How people and businesses incorporate maramataka Māori into their daily lives

Customary Māori knowledge was once outlawed in this country.

The Tohunga Suppression Act of 1907 forced it underground, but now it's back and thriving and it's open to Māori and non-Māori alike.

One of the most popular strands is maramataka Māori. It's best known as the Māori lunar calendar and is essentially an environmental calendar.

Individuals and businesses are incorporating it into their daily lives to better connect with their environment and plan ahead for the days that are better suited for certain activities.

Mother of twins Ayla Hoeta is one of many Māori reclaiming the ancestral knowledge of maramataka Māori.

"I am way more present and aware and connected than I have been ever before."

Maramataka practitioner Hoeta said knowing the high and low energy days of the moon - to choose the best activity for that day - has made a huge impact on her health and wellbeing as a woman.

"It's changed me in every way. I've adapted how I train, how I garden, and how I practice mindfulness all around the energy phases of the maramataka and I think those things have made me really present and just a lot more aware as a wahine and as a mum."

A universal maramataka Māori uses a 30-day cycle of lunar phases. The position of the sun marks the season and the predawn rising of certain stars marks the month. Twelve stars plus the planet Venus are observed. 

One star is Hakihea, known by western astronomers as Menkent in the Centaurus constellation. Hakihea marks the seventh month of the maramataka and indicates when pohutukawa blossom and for Māori when certain eels begin to migrate.

There are thousands of maramataka used by indigenous people around the world that are localised and regionalised. For Māori, maramataka can tell us the best days for planting, fishing, and harvesting, while also telling us about high and low-energy days, the effect those days can have on people's moods or energies, and how you should best spend your day.

"We can deepen our spirituality around connecting to mother earth," said maramataka practitioner and indigenous environment specialist Tui Shortland. "And I think that following the biodynamics cycles of the sun, and the moon and the tides and being led by the stars helps us to be more content and helps us to be more balanced and lead more of a holistic lifestyle."

A universal maramataka Māori uses a 30-day cycle of lunar phases.
A universal maramataka Māori uses a 30-day cycle of lunar phases. Photo credit: Getty Images

Shortland has been living by her localised maramataka calendar in Whangārei for over 20 years, using knowledge handed down to her by her tipuna, or ancestors.

"For Māori, it's a reclamation of our spirituality, essentially. And maramataka is the way we express our time and space in a different way than the Western world," Shortland said.

"And so maramataka is very much rooted into place. Stars not only tell us when the New Year happens but stars tell us when the next month arrives. And from the stars we also look to the lands for the related indicators and they will tell us about climate to come and what kind of energy is to come."

Shortland said there's been increased interest from individuals, regional councils, and businesses wanting to learn and live in sync with the natural world.

"Businesses can use it for understanding when it is a low energy time and that could be diving into a deep report and doing some serious research and other times being more creative, more positive for coming together and reaching consensus around maybe challenging issues that you need to do," Shortland said. 

"So it's more like, rather than trying to force the work we are trying to do into our everyday business, it's more like understanding those cycles and having time for reflection and recharge in your business and keeping everyone happy."

The traditional knowledge system is making a comeback in modern Aotearoa and has been made into wall calendars, diaries, and been practised in daily online sessions.

Child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr Hinemoa Elder has collated the knowledge from her tribe, Te Aupouri in the far north, in her recent book Wawata - Moon Dreaming.

She said she wanted a way to remember the various names for the 30 different phases of Hina, or the moon.

"I was actually struggling to remember consistently what all Hina's names are throughout the month and so I started collecting and drawing on themes." 

Wawata is a daily guided book exploring how living in sync with the moon can help with finding a growing sense of place and harmony. She uses the techniques as part of her psychiatric practice.

"These are the phases of Hina's face over the next few days, this is what we can expect when we want to think about the garden - mahi māra - when we want to think about fishing - hī ika," Elder said. 

"We want to think about human emotional ties in what we expect and how we can expect them to be flowing and moving and what challenges may face us at each time of the month."

It's the same moon and stars that have been sitting above Aotearoa for centuries but an increasing number of people are taking much more notice of them.

For more info, check with your local maramataka practitioners. Alternatively, here are some:

How people and businesses incorporate maramataka Māori into their daily lives