, offering a host of fun activities such as craft, stories, food and exploration. 

What is Matariki

Matariki is the Māori name of a star constellation that is visible in our night sky at a specific time of the year; it is also referred to as the seven sisters and is known internationally as Pleiades. The rise of Matariki in the winter skies above Aotearoa signifies the start of the Māori New Year.

Different tribes celebrated Matariki at different times. To some tribes the New Year in mid-winter was signalled by the dawn rising of Matariki, while to others it was the rising of Puanga (Rigel in Orion).

Unlike the western New Year, the dates of Matariki change year by year. This year the Matariki period is from 13 – 20 July. 

Matariki is a time for whānau and communities to come together to acknowledge the year gone by and make plans for the year ahead. Traditionally it was a time for remembering the dead and celebrating new life. It was also a time of harvest and to plant new crops for the coming year. Legend has it the brighter the stars, the warmer the season and the more bountiful the crops will be.

This is a wonderful time to promote our environment, create a feeling of belonging and to promote a sense of community between educators, the children, family and whānau at your early childcare centre. Involve all of your community in your celebrations and everyone will have fun in the process. 

Five fun and simple ideas to celebrate Matariki 

1. Invite Māori whānau or a guest to come and talk about Matariki. Consult with them about the activities you are running and invite them to talk about what Matariki means to them and their culture. 

Encourage them to share stories about their family celebrations and experiences. Organising a performance will entertain and engage children creatively, allowing them to join in and develop their language and dance skills. Prepare the children before the visit by listening and learning this Matariki waiata

2. Get creative. Prepare a visual celebration of stars and imagery to capture Matariki. Here is a list of crafts to keep young hands engaged.

Kites have always played an important role in Māori culture. They fly close to the stars and connect the heavens and earth. Depending on the age of the children educators can either organise for them to make a simple kite with a handful of everyday craft items or simply provide them with a cut-out kite shape and let the kids paint, colour or collage in colourful tissue paper in their own creative way. 

Ask children to collect sticks from outside or use paddle pop sticks with some bright yarn to make the colour pop on these simple star creations.  

  • Sticker constellation

Print out the nine stars of Matariki as a guide and let the kids have a go at replicating the constellation with gold star stickers on dark paper. 

Simple and super fun, this is great activity for the budding young astronomer and the telescope can double up for daytime bird watching.

Use the link to access a template feather stencil, or draw your own, and let the children have fun with colouring as they develop their fine motor skills and artistic skills. Put the feathers together and display the finished korowai.

3. Celebrate with traditional food. Cooking food to mark Matariki is a Maori gesture that carries a strong sense of connection between the living, spiritual and natural world. 

Consider preparing a menu of foods to present during Matariki that include traditional vegetables such as Kūmara, Taewa (Māori potatoes), Kamo Kamo, Taro, Puha (similar to cabbage) and Uwhi (yam). Cook up some Fried Bread and involve the children in the accessible parts of the recipe method. You could even cook up a Friendship Soup. Simply ask each child to bring in a small vegetable and use it to make a dish everyone can share. 

4. Plant a tree. As Matariki is strongly associated with the celebration of harvest and gifting food it makes sense to add a new fruit tree to your garden, perhaps something that will ripen this time next Matariki, such as a lemon, lime or mandarin in a large pot. Matariki is also a time of planning and preparing the ground for the new year's crops so the children can prepare the vegetable garden by sowing a green manure crop so it’s ready to dig over and plant in spring. 

5. Share stories. When stories are told they spark a connection. They pass on knowledge and help children to understand themselves and others. Matariki stories can provide a gateway towards better understanding and shared human values across cultures. Here are three stories for the classroom and to share at home with families:

An imaginative approach to helping children experience Matariki can support their learning in many areas. By promoting the spirit of community and belonging during this celebration, children can express their ideas and feelings about the event through creative art, music and dance. The sharing of Maori stories, food and culture has great significance in nurturing a child’s awareness of traditions, culture and understanding of Aotearoa history.

Some Matariki facts

  • Matariki literally means the "eyes of god" (mata ariki) or "little eyes'" (mata riki). According to myth, when Ranginui, the sky father, and Papatūānuku, the earth mother, were separated by their children, the god of the winds, Tāwhirimātea, became so angry that he tore out his eyes and threw them into the heavens.
  • Māori would observe the sky from sunset to sunrise and take meaning from the stars’ position, colour, movement and brightness. They took all kind of omens and meaning from the heavens, believing stars foretold fortune and future.

Resources and further reading

Te Kete Ipurangi: Matariki

Kiwi Kids News: Matariki – should it be a holiday?

Matariki, Celebrating new beginnings while acknowledging history and traditions

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