Matariki is the Maori name for the group of stars also known as the Pleiades star cluster and its appearance in June low on the horizon shortly before dawn marks the traditional Maori New Year. The New Year is marked by the rise of Matariki and the next new moon.In Maori culture the sighting of the Seven Sisters also defines the coming season’s harvest (maramataka): the brighter the stars, the warmer the season would be, the earlier the planting and the more productive the crop. If hazy then the next winter would be cold and seeds would not be planted before October. In addition to defining the seasonal cycles, Matariki refers to the collecting and storing of food for the winter period (Matariki ahunga nui – Matariki provider of plentiful food). Matariki is an important occasion for families to gather, an opportunity to meet and share rituals, and enjoy celebrating together. Women sing and dance to greet the new cycle and prepare traditional dishes with freshly gathered produce. Forgotten by many Maori due to progressive adoption of western culture, traditional New Year celebrations have been revived in recent decades. Matariki is a time for reflecting on nature, a central concept in Maori culture: Maori believe they are Kaitiaki, guardians of the land and all natural resources, protecting and nurturing it to ensure its sustainability. Traditional agricultural practices – such as observing the phases of the moon, the stars, bird activity and the flowering period of the plants – are followed by the 800 producers united in the Maori Vegetable Growers food community. Following organic and traditional methods, they cultivate corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes (kumara, with some varieties deriving from the sweet potatoes brought by the first settlers from Polynesia a thousand years ago), and zucchini. The producers are also members of Te Waka Kai Ora – the body which certifies traditional organic Maori farming methods.
From Terra Madre Newsletter 06/08