Wellington waterfront lights up to hail Matariki


Maori New Year is marked by the appearance of a cluster of stars in the dawn sky known as Matariki (Photo credit: Stephen McArthur)

Venu Menon
Wellington, June 28,2024

The iconic Wellington waterfront is all lit up to greet Matariki today.

This year, Maori New Year falls on Friday, June 28. It is signalled by the appearance of a cluster of stars in the dawn sky known as Matariki.

Matariki has been declared a national holiday in New Zealand since 2022.

Matariki is steeped in Maori tradition and myth. The day is marked by ceremonies to farewell the dead, honour ancestors and celebrate the harvest season.

Ceremonies include calling out the names of those who passed away in the course of the year. They also involve preparing Kai (food) to “feed the stars” and planning for the year ahead.

A collection of nine stars visible at the crack of dawn ushers in Matariki.

Indigenous Maori believe each of the nine stars signifies a natural element.

Matariki, the guardian star, signifies wellbeing; Waiti symbolises fresh water; Waita holds sway over the ocean; Tupuanuku is rooted in the soil; Tupuarangi governs the skies; Waipunarangi controls rain; Ururangi commands the wind; Pohutukawa stands sentinel to the dead; and Hiwa-i-te-rangi guides the future.

The Matariki constellation is known by different names across the Pacific region. It is called Mataliki in Tokelau, Niue, Tuvalu and Tonga. In Samoa, it is known as Matali’i. It remains Matariki in the Cook Islands.

However, some iwi in Aotearoa identify the Maori New Year in terms of the star Puanga rather than Matariki.

In the South Island and parts of the Far North, Puanga is the more visible star.

Maori New Year follows the lunar calendar and consists of 354 days, as distinct from the Western calendar year of 365.25 days (which explains why Matariki falls on different days each year).

The celebration of Matariki by  indigenous Maori predates the arrival of Europeans in New Zealand.

The water screen on the Whairepo Lagoon in Wellington (Photo: Wellington City Council)

The Wellington City Council is rolling out a number of programmes to mark Matariki this year.

Mana Moana Pōneke kickstarts the festival with a series of indigenous short films showcasing stories of the ocean, projected on a water screen at Whairepo Lagoon. It marks a collaboration between Māori and Pasifika musicians, artists, writers, and choreographers.

Over the weekend, the waterfront will transform into “an immersive self-led journey, including fire pits, projections, performances, and food trucks in the Odlins Plaza kai court,” as per the Council website.

The celebration has three themes: ‘Look to the Future’, ‘Celebrate the Present’ and ‘Remember the Past.’

Local bands will perform at the Aroha Stage in Odlins Plaza.

The public have been requested to submit the names of those who passed away since the last Matariki, which will be projected onto a “Memorial Wall” of the Te Papa Museum.

A colourful highlight of the festivities is the release of  “the wishes and hopes for the future,” contributed by the public, which will go up in flames  that “transform  into stars in the night sky.”

The Wellington waterfront will play host to the thronging public over a packed weekend.

Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington

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