At the same time we have been [exhaustingly] debating the use of Te Reo in road signs, it has been somewhat of a beautiful thing to witness the local and national celebration of Matariki.
Hundreds of people all over Wairarapa townships gathered during the long weekend to bring in the Māori new year together, connecting through music, tree planting, light and star-gazing events and, of course, plentiful kai.
It’s a warming sight and one which reflects the hard work and advocacy of many voices over the years to gain national recognition for this holiday.
The name which most often comes to mind is Professor Rangiānehu Matamua, whose knowledge of the astronomy and tikanga of Matariki was instrumental in championing its status.
Matamua’s drive to educate New Zealanders on the holiday’s meaning and significance in 21st-century life has been remarkable and used in a way to bring Māori and Pākehā together, instead of driving us apart.
“No one owns the stars – even though Elon Musk is attempting to – and no one owns the sky,” he said last year.
“They are connected to all of us, and every single person who lives in Aotearoa today descends from people who used the stars to tell time, to navigate, to be connected.”
Matariki does not just refer to one day; it’s a mid-winter season marked out by the star cluster appearing in the east for a series of days.
The exact days and dates differ between iwi and hapū, depending on where they are viewing the cluster and which stars are honoured.
There are many legends surrounding Matariki and the six sisters.
As one popular legend goes, Matariki and her six daughters travel across the sky every year to visit their grandmother – Papatūānuku – and offer their help to prepare for the year to come.
Many wake in the early darkness, wrap up in thick blankets to kneel on the grass and wait for this visit, made up of the star cluster you can witness peeking over the horizon just before sunrise.
It’s an occasion to remember those who came before us, perhaps ones we have lost in the last year, sit in the present moment and also an opportunity to put forward hopes for the next year.
Matariki being officially made a public holiday last year was a significant move forward in acknowledging a connection to mātauranga Māori, whether your whakapapa is Māori or other.
Of course, there are still ongoing discussions and debates surrounding road signs and other, perhaps slightly less trivial, subject matters.
At the same time, the increasing numbers of those adopting te reo and te ao Māori into everyday life and those curious enough to question, learn, and grow are continuing to mould its evolution.
Matamua told the media in March this year that he hopes Matariki will become our most important holiday, one which unites us every year.
Based on the weekend’s events and connection, it seems we are on our way.
Compared to 50 – or even 10 – years ago, there is much to be admired for the moves we have made in looking skyward and better understanding each other.