Opinion: Happy Maori New Year


Today, if you wake up sometime before dawn, remember this column and take a look outside your bedroom window.

If the sky is clear, face the northeastern horizon and count “the eyes of god” – the seven bright blue stars clustered in the eastern sky.

For Maori, the seven stars mark Matariki, or the new year. In Europe the cluster is known as the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters.

In the traditional telling, the seven stars are the eyes of Tawhirimatea, the god of wind, who in anger and grief at his parents’ separation ripped his eyes out and cast them to the wind.

In old times, when his eyes appeared in the sky, tribes would, either this month or the next, prepare the ground for the new agricultural year, begin lessons at the tribal wananga (learning houses) and more. But in colonial and post-colonial times, Matariki wasn’t a thing.

Most New Zealanders didn’t know about it. Governments ignored it.

Many Maori communities were left to mark the time quietly, not making a fuss and certainly not asking for recognition.

Like te reo Maori or kapa haka, the country understood Matariki as simply “a Maori thing” rather than “a New Zealand thing”.

Yet what a difference 20 years and a campaign can make.

Under the last Labour government the Maori Language Commission, taking inspiration from celebrations like Te Rangi Huata’s Matariki event in Hastings, commissioned education materials on the history and significance of Matariki.

Prominent politicians like the late Parekura Horomia put their weight behind the moves.

Today, Matariki is most certainly “a thing”.

In Dunedin, Araiteuru marae is holding a Marae Idol competition to celebrate Matariki, schools and playcentres are hosting Matariki storytelling events and Matariki played a starring role in the Midwinter Carnival.

There are calls to make Matariki one of New Zealand’s public holidays.

For me, Matariki 2017 takes on a slightly different meaning.

It’s also election year and this month is when the campaigning intensifies.

Matariki is my chance to renew and prepare.

For iwi and hapu in the South it’s a time to reflect on some of the painful events of last year, especially the Kaikoura earthquake, and move forward.

But it’s also a time to celebrate triumphs.

As an MP you often take the small wins, like helping whanau successfully navigate IRD processes or supporting our rangatahi to achieve their educational goals.

Every now and then a big win comes along too.

During this year’s Matariki, what are you celebrating or looking back on?

By Rino Tirikatene (Te Tai Tonga MP)