Te Papa wants Matariki celebrated as an event of national identity

People light tea lights and put them on the pond outside of Te Papa, 2017. Te Papa

Te Papa believes Matariki should be celebrated by all New Zealanders as an indigenous event of national identity.

Te Papa has marked Matariki for many years, and played an important role in revitalising interest in the event. This year, it will hold for the second time, a Matariki community ritual, along with other public events.

But beyond the museum’s walls, Te Papa wants to see Matariki celebrated by all New Zealanders, as a unique expression of national unity.

Matariki, sometimes called the Māori New Year, is celebrated when the star cluster known as Matariki rises in the sky during winter.

Dr Charles Royal, creative director of Te Papa’s Matariki programme, says the time is right for Matariki to take its place as an important national occasion.

“I think people are looking for an expression of national culture - an event of national unity across the diversity of the country,” says Dr Royal

“Let’s shape Matariki into such an event - for all, by all, with elements inspired by our indigenous Māori culture.”

Matariki traditionally marked the end of a lunar calendar year - according to Maramataka, the Māori lunar calendar – and the beginning of a new year. For this reason, Matariki like all cultural new year festivals around the world, has a primary theme of renewal.

Dr Royal said that the themes of Matariki are universal. It is a time of renewal, a time to gather with family and friends, and a time to acknowledge those who have passed in the year gone by.

“Traditionally, fires were lit and food was cooked on these fires. It is said that the aroma from the cooked food would be a conduit to release the spirits of loved ones who had died in the year gone by,” says Dr Royal.

“It is said that Matariki would descend from the skies and partake of the food and be nourished. Nourishing the stars, nourishing the universe.”

“Today Matariki provides an opportunity to come together, to remember those that have passed, to celebrate one another and to express our hope and aspirations.”

“It’s also an opportunity to connect with the nature and the cycles of the natural world.”

Dr Royal said calls to create a national holiday were an interesting reflection of the growing interest in Matariki.

“Yes, it would be great to have it marked by a national holiday, but what is more important is that we take the time to acknowledge who we are and to express love for these islands that we call our home,” he says.

Research – what Kiwis think about Matariki

In 2017, Te Papa conducted research with a nationally representative sample of one thousand New Zealanders over the age of 18 to find out about public understanding and participation in Matariki nationally.

The study revealed that Matariki has a solid base of awareness within NZ, with 69% of the overall population aware of it. But there is still work to do to raise this to the awareness of other events such as Chinese New Year, which is significantly better known.

However, it also showed that people felt they had a low understanding of what Matariki was actually about, even Māori themselves who are closer to Matariki felt they didn’t have a clear understanding of what it was.

“This isn’t surprising. Matariki celebrations among Māori tended to drop away in the 1930 and 40s,” says Dr Royal.

How to celebrate Matariki at home

“We want to encourage people to celebrate Matariki either at home and or as part of community event themed around renewal. It’s easy and fun and just what is needed during the cold winter months,” says Dr Royal.

Suggestions include: Gather your whānau and friends, enjoy a mid-winter feast, light a candle to remember loved ones, write down your hopes and dreams, tell stories and reconnect with nature. Or come together with your wider community and create a community ritual based around these ideas.

Te Papa Matariki events

“We're celebrating Matariki at Te Papa from Fri 15 – Sun 24 June 2018 and we’ll kick off the celebrations with a community ritual for the whole family – it was really incredible last year and we had a capacity crowd,” says Dr Royal.

The ritual, centred around a fire where storytelling will take place, will be held in Te Papa’s amphitheatre on Friday 15 June at 7.30pm. Stories will include the Māori creation story and the story of Tāne who adorned the heavens with stars. Lights will be placed on the pond to farewell loved ones, and aspirations will be gathered in a community basket.

Other Te Papa activities will include: an art project headed by internationally acclaimed NZ artist Michel Tuffery who will work with selected Wellington secondary school students. The art work, which is inspired by the rising of the Matariki star cluster, will be displayed on the Te Papa store windows.

Matariki storytelling in Te Reo Māori translated into English will feature, and on Saturday 23 and Sunday June, the popular Taikura Kapa Haka (formerly known as Kaumātua Kapa Haka) performance will also take place. Now in its 10th year, this is an opportunity to celebrate haka and waiata with more than 450 senior Māori performing artists from around Aotearoa.

Te Papa provides a very popular source of information via its website to help people learn more about Matariki and ways of celebrating it. www.tepapa.govt.nz/matariki


For more info contact Andrea Tandy, Senior Communications Advisor, Te Papa, 029 601 0010 or email andrea.tandy@tepapa.govt.nz

Notes to the Editors:

Matariki at Te Papa

Matariki Ritual: Friday 15 June, 7.30 – 9pm, Te Papa Amphitheatre – access through Red Gates. If wet this will be moved to Te Marae, Level 4. See last year’s video here: https://youtu.be/bTf6_N8sG8o

Ngā Whetu ō Matariki: the Michael Tuffery project Thursday 14 & Friday 15 June, Te Papa Store windows, Level 1.

Matariki Storytelling: Saturday 16 & Sunday 17 June 11am – 12pm & 2 - 3pm. Te Marae, level 4.

Taikura Kapa Haka: Saturday 23 & Sunday 24 June, 10am – 5.30pm, Soundings Theatre, level 2.

How to celebrate Matariki at home

  1. Enjoy a mid-winter feast: Relax, share kai, enjoy good company

  2. Light a candle: Remember loved one and give thanks

  3. Write down your hopes and dreams: What are they for the year ahead?

  4. Reconnect with nature: Walk in the bush, stare at the stars.

  5. Play games and tell stories: Play mu torero, share kōrero with whānau.

  6. Create a community ritual: Come together over fire, kai, kōrero and games

The stars

The Matariki star constellation sets on 7 June and rises 6-9 July and can be seen from the 6-13 July – it is found low on the horizon in the north east of the sky pre-dawn (5.30-6.30am). Watch our helpful video of how to find the Matariki star cluster in the night sky.