Why we love Welcoming Matariki and Te Mātahi o te Tau?

***We’ve bundled up all our Matariki activities into a workbook for home***

We’ve based this activity on the research of astronomer Dr Rangi Matamua. It’s important that Matariki is better understood and returned to its origin.

It's believed that the confusion over Matariki is 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 Matariki. 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: Dr 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.

When is Matariki?

Matariki changes every year because traditionally Māori follow the maramataka (a lunar 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.

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.

2020 - Setting - 15th May. Rising: 13th - 16th July, Celebration: 13th - 20th July

2021 - Setting: 2nd June, Rising: 2nd - 5th July, Celebration: 2nd 10th July

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.


Download this image here.

To 'read' the stars of Matariki and foretell the year ahead, is 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).

How can we welcome Matariki and te mātahi o te tau as whānau?

  • Make Matariki Whetū (star) Bunting
  • Make a Manu Tukutuku (kite)
  • Learn more about Matariki together - 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.
  • Take a look at some of Dr Rangi Matamua's fascinating research and humour-filled presentations. We especially enjoyed this one for Ngāi Tāmanuhiri whānau which at counter number 46.50 includes a short film you and your tamariki may enjoy.
  • Kōrero about how you’d like to welcome Matariki and te mātahi o te tau next year.