Te Papa calls for more New Zealanders to celebrate Matariki

Te Papa's Matariki ritual in 2017.
Te Papa's Matariki ritual in 2017. Photo credit: Te Papa/ Kate Whitley

Te Papa museum is calling for more New Zealanders to celebrate Matariki.

Dr Charles Royal, creative director of Te Papa's Matariki programme, says it should be celebrated as an important national occasion.

Matariki celebrations, known as the Māori New Year, take place when the star cluster known as Matariki rises in the sky during winter.

Dr Royal says Matariki "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".

It traditionally marked the end of a lunar calendar year and the beginning of a new year - according to Maramataka, the Māori lunar calendar. In traditional Matariki celebrations, people lit fires and cooked food on them.

"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.

"Matariki would descend from the skies and partake of the food and be nourished. Nourishing the stars, nourishing the universe."

Dr Royal says today Matariki celebrations are an opportunity for the community to unite, remember those who have passed, celebrate one another, and express their hopes and aspirations.

 "It's also an opportunity to connect with the nature and the cycles of the natural world."

Research conducted by Te Papa in 2017 found 69 percent of the general population are aware of Matariki, but it is not as well known as other events like Chinese New Year.

Matariki celebrations among Māori tended to drop away in the 1930 and 40s, and this was reflected in the research which found people had a low understanding of what Matariki was actually about.

Dr Royal said while there have been calls to create a national holiday, his priority is to see more people participating.

"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."

Te Papa's guide to celebrating Matariki at home:

  • Enjoy a mid-winter feast: Relax, share kai, enjoy good company
  • Light a candle: Remember loved one and give thanks
  • Write down your hopes and dreams: What are they for the year ahead?
  • Reconnect with nature: Walk in the bush, stare at the stars.
  • Play games and tell stories: Play mu torero, share kōrero with whānau.
  • Create a community ritual: Come together over fire, kai, kōrero and games

Te Papa is holding a number of Matariki events from Friday 15  Sunday 24 June.