June 17, 2019

Matariki Star Cluster Fact Sheet

With Matariki approaching, Healthy Families Waitākere has put together a bite sized fact sheet to answer some frequently asked questions about the celebration. Enjoy!

Matariki is the Māori name for the Pleaides star cluster

The reappearance of the seven Matariki stars, in late May or early June, signals the beginning of the Māori New Year.

Not all iwi celebrate at the same time. Some may begin celebrations on the first full moon after the star cluster rises, or on the next new moon.

Matariki was used by the crews of voyaging waka vessels to guide them across the Pacific.

Tohunga kōkōrangi expert astronomers used stars and star clusters such as Matariki to help navigate great distances across the Pacific. Today, there is a revival of these traditional navigation skills. Crews have sailed double-hulled waka from as far as Rarotonga to Aotearoa, guided only by traditional methods. 

Tohunga priests or experts looked to Matariki to predict the coming harvest

The brighter and clearer the stars seemed, the warmer the growing season would be, ensuring a good harvest.

Matariki is a star cluster, not a constellation.

A cluster is a group of stars that are near each other in space. There are about 500 stars in the Matariki cluster, but only six or seven are visible without a telescope.

Matariki is one of the star clusters nearest to Earth.

Compared with other star clusters, Matariki is close to Earth – but it’s still 440 light years away.

Many iwi speak of the seven Matariki stars as a mother and her daughters.

The mother is Matariki, and her daughters are Tupu-ā-nuku, Tupu-ā-rangi, Waipunarangi, Waitī, Waitā, and Ururangi.

For some iwi, Matariki is connected to the creation story of Ranginui and Papatūānuku

One Matariki story is about when Tāwhirimātea (god of the wind) discovered his parents, Ranginui the sky father and Papatūānuku the earth mother, had been separated. He tore out his eyes in anger and threw them into the sky – the stars are his seven eyes.