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Kiwis celebrate Matariki in the Cooks

Monday 27 June 2022 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Economy, National

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Kiwis celebrate Matariki in the Cooks
New Zealand High Commissioner Tui Dewes, centre, and staff celebrate Matariki Day. Photo: Supplied/22062601

New Zealand High Commission staff have hosted an inaugural Matariki Ball in line with Māori New Year becoming a national holiday in Aotearoa.

New Zealand High Commissioner to Cook Islands Tui Dewes, at the Friday evening event, said it had been a while since staff had hosted such a large gathering at Ngātipā, the official residence of Aotearoa New Zealand. 

“And I think it was absolutely fitting that our first event following Covid was to mark Matariki.

“For those who may not know, Matariki signals the start of Māori New Year. 

“And back home in Aotearoa, this is the first year it was marked as an official public holiday.” 

Dewes said observing Matariki was an ancient practice, which, like many other cultural practices, was discontinued in Aotearoa in the years following colonisation. 

It was only in the 1990s, as part of the Māori Renaissance, that it began to be celebrated more widely again, she said.

“And I personally love that it’s now a mainstream holiday back home.

“I should acknowledge, though, that Matariki isn’t something that was only traditionally observed by Māori. 

“Since the earliest of times humans across the world have looked to the stars, including Matariki, for understanding and inspiration.

“In fact, they’ve found 20,000-year-old Palaeolithic cave drawings in France, which are said to represent this same cluster of stars, a constellation that is more commonly known throughout the world as the Pleiades.”

In ancient Greek, Pleiades means “the sailing ones”, Dewes said.

“Fitting for the Pacific because, as many in the Cook Islands will be well-aware, in our part of the world this constellation was among those used by our tīpuna, our ancestors, when navigating from central Polynesia to Aotearoa. 

“This important constellation was known by many names throughout the Pacific – and include the very similar sounding: Makali’li, Matali’li, Matali’ki, Matariri, and of course Matariki. 

“Although there are differences in view as to what Matariki actually means, in Aotearoa, many appear to accept it to be a shortened version of the phrase: Ngā mata o te Ariki Tāwhirimātea - the eyes of Tāwhirimātea.

“This name has its origins in our creation story, following the separation of the earth mother Papatūānuku from the sky father Ranginui by their son and god of the forest Tānemahuta, the god of the wind Tāwhirimātea was furious.

“After battling Tānemahuta and many of his other brothers, he was finally beaten by Tūmutauenga – the god of war. 

“Following his defeat, Tāwhirimātea is said to have ripped out his eyes and thrown them to the sky – in an act of sorrowful love towards his father and mother.”  

His eyes were said to have created the nine stars of Matariki: Pōhutukawa, Tupuānuku, Tupuārangi, Waitī, Waitā, Wapunārangi, Ururangi, Hiwa-i-te-Rangi and Matariki, Dewes said.

“For ancient Māori, and for modern Aotearoa, the rising of these nine stars, of Matariki, is seen as a time to reflect on the past, to celebrate the present and to look to the future. It’s a time of renewal.  And in that respect, I think it was really apt that the first large event we hosted since coming out of the shadow of COVID was to mark Matariki.”

Dewes gave her “heartfelt congratulations” to those who contributed to the Cook Islands’ “world-leading response” to Covid-19.

“Congratulations for all you’ve achieved in the service of your country, your communities and your close loved ones,” she said.

“As the High Commissioner for Aotearoa New Zealand, I am so proud of how our two countries have stood together over this difficult time, and how we have grown even closer over these last two years.

“As we look beyond COVID, my country is keen to continue partnering with the Cook Islands on your economic recovery; on your efforts to improve education and health outcomes; on your delivery of resilient infrastructure that also helps provide job opportunities; and on your response to climate change.”

Dewes said the purpose of the Matariki Ball was not just to mark the Māori New Year, but to celebrate all that New Zealand and the Cook Islands had achieved together, and to look forward to “our shared future”.

“I wish everyone every happiness in the Māori New Year ahead.  Because as the whakataukī goes: Matariki ki tua o ngā whetū –Matariki brings endless possibilities.

“Mānawatia a Matariki.”

Queen’s Representative Sir Tom Marsters, accompanied by Lady Tuaine Marsters, also spoke at the ball – concluding with a toast to Matariki and the long-standing, close ties between New Zealand and the Cook Islands, ties which went all the way back to shared Māori ancestors.