This morning I set the alarm for 6 am, and jumped up as soon as it went off. I dressed quickly in warm clothes and hastily made tea in my ‘travel’ mug. After grabbing a torch I strode up to the top of Mt Victoria, to the Lookout.
A group of perhaps 2 dozen had quietly gathered there in the cold pre-dawn, and were facing East.
Just after 6.30 the women at the front of the group called out a Karanga, greeting the stars of Matariki, urging them to rise above the horizon. As they called we could see Rigel rising above the mountains and low cloud.
The Karanga was followed by Karakia, Waiata and a long chant that seemed to be retelling the whole whakapapa of the stars. *
Once Rigel had well-risen and the lightening sky would make it impossible to actually see the Matariki when they appeared, several of the Tangata Whenua went round the assembled group for a hongi.
This is the first time I’ve truly celebrated Matariki, and it felt good to have a short welcoming ceremony for this turning point in the year.
It’s just crazy that the New Year is celebrated in New Zealand on 1 January, soon after mid-summer. It has no connection to anything in this part of the world.
The New Year belongs with the rise of the light of hope from the black despair of night, the possibility that spring will be born from cold winter. Even though the mass of the planet means that our coldest and darkest months are yet to come, we can hold on to the rising stars of renewal.
As part of the festival I visited the newly reopened Carter Observatory at the weekend. While I was a little disappointed with the planetarium show the refurbished displays are superb.
The highlight for me though were the signs for the toilets. Made of chunks of computer components and formed as alien beings they were clever, amusing and delightful. I was unable to get a photos without all kinds of stray reflections, unfortunately.
* My command of Māori is not strong enough to know exactly what was being said. In fact, the word ‘command’ is a wild exaggeration. I’m supposing a lot here.
Notes for my overseas readers
New Zealand English these days readily embraces many words of Māori origin, although we often obscure that feature from those not familiar with our country and customs.
There has been a great change in New Zealand over the last decade or two. Not so long ago it would be rare to hear anyone but Māori routinely using words of Māori origin in their conversation. Most non-Māori would stumble over the pronunciation of even the simplest words.
Now, I believe, many Māori words trip easily from our tongues and most people would also understand the meanings of the more common words. I love our unique Kiwi language and culture!
Matariki refers to the Seven Sisters, the Pleiades constellation, and also to celebrating a new year.
A Karanga is a ritual call, that forms part of a welcome ceremony.
Karakia are prayers. They often mark transitions from one state to another, for example at the start of a meeting, or before eating. Even for those of us who aren’t religious, they offer an opportunity to pause, reflect, and be present in a ‘new’ place.
Waiata are songs. A whakapapa tells the history and ancestry of someone or something. Tangata Whenua are the ‘people of the land’, the original inhabitants. A hongi is a sharing of the breath of life, with nose and forehead pressed together.