Would you be at all surprised to find Maori can not agree as to when Maori New Year is?

Two prominent Maori academics have suggested we’re using the wrong month – and the wrong calendar – to celebrate the traditional start of the Maori new year.

Each year, the appearance of the star cluster Te Iwa o Matariki in the morning skies comes with the dawning of the Maori new year, and coincides with celebrations and festivals around the country.

Since the tradition was revived at the start of the millennium, Matariki has been marked in June, around the time the cluster begins to rise.

It’s not that hard.  There is an exact astronomical point at which the path of the cluster bottoms out and starts to rise again.  And an exact time when it starts to appear above the horizon again.  But oh no… that’s not good enough.   

But this year, acclaimed Waikato University astronomer Dr Rangi Matamua and Paraone Gloyne, a Maori language expert at Te Wananga o Aotearoa, argue festivities would be more appropriately held around July 17.

Matamua said a misconception about Matariki had been partly created by using the 365-day Gregorian calendar and not the 354-day year lunar calendar that Polynesians long relied upon.

This led to an 11-day shortfall between the calendars and meant the Gregorian calendar could not accurately determine when Matariki would rise according to Maori tradition.

“We’ve kind of smashed it into the solar calendar and they are two incompatible systems – but we haven’t revived the system of time we use to observe Matariki,” said Matamua, who recently published the book Matariki: The Star of the Year.

I may have this wrong, but I think the argument is that “back then” they used a method that wasn’t as scientific as using the exact moment Pleiades starts to rise above the horizon again, so they used some local fudge factor.

It’s worse than that though.

However, respected Auckland astronomer Dr Grant Christie said not all Maori traditionally used the same system to start the new year: some used full moon phases, while others didn’t use Matariki, but the star Puanga, or Rigel.

“You can argue if you want to that July is okay to have Matariki, but in terms of government policy, for the whole country they’ve got to come up with a compromise – different Maori groups may or may not agree with that but that’s not an astronomical question.

“So, essentially, you could have the whole conversation without reference to the Gregorian calendar … but the issue comes down to different tribes as to whether they use the full moon or the new moon to restart.”


Would Maori, as a race, be the least compromising most argumentative people on earth?

They can’t agree on anything!


– NZ Herald

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