SPARKLERS / Identity and culture

Welcoming Matariki and Te Mātahi o te Tau

This activity is all about better understanding Matariki - understanding our unique and special culture and the culture of others, only impacts all our wellbeing positively.
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Why we love Matariki

Matariki Te Mātahi o te Tau are our Aotearoa and indigenous culture. It is a unique and special time. In terms of the positive impacts for wellbeing, there are many. We'll outline our understanding of Matariki and its breadth of wellbeing goodness, but we know too that understanding and celebrating our culture, and the culture of others is great for the wellbeing of us all.

A bit of background

This is the background to other Matariki activities we've created, so use it as best suit your tamariki - some will be super interested, and some will want to head to the activities straightaway! We suggest having a read-through here, checking out the other activities and choosing the best fit.

We’ve based this activity on the research of astronomer Dr Rangi Matamua.

There is some confusion over Matariki, which is believed to be the outcome of an early historian's account. This happens sometimes when we try to make sense of things, by comparing our new learning to the things we already know. This seems especially true for Matarik - it has been confused with the Greek Legend of the seven sisters, Pleiades (the same star cluster we know as Matariki). However, in Aotearoa the Matariki whetū (star) cluster are a mother (Matariki) and her children (sisters and brothers).

This activity is all about better understanding our Aotearoa and te ao Māori Matariki beliefs and customs. We really love Matariki and we know that understanding our culture, and acceptance of others's cultures, impacts all of our wellbeing positively.

Please note: Prof Rangi Matamua recognises his research is one interpretation, and that some iwi have differences. You may need to change some of the activities to accommodate this, for example reducing the number of stars from 9 to 7.


Throughout the whole Pacific the Matariki cluster of whetū (stars) is most commonly known as Matariki, which means the eyes of the chief or eyes of the God.

In Aotearoa, Matariki is shortened from Ngā mata o te ariki Tāwhirimātea (the eyes of the God Tāwhirimātea).

Tāwhirimātea is the God of weather who was deeply saddened and enraged with the separation of his parents Ranginui and Papatūānuku. Tāwhirimātea fought with his siblings, but was beaten by Tūmatauenga (the God of humanity, commonly known as the God of war). Tūmatauenga defeated Tāwhirimātea, and out of love for his father and spite for his brothers, Tāwhirimātea pulled out his eyes, crushed them and threw them upwards where they stuck to the chest of his father Ranginui – ngā mata o te ariki Tāwhirimātea (Matariki) – the eyes of the God Tāwhirimāmātea.

This also accounts for the weather being so wild and unpredictable. Tāwhirimātea is blind and angry.

Here's a video link to Prof Rangi Matamua explaining Matariki

You might like tamariki to research images of Tāwhirimātea, Tūmatauenga or Ranginui, or tamariki could draw or paint these Atua. We love the illustrations of Ngā Pūrākau (creation narratives) from Kuwi & Friends Māori Picture Dictionary by Kat Quin and Pānia Papa and have also seen posters of their illustrations too. But there are so many great illustrated books about the Atua and Matariki (just be sure to look for the nine whetū).

When is Matariki?

Matariki changes every year because traditionally Māori follow the maramataka (lunar (moon) calendar) where the environment dictates timing. Whereas Western traditions follow a solar calendar which allows for times of year to remain the same e.g. New Years day. Here's Prof Rangi Matamua video to tell us more.

The best time to look for and celebrate Matariki is during the marama phase of Tangaroa. It marks the most prosperous time. These are the timings based on Dr Rangi Matamua's research

This year (2022), the first public holiday to celebrate Matariki will be on Friday 24 June, marking the reappearance of the constellation. The best time to view the Matariki cluster is early morning, just before dawn.

How to find Matariki

We thought this video was pretty clear, but there is a small error - follow the subtitles, which corrects South East to North East.

The whetū (stars) of Matariki

Some iwi believe there are 9 whetū (stars) that make up the Matariki cluster, and some 7 whetū. If this is your understanding and belief, please remove Pōhutukawa and Hiwaiterangi.

These are the 9 stars:

  1. Pōhutukawa – is the oldest star and connects with those who have died each year – she guides the matū (spirits) of our loved ones across the sky night after night.
  2. Tupuānuku – is connected to all the things that grow in our garden and will determine how well out garden will grow in the upcoming season.
  3. Tupuārangi – is connected to anything that grows in the sky, particularly anything we may harvest, such as birds.
  4. Waitī – is connected to anything that comes from the rivers or lakes (fresh water).
  5. Waitā – is connected to all the animals that come from the moana (sea).
  6. Waipunarangi – is connected to rain.
  7. Ururangi – is connected to the wind.
  8. Hiwa-i-te-rangi – is a star where we send our wishes for the year hoping they will come true.
  9. Matariki – is a healer and married to Rehua (a medicine man). When her star is shining bright and you’re sick, or someone you know is sick, this is a sign you or they will get better. It’s important to understand that the 8 children of Matariki and Rehua each have a bounty for humankind. Matariki is their guardian.


You are really welcome to download this image, but we think it would be much cooler to project it up, and have tamariki recreate it - use ink and crayons, biodegradable glitter, black cardboard, star cut-outs and celophane for window displays... we know how creative you are!

Reading the whetū

The stars of Matariki foretell the year ahead, based on each whetū brightness – the combination of these determines your year winter to winter, especially in terms of kai (nourishment). Matariki signals mātahi o te tau (the new year).

How did our ancestors welcome Matariki and te mātahi o te tau (the new year)?

The importance of Matariki on the following year required an offering te umu kohukohu whētu – a sacred kai ceremony from the stars (as they bring the previous year’s bounty) to feed the weary, hard-working chiefs of the sky.

It is also a time to ‘release’ our loved ones who have passed away during the year. Their names are called out in order that Pōhutukawa can carry their mātu (spirit) as part of Te Waka o Rangi, another cluster of whetū (forming a waka) which gathers mātu over a year, and eventually casting these out as whetū (stars).

What next?

  • Extend this learning with whānau by linking to our Sparklers at Home version in Seesaw or the school newsletter.
  • Welcome Matariki and te mātahi o te tau together with as a school or classroom event - invite whānau, ask local kaumatua to speak, share kai, tamariki might perform or create a presentation of their knowledge and learning.
  • Make Matariki Whetū (star) Bunting
  • Make a Manu Tukutuku (kite)
  • Learn more about Matariki - we love this colouring book from Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.
  • Look up local events, there is always something going on - Matariki walks, celebrations and festivals - be part of them.

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