Green Party calls for Matariki to become public holiday

The Green Party has called for Matariki - the annual appearance of a cluster of stars signalling the start of Māori New Year - to become a public holiday.

The additional day off would allow New Zealanders to celebrate the Māori New Year over a long weekend. 

"Here in Aotearoa, there has been an incredible push to embrace tikanga Māori. The time has come for there to be a Māori holiday on our whenua, further revitalising Māori culture," Greens co-leader and Māori development spokesperson, Marama Davidson, said on Tuesday.

"We should absolutely be pushing for this extra public holiday that gives us time for leisure, celebration and time with whānau. It gives us time to look up at the night sky and teach our kids about how Māori used the stars to predict the weather and find their way at sea.

"We can teach them how we used this time of year to mark a transition, honouring those that have passed in the previous year and welcoming the Māori New Year."

Tourism spokesperson Gareth Hughes said the public holiday would increase "cultural awareness around our shared history", while offering New Zealanders a long weekend to travel and support small businesses affected by the ongoing pandemic.

"New Zealanders work really hard and are at the lower end of the scale internationally when it comes to annual public holidays. Another day off to get out and celebrate with family would be well overdue," Hughes said.

"When it comes to those public holidays, it's appropriate that there's days to celebrate tikanga Māori alongside Euro-centric celebrations."

The Matariki star cluster.
The Matariki star cluster. Photo credit: File

The Matariki star cluster signals the beginning of Māori New Year. According to Maramataka - the Māori lunar calendar - the reappearance of Matariki brings the previous lunar year to a close, marking a time of celebration and renewal.

Historically, tohunga - priests or chosen iwi experts - would look to Matariki to predict the abundance of the next harvest. The brighter and clearer the stars appeared, the warmer the growing season would be. Tohunga kōkōrangi - expert astronomers - also historically used stars and star clusters, including Matariki, to navigate across the Pacific.

Speaking to The Hui for their Matariki special earlier this month, Dr Rangi Mātāmua, an astronomy academic and lecturer in Māori and Indigenous Studies at the University of Waikato, discussed the recent revival and resurgence of traditional Māori knowledge.

"I've had people say to me, 'that's not proper science'. I feel like saying, 'you go out on that ocean, and you see how far you get on myths and legends'," he told The Hui. "It irks me that, you know, it's such a racist point of view.

"When I look up into the sky, that's the same sky that my ancestor viewed. I love the narratives of the stars... their meanings and their purpose."

New Zealand celebrates 10 public holidays annually: New Year's Day; Day after New Year's Day; Waitangi Day (February 6); Good Friday and Easter Monday (April); Anzac Day (April 25); Queen's Birthday (first Monday in June); Labour Day (fourth Monday in October); Christmas Day and Boxing Day.