What is a hautapu?

In mid-winter, when Matariki appears on the eastern horizon in the morning, a ceremony takes place.

This ceremony is commonly known as whāngai i te hautapu – or hautapu for short. It means to feed the stars with a sacred offering.

The whāngai i te hautapu is split into three main parts.

Te tirohanga | the viewing

When the star cluster is seen on the horizon it is carefully observed in great detail by tohunga. Each of the nine individual stars would be assessed, and mental notes would be made about their brightness, distinctiveness, colour, and distance from the surrounding stars. From these observations, tohunga make predictions about the productivity of the New Year.

Taki mōteatea | remembrance

Tohunga would begin a series of karakia to the cluster and the names of those who had died since the last rising of Matariki would be called out. This is a time to remember the previous year and all our loved ones who have passed since the last appearance of Matariki.

The setup for the inaugural Matariki hautapu at Te Papa, 24 June 2022. Photo by Erica Sinclair. Te Papa

Te whāngai i ngā whetū | feeding the stars

Leading up to Matariki, the community select different kai as an offering. This is done by taking an item from each of the domains of Tupuānuku, Tupuārangi, Watī and Waitā and then offering these foods to the stars.

The idea was that the best and most appropriate kai is selected and offered for the hautapu. Once kai is gathered a special oven is prepared, it’s name is ‘te umu kohukohu whetū’, ‘the steaming earth oven of the stars’. Hot stones are heated and placed in the umu and then the kai is put on top, covered with leaves and earth. These food items would be cooked early in the morning before Matariki rises.

At the completion of the karakia to Pōhutukawa and the calling of the names of the dead the umu is uncovered and the steam from within rises into the sky. Matariki then gathers the kai from the offering and feasts upon them, thus opening the Māori New Year.

The ceremony then ends with the rising of the sun.