Te kāhui o Matariki
Matariki is the Māori name for the cluster of stars that signal the beginning of a new year.
As the stories of Matariki differ between different iwi and hapu groups, so do the spelling of the stars’ names. Note that some spellings use hyphens and others do not.
Te iwa o Matariki
Although there are about a thousand stars in Matariki, nine stars are visible to the unaided eye. In te ao Māori, each of the whetū is associated with an aspect of wellbeing and the environment.
- Matariki (Alcyone) – people’s health and wellbeing
- Tupu-ā-rangi (Atlas) – things that grow up in trees, including fruits, berries and birds
- Waipuna-ā-rangi (Electra) – rainfall
- Waitī (Maia) – freshwater bodies and foods from these waters
- Ururangi (Merope) – the winds
- Tupu-ā-nuku (Pleione) – food that is gathered/harvested from the soil
- Waitā (Taygeta) – the ocean and foods that come from it
- Pōhutukawa (Sterope) – those who have passed on
- Hiwa-i-te-rangi (Calaeno) – attainment of goals.
The positions of the whetū within the cluster are meaningful. For example, Waipuna-ā-rangi and Ururangi are above the other whetū because they represent the rain and the wind. Learn more about the whetū in the activity Naming the whetū in te kāhui o Matariki.
Te whānau Matariki
Matariki is the mother of the other eight whetū in the star cluster: Tupu-ā-rangi, Waipuna-ā-rangi, Waitī, Ururangi, Tupu-ā-nuku, Waitā, Pōhutukawa and Hiwa-i-te-rangi.
The rising of Matariki
Matariki is visible almost all year except for right before the Matariki celebration starts in June or July. The short time Matariki appears ‘hidden’ from our perspective on Earth, the star cluster is located behind the Sun. We observe the rising of Matariki in the phase of the Moon called Tangaroa – the moon of plenty. The Moon is a crescent shape, just a few days away from the new moon phase. The date of its rising is predicted using the maramataka Māori – a lunar calendar that is aligned to the phases of the Moon.
Matariki is used to reset the maramataka Māori. The cycle of the Moon around Earth is different to the cycle of Earth around the Sun. The Moon cycle is around 11 days shorter than the solar cycle, meaning that, after 12 months, there are still about 11 days until Earth returns to the same position in its orbit. Stars can be used to reset the lunar calendar because they are in the same place in the sky at the same time in Earth’s orbit. This is why the rising of Matariki isn’t on the same day every year when using a standard 365-day solar calendar. Māori possess a wealth of astronomical knowledge known as tātai arorangi. They also use the maramataka with each phase of the Moon indicating the favourable times for planting, fishing or eeling.
Matariki – star associations
In ea o Māori, each of the whetū in the Matariki star cluster has an association with an aspect of wellbeing and the environment.
Matariki is visible in many locations so has lots of names across different cultures. The Greek name is the Pleiades, in Japan it is called Subaru and in China it is Mao, the Hairy Head of the White Tiger of the West.
After Matariki, the star cluster gets easier to see as it rises earlier and earlier in the morning, then later and later at night. The cluster can be found by looking north-east after the festival of Matariki – find Orion’s Belt and follow the three stars across the sky to the left until you find Matariki. Once you find it the first time, you’ll always be able to spot it because of its distinctive grouping. This makes it a great class stargazing exercise.
This article has been written by Stardome Observatory and Planetarium, which has been operating since 1967. It is a place of exploration, research and sharing of knowledge and hosts New Zealand’s first and still largest planetarium theatre. Stardome Observatory and Planetarium celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2017.
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