MANY NEW ZEALANDERS will welcome another public holiday without thinking too much about what celebrating Matariki portends. Just as the presence of a substantial population of Europeans in the South Pacific is something we simply take for granted, so, too, is the unseasonal celebration of European festivals. That the mid-winter festival of Christmas is observed in New Zealand’s mid-summer, bothers Pakeha New Zealanders only inasmuch as the preparation of traditional mid-winter dishes often entails working in uncomfortably hot kitchens. What were once, quite literally, “holy days” have become “holidays” – the more the merrier.
Long lost is the fear and trepidation of finding oneself in the deepest dark of the year. A time of short days and cold, followed by seemingly endless nights. Shivering together, waiting for the first sliver of dawn. All the time aware that nothing is growing in the frozen earth. Prey to the gnawing doubt that, this time, winter will not pass.
These were our ancestors. Strong and resourceful, but also childlike in their dependence on the myths and legends of their forebears: the garnered wisdom of countless generations. Hoarding in words and songs the mysterious regularity of the heavens. The position of the sun; the phases of the moon; the eagerly anticipated rising of familiar stars. Each offering much-needed reassurance that, once again, the darkness will retreat; the warmth will return; the days will lengthen; and the awakening earth will, as it always has, bring forth life in abundance.
And then came the grafting-on of new insights, new wonders, to the ancient stories. From the raw survival of family, tribe, and village, the story shifted to the survival – or damnation – of the individual’s immortal soul. Reality was weighted down with metaphor. Though we find ourselves enveloped in the icy darkness of sin, our faith in the coming of the light, of redemption, is strong. In that mid-winter Bethlehem stable, the promise of eternal life took human form. No accident, either, that the death and resurrection of this God-Man, Jesus, is celebrated in the northern spring.
Except that down here, at the bottom of the world, it’s all wrong. Our festivals are hemispherically out of sync with the ever-turning earth. Christmas is marked after the summer solstice, as the days grow shorter – not longer. The Easter resurrection falls in autumn, the season of culmination and decline. Winter’s harbinger. The dying year’s herald.
Unsurprisingly, as the decades have rolled over this lonely colonial outpost, the experiential core of our festivals has faded. Inevitably, their meaning has been forgotten. We Pakeha like to think of ourselves as modern and secular and progressive. In other eyes, however, we have become the sad, spiritually-barren, cultural amnesiacs of the South Pacific.
But now, from the first people of this far-flung land, we have been offered – and are poised to accept – the wondrous gift of Matariki. Here, at last, is a festival in sync with the place we Europeans-once-removed have, by the vicissitudes of history, washed up. These tiny points of light, rising steadily above the chill mid-winter horizon, told the Maori that, once again, the cycle of life and death, growth and decay, had described itself in the heavens. That it was time for those who dwell between the earth and the sky to look to their plantings. Time to anticipate the bright days of spring and summer. The flashing of fish in the baskets. The laughter of lovers. The crying of babies. That it was time to begin again.
And, perhaps, by accepting this gift of Matariki from the first arrivals in Aotearoa, we late arrivals, shorn of our ancestors’ outlandish fleeces, can draw strength from the accumulated human wisdom of our adopted home. Perhaps, by celebrating Matariki, we can learn to take ownership of our colonial intrusion and all the misery that has flowed from it. Perhaps it is time to let go of the desacralized holy-days of New Zealanders, and allow our Treaty partners to teach us how to be Aotearoans.
Let us learn the names of Matariki’s whanau: Tupu-ā-nuku, Tupu-ā-rangi, Waitī, Waitā, Waipunā-ā-rangi and Ururangi. Let us honour the Polynesian navigators who named them, and who followed them to these islands at the world’s end. Let this home-grown holy-day inaugurate a new cycle. Let Maori and Pakeha, steering by Matariki’s stars, make this their time to begin again.
This essay was published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 11 September 2020.
It is a shame Chris that despite your wise and insightful comments on many subjects you persist in writing half baked fables that there is no historical basis for. There is no basis [not even in the bible]for your assertion that Jesus was born in a stable in mid winter.And you emphasise the fact that you are a white christian by failing to mention any other of the world's major religions.
We get “gifted” names Christchurch Central Library is Turanga in recognition of the fact that everything has to be about Maori.
In fact we are undergoing an active policy of decolonisation which is something the public doesn’t get:
Not only do these scholar-activists speak a specialized language—while using everyday words that people assume, incorrectly, that they understand—but they also represent a wholly different culture, embedded within our own. People who have adopted this view may be physically close by, but, intellectually, they are a world away, which makes understanding them and communicating with them incredibly difficult. They are obsessed with power, language, knowledge, and the relation-ships between them. They interpret the world through a lens that detects power dynamics in every interaction, utterance, and cultural ar-tifact even when they aren't obvious or real. This is a worldview that centers social and cultural grievances and aims to make everything into a zero-stun political struggle revolving around identity markers like race, sex, gender, sexuality, and many others. Cynical Theories – Helen Pluckrose, James Lyndsay
Stuff are having a campaign and Action Stations has garnered 35,000 signatures. I resent the fact that Jacinda gives $50 to 70m[?] to journalists who are 90% activist. Astroturfing by them is just another form of censorship.
I resent the suggestion that those with a voice can take scissors to our identity.
Chris hundreds of millions of people celebrate Christmas in summer and the hottest of weathers.Millions upon millions in the African summers and in those of South America.And the millions more in the sweaty tropics of the Philippines,India and the Caribbean. You are the colonised one in feeling the only true Christmas has snow. And for the record as a young NZ boy I always felt Easter fitted perfectly into autumn with that somber ending of life all around and indeed I always connected it to the equally sad losses of April 25. I half thought it was the same donkey!
I don’t need Māori to tell me how to live here.
"We get “gifted” names Christchurch Central Library is Turanga in recognition of the fact that everything has to be about Maori."
So the meme is true. "Hell hath no fury like a white person mildly inconvenienced."
Your comment, Guerilla, says it all about our ridiculous politics. On a 1930s precipice times a 100.
I sum it, as I'm sure you do, as a bloody good ride. You will predecease me, but I'll have to see out a decade or so in Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road'. Without ACC I could sue someone.
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