Matariki, A Time for Feasting and Celebration June 17, 2007


We’ve had many frosts these last few weeks. There is no doubt that winter has arrived. Bruce had been lamenting recently the lack of holiday celebration; this was, after all, at least seasonally, the time to be honoring the harvest (Thanksgiving) and enjoying the winter celebrations of Christmas and New Years. A time for gathering and feasting with friends; a time to be a little bit lazy, a little less active, for sitting around and being with people.

As Bruce expressed these sentiments to Amba while at Full Moon Drumming & Fire Spinning a few weeks back, Amba said, ‘well let’s have a luncheon gathering at my place then.’ And so we did. We brought lots of yummy hearty dishes and we cozied up in her living room and settled in, for what turned out to be, the entire day. Ten hours of eating, drinking, sitting, and chatting with friends. Sharing stories. Waxing philosophical. It was great to be able to spend that amount of time with new friends, because, you know, sometimes it takes a while to get to that point where you can just endlessly sit around with people. Bruce & I commented it was like what we used to do with our pals in San Francisco. It felt good.

We were also recently invited to celebrate our friend Lucy’s 30th birthday in time with Matariki.

New to the term, we found out that Matariki is what the Maori called the star cluster that appears in the morning sky at this time of year. Also known as the Pleiades or Seven Sisters, its reappearance signifies a time to prepare, to share ideas, to remember the past and celebrate the future.

It is the Maori New Year which historically marked the end of the old year and the start of the new; a time of bounty and feasting, when crops had just been harvested and fish and fowl were plentiful, and a signal to prepare the soil for planting season.

Today these traditions are honored with celebrations of song and dance and ceremonies that greet the star cluster’s dawn rising.

So, Bruce wasn’t far off when he said he was wanting to celebrate the holidays.

Lucy’s plan was to spend the weekend at a small lodge up at Castle Hill and on the morning of June 16th, the first day that Matariki would be visible in the southern hemisphere, we were going to hike up to the Castle Hill rocks and have a pre-dawn ceremony. Sounded cool to us.

Matariki 010.jpgMatariki 011.jpg

We arrived at the rustic self-contained lodge right at dusk on Friday. The scenery on the 90 km ride was gorgeous. We had views of the partially snow-capped mountains almost the whole drive and the cloud formations and late afternoon sun streaked through with an amazing hue of pinks. There was no snow at the lodge (elevation approx 3000 feet), but we were surrounded by snow-capped peaks.

Friends kept streaming in throughout the evening and by midnight at least 25 of us including several kidlets had arrived. With various soups brewing on the stove, we all sat around and ate and chatted; we only knew about three people, so there was plenty of mingling to be had. Everyone was really cool and super sweet.

To bed after midnight, only to rise at 5:30 am. We all piled into cars and cruised the five minutes to the entranceway of the site. We hiked twenty minutes up to the rocks in the dark with flashlights. It was cold and the rocks were barely distinguishable in the darkness. We hiked into a natural amphitheater/stone circle of sorts where we circled up, said a blessing to mother earth and the nature spirits and welcomed in the dawn.

The Matariki were to be visible around 6 am, an hour before twilight. But alas it was not meant to be as it was partially overcast and the northeastern sky, where it was due to rise, was fully covered by cloud.

Matariki 018.jpgMatariki 016.jpgMatariki 014.jpg

But that didn’t stop us from having fun. We all split up to explore these magnificent looming limestone rocks. Windswept over thousands of years, many appeared to have taken on unique formations that one would have thought were carved by man. We distinctly saw the dolphin rising from the sea and the ‘thumb’ and no, we weren’t on anything.

We spent several hours in this sacred place. At one point the weather goddess regaled us with a half hour of hail and snow flurries. It was fantastic. Rejuvenating. Enlivening.

yogaIce PondBruce Swing

Back at the lodge, we ate, chatted, rested, talked, and even did some yoga. We took afternoon walks in the surrounding woods. The big birthday party was happening in the evening complete with a sumptuous feast of roasted wild pig (courtesy of Lucy’s boyfriend who is a pig hunter and courtesy of Nikki who brought up the outdoor spit) and oodles of steamed vegetables and lots and lots of dancing!

Roasting PigHanging Out

Unfortunately we had to miss the festivities as we needed to get back to Christchurch to prepare for our imminent departure for the States. Bruce leaves in two days time (I leave a week later) for what will be a seven week trip. Two weddings, family visits, and lots of sitting around with friends, I think we’ll be able to carry on with the spirit of the Matariki celebrations, even though we will be in the northern hemisphere.

This trip to the mountains and the celebration with new friends was just what we needed to re-connect and anchor ourselves to New Zealand, especially as we approach this juncture of departure.

I am looking forward to my trip to the States and I look forward to my return to Aotearoa. It’s all good.