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Arts Voices: What Does Matariki Mean to You?

The arts community has embraced Matariki with a passion. We speak to Māori creatives about performing during this special time of year.


Unless you’re living under a rock (and probably if you are living under a rock too), you’ll know that Aotearoa is in the midst of celebrating Matariki.

That’s quite the statement when you think about it. If we go back a decade, even just a few years, many New Zealanders would have known very little about this significant period of the Māori lunar calendar.  

But now, it’s acknowledged in events and celebrations up and down the whenua, taught regularly to our tamariki in schools that once ignored its existence. As of next year, it’s a public holiday.

Arts Voices is a series where we canvas creatives of Aotearoa to get their thoughts on the kaupapa and issues that matter to the sector.

And few communities engage with Matariki with the passion and vigour of the creative community.

Kūpapa (3, 7-10 July at Corbans Estate, Henderson) and Mauri Tau (online from 2 July) are two of the many events happening in and around Tāmaki Makaurau on the Matariki Festival website’s extensive list.

Members of the cast and crew of both productions were asked What does Matariki (and performing during this time) mean to you? 

Here are their answers.


Matariki Whatarau, performer, Mauri Tau

Photo: Supplied.

Sharing the same name as the star constellation and the time of the year, by default, my family gets together as it’s my birthday during this season of Matariki. 

Despite the celebrations, Matariki is also a time for me to pause and take stock of the year that has just passed and come up with ways to make the right moves in the upcoming year accordingly. 

Lastly, it’s a time to remember and acknowledge those who have passed in the last year. Giving time and space for grief to happen and then pass, Matariki is a great time to allow those loved ones to descend off to Hawaiki.

Performing or taking part in mahi that’s kaupapa Māori at any time of the year is empowering and deeply rewarding. What I’d like to see more of, or participate more in are kaupapa like Mauri Tau; Projects that are inspired by and/or reflect Matariki. The possibilities are endless and we are, at the moment, only scratching the surface of making and sharing Matariki-based mahi. 

Lana Garland, performer, Kūpapa & Mauri Tau

Photo: Andi Crown Photography.

It’s about thinking about the aspects that each of the stars represents, and how it is being reflected in the land now. It’s about looking at the state of the land, and assessing the whenua, the waters. How am I relating or contributing (or not) to te taiao. I am looking to having a space that I can reinvent and reimagine as a new cycle or a new year.

It’s always a reminder for me to think about how I’m living and to think about what our country would like if we were governed by Mātauranga Māori and Te Ao Māori – To envisage that future and contemplate how we can move more quickly towards it.

The demand for Kaupapa Māori performance during this time is a nice affirmation that there is visibility of Matariki as an event in the wider community.

Nicola Kāwana, writer and performer, Kūpapa; performer, Mauri Tau

Photo: Andi Crown Photography.

It’s about Kawe mate, looking back to the year that’s been, acknowledging those who have passed and remembering them at this time. It’s a time of reflection and closing down of the past year – it means doing quiet things and resting.

As far as being part of kaupapa Māori-driven work during Matariki, it’s the same as any other time of the year – it’s about visibility in our stories. But also, in the way that we work in making Māori work, is an observation of Mātauranga Māori - which happens all year.

Te Kohe Tuhaka, performer, Mauri Tau

Photo: Supplied.

This may be hard to believe, but I'm a Matariki newbie, I've only really learned about its significance within the last 3 years, I was not taught a lot about it growing up. I knew of the star, but not it’s links to a Māori new year or calendar system, so what it means to me now, is knowledge.

Knowledge that is anchored in my culture, that has allowed me to better understand the way I am during these winter months, and to also have a connection to some of the phases of matariki that I would otherwise not have known had this not been brought to the fore by the amazing Professor Rangi Mataamua.

On a wairua level, it has allowed me to be honest about where I am during the winter months and the different phases. I personally don't enjoy the winter, it awakens a sleeping darkness that I have always battled with, but having access to a cultural base on how the lunar phasing throws up different energy that can have an effect on a person’s wairua, has meant that I have found a safety and a confidence in this time that allows me to enjoy the gifts of matariki ahunga nui, and also feel strong in the commitment that my living environment has a huge role to play in my wellbeing.

Performing in any kaupapa that uses ahurea Māori as its foundation always gives me a greater sense of responsibility and connection, I am fortunate to have been in a long list of kaupapa inspired and driven works. For me, that chance to work with friends who are artists and helping give voice, and mauri to the ideas and projects is the biggest pay off.

Renaye Tamati, performer, Kūpapa

Photo: Andi Crown Photography.

I was born and raised in England and I didn’t know anything about Mataariki – I have been learning about it more in recent years. For me it’s about spending time with loved ones and appreciating our journey and where we’ve come from. It’s about gatherings and celebrations.

When it comes to performing in Kaupapa Māori inspired and driven productions, the feeling is the same as any other time of the year, PROUD.

Erina Daniels, director, Kūpapa

Photo: Andi Crown Photography.

Matariki has come to be now a very busy performance time in our arts industry. I am glad that Matariki has been so publicly recognised and continues to be celebrated in this way.  When it becomes a public holiday, it can shift, just like Easter does - so that it may fall in accordance with the lunar calendar. 

When I was growing up this time of year would be a time to stay inside, keep warm and do less. My family were a seasonal working family and we grew up in the country surrounded by the forces of nature – it all made sense to do it this way at this time.

There is a connotation, when we say the words ‘new year’, with the pākehā new year – in the summertime. But that is a northern hemisphere whakaaro put into the southern hemisphere, a concept which doesn’t fit well with me.

I appreciate that our offerings are a part of a wide canon of offerings of works during Matariki – so I’m buzzing off that energy. Sometimes I’m gutted that I miss all of my other mates' work being put up, because there are so many works to get to – which is a good problem to have.

Fran Kora, sound design & performer, Mauri Tau

Photo: Supplied.

Matariki is something that I have only learnt properly within the last 10 years, but I have always been fascinated with stars and the universe. I read Professor Rangi Matamua's book Matariki - The star of the year and immediately realized how incredibly connected our people are to the Universe, the elements and to life itself. 

Ancient Greek culture named the constellation Pleaides, Subaru use it as their symbol for their vehicles, we celebrate it to cultivate food and good fortune, but Matariki is and has always been a significant constellation of stars for many cultures since the beginning of time.

In Māori culture, our Wahine are sacred, so it’s no surprise that the brightest star (Matariki) is a female, that guides us into the Maori new year.  Not a bad coincidence that Aunty Jacinda has made it a public holiday next year as well.

Creating with any Kaupapa Māori theme is amazing, but to do it for Matariki is very special. I’m at the 'getting older and wiser' stage of my life, so creating has been a joy. And to create with a crazy cool cast and sound designer, it’s fair to say I can tick a few boxes off my list.

There is a saying that Mick Fleetwood says which goes along the line of 
"It is always better to create with others! In some cases it might be harder....but it is always better."

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

1 Jul 2021

The Big Idea Editor