Matariki and her daughters, the healers 

The theme for Te Papa’s Matariki Festival 2013 is the healing power of women. We focus on the Tainui-based tradition of Matariki and her daughters, the seven stars of the Pleiades, and how they call to and revive Tama-nui-i-te-rā (the Sun) in the depths of winter.

The origins of Matariki

Ka noho a Raumati i a Raro ka puta ko Matariki.

According to the traditions and whakapapa (genealogy) of the Tainui people, Matariki was born from the union of Raumati and Raro. Raumati is the personified form of summer. Raro (literally, ‘below’) is an ancient name for Papatūānuku, the earth mother.

From Matariki and Tangotango, a god of light, came their daughters Tupuānuku, Tupuārangi, Waitī, Waitā, Waipuna-ā-rangi, and Ururangi.

Tama-nui-i-te-rā brings winter to the world

The tale is often told of how Māui conquered Tama-nui-i-te-rā to slow his journey across the sky and lengthen the day. In this story, however, we do not look to glorify Māui as a victorious hero. Instead, we look to the needs of Tama-nui-i-te-rā.

After the battle, Tama-nui-i-te-rā was bloodied, battered, and bruised. He trailed slowly across the sky; he could do little else in his condition. The bitter sting of shame was a far deeper hurt than those of his wounds.

Each day, Tama-nui-i-te-rā sought longer respite in the west, hiding his shame and nursing his wounds in the dark realm below the horizon. The nights grew ever longer and the days shorter. Takurua (winter) was born to the world.

Matariki and her daughters heal Tama-nui-i-te-rā

Matariki and her daughters looked to the harshening winter with concern for the children of Ranginui and Papatūānuku. They were concerned, too, for their relative Tama-nui-i-te-rā – like them, a heavenly body of Te Ahaaha o Te Rangi (the immensity of heaven).

Matariki and her daughters moved from their home in the western sky to the east, the rising place of Tama-nui-i-te-rā. Nestled above the horizon, they called to Tama-nui-i-te-rā, offering healing prayers and songs of solace.

Mother and daughters poured water down from the heavens to heal his wounds and to renew his strength. The daughters glimmered with starlight to encourage their uncle to rise from the realm below.

Warmth returns to the world

Little by little, Tama-nui-i-te-rā regained his strength and his journey across the sky grew longer.

As he was healed and made strong by his kinswomen, he in turn brought the world out of winter’s grasp. Warmth, growth, and renewal were returned to the world. The spilled waters flooded the land and renewed fertility. Spring came.

Every year, the cycle of renewal is played out once more across the immensity of heaven and the world. In the heart of each winter season, our ancestors looked to Matariki: observing her movements, divining from those movements the season to come.

What do we learn from this story?

Every year around the winter solstice, Matariki and her daughters draw Tama-nui-i-te-rā into the heavens and heal him. In Māori culture, man’s potential is not realised without the support of women, and the nurturing and healing they can bring.

More about Te Papa’s Matariki Festival 2013