Tribal knowledge holder Rereata Makiha of Te Māhurehure, Te Aupōuri and Te Arawa tells Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes about Māori new year traditions particular to Hokianga – where the Matariki cluster can be hard to spot.
If you’re keen to acknowledge Matariki, that’s great – but keep in mind you might not be able to physically see it from where you live.
Matariki isn’t visible in all areas around Hokianga in Northland, especially for those closer to the coast, due to the lay of the land. Instead, they use their own intergenerational knowledge to observe other significant celestial bodies as markers of time.
Maramataka expert and tohunga Rereata Makiha says that in Hokianga they observe the setting of Rēhua and the rising of Puanga as markers of the new year.
“When Rēhua, or Antares, is observed setting in the west, Puanga rises in the east. That was the time the old people used, not as the start of the new year, but as the time to shut down the old year,” says Makiha.
Within Hokianga there are areas where Puanga isn’t visible, although local Māori know when it’s on its way by observing the setting of Rēhua.
Specific to areas within Hokianga, Makiha predicts the setting of Rēhua and rising of Puanga will take place on the morning of June 11.
A time to reflect
Makiha emphasises that the rising of Puanga is a time to “shut down the old year”, to let go of burdens and things that aren’t conducive to growth, while planning for the year ahead.
“All the things that weren’t done or accomplished during the previous year, anything that you wasted energy on, you put it to sleep so that it no longer bothers you. That’s the first thing you do before you open up the new year,” he says.
Makiha acknowledges that many New Zealanders, including Māori, might default to going out and drinking as a way of capitalising on the new indigenous public holiday and celebrating the Māori new year in a more European way.
He urges people to use it instead as a catalyst for growth and an opportunity to navigate the stars.
Although he and his people didn’t grow up with the tikanga of hautapu, the practice is being embraced.
“A lot of our people are going back to rekindle that whakaaro. It’s quite a neat whakaaro, so a lot of them are already preparing to go up and do that practice of the hautapu,” says Makiha.
“It’s a health thing, getting rid of all that taimaha of the old year and refreshing yourself – have a challenge for the new year, go in clean and energised.”
Due to their location, many areas within Hokianga can’t see Matariki until later, about six to seven days after the rising of Puanga.
For Māori who are reconnecting to culture and regenerating those narratives within whānau, we can consider what stars are important to know about in our area during the time of the Māori new year.
The rising of Takurua
At around the June 26, when Rēhua sets again on the western horizon, Takurua will rise to the east. That marks the opening up of the Māori new year for particular tribal groupings within Hokianga.
“It’s really finely balanced, in that as soon as Rēhua disappears, Takurua rises on the other horizon,” says Makiha. “That’s when you’re getting your ‘a into g’ and putting plans in place for the new year.”
As someone who lives by the maramataka, Makiha and others who subscribe to the Māori system of time use the rising and setting of the stars to determine when to plant their gardens or food forests and what varieties to plant at different times.
“That’s when you get your kaupapa together, your wānanga, determining when you’re going to get your gardens planted and which gardens you’re going to plant this year. Wērā momo mahi. Koirā tā mātou nei mahi,” says Makiha.
Despite the subtle nuances tied to celestial observation that exist within iwi around the country, it’s not a case of one tribal narrative being more authentic, it’s about learning the geographic variations and traditional narratives from those particular areas.
While Matariki may not be used by particular tribal groups in Hokianga and other areas as the definitive marker of the new year, the cluster of stars still presents information that can help those who know how to read the signs determine what food sources may be bountiful, whether the oncoming seasons will bring heavy rains or drought as well as the spiritual connection tied to the ceremonial farewell of our dead.
The Māori new year as incentive to learn about and live by the maramataka
This year, the national acknowledgment of Matariki falls when the moon is in the Tangaroa phase.
Makiha says that although the Tangaroa days aren’t the best for star gazing if you live on the west coast of the Hokianga, due to the sea spray and mist, they are the best days for productivity.
When talking about the health of his people, he points out the significance of kai and wai as the foundations of the maramataka.
It informs when they go out and engage with the rivers and their tributaries to either do restorative work or harvest kai, such as eels. The practices extend out to the rivermouth in terms of fishing, as well as supporting other iwi who live in coastal areas to engage in their cultural practices tied to mahinga kai on the moana.
“In Hokianga, we use them for everything – it’s good for planting, good for fishing, good for hui. If you’ve got lots of jobs to do, leave them for the Tangaroa days, you’ll get ’em all done,” says Makiha.
He kōrero tuku iho
Rereata Makiha was raised in traditional narratives of his people, where he gained extensive knowledge from his elders including astrology and the Māori lunar calendar.
He is forthcoming with his mātauranga and is a well-respected educator around living by the maramataka.
This year he was named Senior New Zealander of the Year in the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year awards, for making a positive contribution to Aotearoa.
Makiha is currently visiting various marae in Te Taitokerau with other tribal knowledge holders to conduct wānanga around Puanga and Matariki.
He is also a member of the Matariki Advisory Group to the Crown who helped establish Te Kāhui o Matariki Public Holiday Act 2022, and will guide ongoing governments on the shifting dates for the Matariki holiday, in accordance with the Māori stellar and lunar calendars.
This year, the national public holiday is being observed on the June 24.
As we near the first national indigenous holiday in the world, we’re reminded that mātauranga Māori is a case of the more you know, the more you realise you don’t.
The acknowledgement of Matariki is an opportunity for all people in Aotearoa to learn more about the maramataka and how it can help us to connect to the environment and improve how we exist within it.