Mānawa Maiea te Ariki o te Rangi
This feature piece is a reflection on the first Matariki public holiday, by Regan Thompson-Taurima.
As my alarm went off at 3:55am on the morning of our first publicly recognised Matariki, I knew I was about to feel every emotion for the day at 110%.
I'm lucky to be studying te reo Māori in a full immersion course at Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato this year, so the buzz about Matariki was real for all of us leading up to te tau hou Māori. Te Tohu Paetahi (TTP) is a one year course, where we complete all of the 100, 200 and 300 level reo Māori papers consecutively (with a break here and there). We started in Huitanguru, in MĀORI111 with the likes of ‘ko wai mātou?’, ngā nama etc. and are now full speed ahead in MĀORI212 in te reo Māori anake. We’ll be studying until Whiringa-ā-Nuku, and while it already feels surreal to think of the growth of our reo from the beginning to now, the end is growing closer, yet more and more unfathomable, every single day! Definitely a case of the more you know, the less you know. There are around ninety tauira, split into three kōawa, and in kōawa tuatoru we hail from all over the motu. A few who whakapapa to Kāi Tahu and people who have moved up from Ōtautahi for the year (including our tangata Tiriti!); a few who grew up in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, and a few who whakapapa to Taranaki; the majority who grew up in Waikato and surrounding areas and those who whakapapa to Waikato, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Maniapoto and Te Arawa; a hearty Ngāpuhi wahine, as well as my fellow die hard coasties - as we say, Te Tairāwhiti is always on. TTP is a pretty intensive course, as we have whakamātautau and/or kōrero-a-waha every Friday. In the lead up to Matariki, we were sharing our mātauranga of the maramataka and of ngā whetū, our pūrākau of Matariki, and making plans on how we would spend the first Matariki public holiday, being proud to be Māori together.
We met up at 5:30 am at Pukemokemoke for a karakia to start our day, and began our hīkoi to the viewing platform for an unclouded view of Matariki. We shared kōrero, we sang waiata, we recited karakia, and we captured it all with our cameras, and more so in our memories, by being in the moment. However, for the most part, we were silent. Some of our group were disappointed that we couldn't clearly see Matariki clearly for very long, but it made me realise that while seeing the rising and setting of Matariki is a beautiful experience, I don't think that physically seeing the whetū is the most important aspect. The whetū are always there, and what's most important to me is knowing that they are there, feeling them, and thanking them. In some moments on that viewing platform, I could only see the whetū painted atop of the oranges and yellows of the sky, I could only hear the manu, and I could only shed tears. This Matariki, specifically this experience, allowed me to finally find peace for a close friend of my whānau who had passed away last year. I got to hīkoi, to hug and to be proud to be Māori with my friends - all before 7am. What better way to start the day and the new year!
A few hours later we were proud to be Māori all over again. This time it wasn’t on a viewing platform but in a cinema full of people also proud to be Māori at the Lion King: Reo Māori! We laughed loud, we clapped, we cheered, and we definitely cried during all of THOSE scenes... Afterwards we reflected on how Lion King is lowkey a tino Māori movie, with themes of connection to the whenua, fighting for the whenua, and the importance of our tīpuna. What an incredible movie to hear filling a cinema with our reo and mita Māori.
More hours pass, and a sleep deprived group of us gathered in my lounge to play Tākaro and Kaupapa. We played our kēmu Māori - in te reo Māori anake for the first time! We ate kai, and we had big wānanga in my lounge until the early hours of the morning. We talked about our dreams, and each of us spoke about te reo Māori and kaitiakitanga. Personally, I’ve always felt like I have too many dreams for my life - I’m only (hopefully!) a quarter of the way through and it already feels too short to do everything I want to do. Studying Te Tohu Paetahi this year has really grounded me and allowed me to see that I have aspirations for my career, like doing well in the mahi I’ll start at Manatū Aorere at the end of this year, being a writer some day, doing mahi for my marae, my hapū, and being a great kaiako like all of those who got me to where I am today. Those dreams all feel a lot more obtainable as I attain my reo this year, but they also feel less… significant to my real dreams in life. Those dreams are rooted in my connection to my whakapapa, and wanting to be a good teina, a good tamāhine, a good mokopuna, a good member of my marae, my hapū, my hāpori as a manuhiri on whenua I don’t whakapapa to, as well as - if I am lucky enough to become one - a good māmā some day. After our wānanga about our dreams, a fellow proud coastie of mine referred to the kaikōrero of the pre-dawn Matariki ceremony at Te Papa as the "justice league of tohunga", and the rest will stay in that room, on that night, forever.
Our first Matariki public holiday as a nation was one of the best days of my life. For the entire day I felt the proudest I've ever been to be Māori, because I got to celebrate the sheer magnitude of talent that exists within our people. Like the late Dr. Moana Jackson said all those Matariki ago, we were and always will be scientists, anthropologists, orators, artists, storytellers and amongst everything else, we will always be Māori.
This Matariki I got to farewell someone who meant so much to me, to my whānau, and to my community in a way I hadn't yet been able to do in almost 8 months. I shed the happiest and realest tears I have ever shed in my life. I laughed at 5am in the car with my friends on the way to the maunga, at 11am in the movie theatre surrounded by Māori voices and waiata, and at 11pm in my lounge with my friends as we dreamed of our collective futures. I have learned, had wānanga and have celebrated this Matariki with the people I'm lucky enough to be on my reo Māori haerenga with and I can't wait to (hopefully!) tell my tamariki and my mokopuna about the first Matariki public holiday we had as a nation.
It means more than any words I can express to experience a public holiday which recognises our mātauranga, our people and our culture. Matariki is a time of celebration as much as it is a time of remembrance. One of my best friends said she hopes stores never have Matariki specials, and I agree - with that kōrero, but more so of what it symbolises. While so much mahi has been done to achieve this national public holiday, it really is only the foundations for the work left to be done. I hope we continue forward with our own authentic and meaningful celebrations. I hope we continue to indigenise our ways of thinking and of living. I hope we always remember the significance of Matariki and what this has meant for our tīpuna as well as what it will mean for our mokopuna. I don’t know if we can see it yet, but in the future, we will talk about this time - of the beginning of our mātauranga and our pūrākau being recognised and celebrated in the mainstream - as we talk about the 1970s and 1980s for the beginning of the revival of te reo Māori. What an exciting prospect, but also, what a wero!
I hope one day soon we give Dr Rangi Matamua and our other tohunga who have been vital in getting us this far, the rest they all deserve so that they may be at home during Matariki, acknowledging te tau hou Māori with their whānau and on their whenua, instead of having to educate the public in the weeks leading up to and following Matariki. Us rangatahi are privileged with these opportunities, and hold the responsibility to build upon them. For me, I’m at the beginning of my understanding of maramataka and of te taiao Māori, so building upon general knowledge with my mātauranga Rongomaiwahine me Kahungunu, and sharing this with my whānau and continuing from there, are my next steps. I encourage us all to look at where we are now, and think of where we can go next.
Regardless of what lies ahead for the future of the Matariki public holiday, I hope there are decades and centuries to come where we celebrate our people and our mātauranga, where we remember our loved ones, and where we are proud to be Māori.
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.