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  • Taylor-Rose Terekia & Antonia Quinn

Tauira reflect on the first Matariki public holiday

Aotearoa celebrated its first ever Indigenous public holiday, Matariki, on Friday 24th June. To mark this momentous occasion, Te Pararē gathered kōrero from tauira across the motu on the significance of this day for their whānau, iwi, hapū and for the nation as a whole.

New experiences and new learning

For some, the sign of the Māori new year has inspired the pursuit of further mātauranga. Maioha, a tauira at Otago, recalls welcoming Matariki on an early morning trip to the beach, an experience that conjured profound emotion.

Watching Tamanuiterā rising above the horizon and Matariki fading into the light, I had the huge urge to karanga. Kāore au i tuku karanga, he whakamā nōku. However, because of that moment I am dedicating this year to building my confidence within the tikanga Māori space.”

The new year can bring about many possibilities, new goals to achieve and a fresh perspective. Maioha reflected on this, and her long term goal is “to be a boss ass wahine that has the mātauranga and the ability to do it all.”

AUT Māori graduate and stalwart Abel, saw the new public holiday as another reason to further develop understanding of Matariki for their iwi.

“My whānau have been doing weekly classes to learn our reo, waiata, karakia and whakapapa. With the arrival of Matariki we have begun study of the Maramataka of back home, and perhaps most interestingly - researching the origins of celestial bodies according to Ngāti Porou. This adds to our collective knowledge and understanding of the world.”

Group of rangatahi dressed warmly stand together with a pou that stands at Oruaiti. Behind them is the harbour, hills and a beautiful early morning sky.
Keiha and mates at Oruaiti. Pikitia nā: Katlyn Potiki

With the revival of Matariki comes the revival of traditional practices within whānau and communities. Keiha, who is studying his Masters at Vic, experienced his first dawn hautapu ceremony with a group of friends at Oruaiti, Te Whanganui-a-Tara.

“We waited so we could see Matariki and had some kai cooking, and then we didn’t really see it, but, once we kind of saw the spot where it was supposed to be we started karakia, karanga to the mate, and haka.”

Following the ceremony, they returned to Vic campus where Ngāi Tauira provided parakuihi for the group. Keiha says, “It’s the first time I’ve ever done that and it was amazing.”

Leading the celebrations

The Matariki celebrations extended to university campuses, as Māori student rōpū organised events for their peers and wider student communities.

For tauira in Ōtautahi, kicking off the first year of Matariki as a national holiday meant a time of celebration, kai and entertainment. Te Akatoki were proud leaders of Matariki events on their Ōtautahi campus. They hosted a collaborative string of events named Te Ahunga o Matariki, each with different themes and with diverse roopū. From hīkoi to kōrero about Matariki with mana whenua, maara kai workshop, boil up, and concluded the celebration of Matariki with a formal dinner with the Pākehā student roopū.

On the final event, tumuaki Rosa shares her joy about the turnout “with over 200 people and 4 different performing roopū which included kura kaupapa, whānau [and] iwi branch groups, Samoan students association and Malaysian traditional dancing”

Despite the freezing temperatures, Te Rōpū Māori (TRM), also celebrated Matariki with a week full of events down in Ōtepoti. TRM partnered with Te Huka Mātauraka and the Office of Māori Development to put on “Te Tauhoko nui o Matariki” which was their Matariki night market. Many tauira, whānau and staff members came together to support this kaupapa and it attracted many people of different race and backgrounds. Tumuaki Jade was especially stoked by the response of non-Māori, “From what we saw and heard there was a keen interest in wanting to learn about Matariki and to support the various kaupapa that were going on in celebration of Matariki.”.

Kapa haka is performed by tauira who are dressed in all blacks, on a black stage with red stage lighting. They look stunning!
Jade (far left) with Te Rōpū Māori, performing at 'Te Tauhoko nui o Matariki'. Pikitia nā: University of Otago

Massey’s Pukeahu Campus saw tauira get together at Te Rau Karamu Marae, to do raranga and painting workshops welcoming in the Māori New Year. Tauira got to stay overnight in the cosy wharenui and enjoy a mean as hakari together. Kōkiri Ngātahi’s Christian Hawira-Seanoa was humbled by the experience, saying he “felt like I’ve always celebrated Matariki on campus the most.”. Being able to remain grounded in māoritanga at these tertiary spaces are vital for our tauira māori, and what better way to emphasise this through the cultural traditions that can be proudly shared and acknowledged all over the motu.

Other student rōpū will be continuing their Matariki celebrations and learning in the weeks to come. In Kirikiriroa, Te Waiora o te Whare Waananga o Waikato will be holding their first ever hautapu ceremony over a three day wānanga in July, which is said to include learning of the mātauranga and tikanga within and in the performing of hautapu rituals.

The first Indigenous public holiday

Unlike Waitangi Day, and far from Queens’ Birthday, Matariki is the first national public holiday that is distinctly Indigenous in origin. The Māori new year and the star cluster of Matariki and Puanga, like many of our tikanga and mātauranga, have been subjected to colonisation and lost over time. Most whānau these days are only just relearning and rediscovering what Matariki means for them and how it can be celebrated in practice, with a revival of knowledge becoming more widely accessible thanks to the likes of Dr Rangi Mātāmua.

So, has the status of Matariki now officially becoming a national holiday of Aotearoa for non-Māori and Māori alike, made a difference in the eyes of tauira Māori?

For Abel, it’s simple. “Give it one generation to see what our nation makes of it. Good start, still finding our feet.”

Jade reckons it’s a good start that can only get better, “If this year's Matariki was anything to go off of, we can only imagine how great it’ll be for years to come!”

“Now that Matariki is recognised nationally, we’re beginning to see more and more people wanting to learn about it all and for me personally I think that this is a small step on the right direction for our Reo, our Tikanga, and Te Ao Māori in general becoming more normalised and accepted within Aotearoa”

A stage with a band performing is the centre. A full crowd dressed in winter clothes can be seen in the foreground. There are tent stalls on the sides. Selwyn College is the background and hills of Ōtepoti beyond that.
Matariki night markets attracts all kinds of people on Otago's campus. Pikitia nā: University of Otago.

“Also, how cool is it that our tamariki and mokopuna get to grow up with Matariki as a public holiday?”

For Mishael, a tauira of Te Awhioraki, she’s enjoyed seeing more organisations such as councils participating in the celebrations and holding events for the wider public. These provide opportunities for Māori of all backgrounds to feel included. She shares that “as a Māori whose whānau are disconnected [it] feels like there’s something for even me”.

Wary of the mainstream

The mainstream influence on Matariki is also something on the minds of tauira. Mishael says that the flipside of organisations celebrating Matariki is the potential for hyper commercialism and appropriation.

Projection of Matariki artwork and information on the side of Te Papa Tongarewa building. It is dark and the night sky is above. Some small silhouettes of people walk below.
Matariki projection on Te Papa Tongarewa.

Te Aroha, a nursing graduate and reo student, is happy to see Matariki publicly recognised and embraced by non-Māori, but has also felt the reality that not all non-Māori are on board the waka. “I have been in spaces where I feel there is a divide and felt really judged for being Māori. It doesn't surprise me but I like to take the opportunity to teach others where I can.”

While Keiha enjoyed the public Matariki events, he noticed they can feel quite impersonal when looking at the public large-scale projections and fireworks that took place in Pōneke, compared to the personal and spiritual experience of a hautapu ceremony.

Final whakaaro

Recognising Matariki as a public holiday is a step forward in terms of the Government's commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi and uplifting Māori. The day encourages all people of Aotearoa to recognize significance of mātauranga Māori that is unique to this whenua. From the whānau of Te Pararē, we hope you’ve had a restful period to remember those who have past, recentre yourself in this present moment, and plan ahead for the bright future before us.

Mānawa maiea te putanga o Matariki

Mānawa maiea te ariki o te rangi

Mānawa maiea te mātahi o te tau


Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.


Ngā ingoa rōpū / Student association names mentioned:

Ngāi Tauira = Victoria University of Wellington Māori Students' Association

Te Akatoki = Māori Students Association University of Canterbury

Te Rōpū Māori = University of Otago Māori Students' Association

Kōkiri Ngātahi = Massey University Wellington Māori Students' Association

Te Waiora = Waikato University Māori Students' Association

Te Awhioraki = Lincoln University Māori Students' Association

Māori student association's are student lead rōpū who provide tauira to tauira support. Most rōpū have social media pages or whare on your campus - don't hesitate to reach out to them!


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