Friday, 24 June 2022

Matariki: Thoughts and Questions.

Guided By The Stars? This gift of Matariki, then, what will be made of it? Can a people spiritually unconnected to anything other than their digital devices truly appreciate the relentless progress of gods and heroes across the heavens? The elders of Maoridom must wonder. Can Te Ao Māori be concentrated into the equivalent of spiritual orange-juice – to be distributed freely every June in a handy cultural packet? “Here you are Tau Iwi – just add water!”

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT MATARIKI? Are you delighted that, at last, New Zealand has a holiday entirely unrelated to its colonial heritage? A holiday, moreover, that celebrates the natural cycles of a South Pacific island chain, rather than the western extremities of a vast northern continent. Coinciding with the Winter Solstice, Matariki, like Christmas in its original setting, marks the year’s turning: away from the constraining darkness; towards the liberating light.

Or, do you see Matariki as something contrived and imposed? A festival seized upon for ideological purposes? A holiday with an agenda attached?

And how does that make you feel? Guilty? Do you blame yourself for harbouring sentiments driven, consciously or unconsciously, by racism? Or, does it make you feel angry? Do you blame the Government for creating a holiday that highlights the cultural differences between its citizens? Are you antagonised by the state’s presumption that these differences are something to be celebrated?

Then again, you may be a strong believer in secularism. If you’re “not big on religion”, as most non-religious Kiwis tend to say when subjected to spiritual inquiries, you may be experiencing a twinge or two of impatience when you see, hear and read references to Matariki that embrace without challenge its overtly religious content. Your brow may furrow even more deeply when you consider the likely consequences of attempting such a challenge.

Is it not the height of hypocrisy to laugh along with the atheists who poke fun at the Christian eucharist, only to recoil in horror from the suggestion that there might be something just a wee bit peculiar about offering-up a cooked meal to a random configuration of stars?

For a country which, historically, has eschewed the very idea of a state religion, isn’t it also a little jarring to hear state broadcasters helpfully instructing New Zealanders on the ways in which their new state-sanctioned religious festival can be appropriately celebrated?

As anyone who has ever watched the excellent television programme, Waka Huia, will attest, Te Ao Māori pulses with spiritual life. Mountains, rivers, forests, the stars that fill the sky, all are sentient and powerful entities. One approaches them with reverence – and caution – as is fitting when dealing with ancient and holy ancestors to which one is inextricably and irrevocably connected.

It is to be wondered if the men and women who walk in this world are pleased, or alarmed, when they see Matariki – and all it portends – transformed into a public holiday, thoughtfully supplemented with a handy Cole’s Notes summary of the complex spiritual significance of the nine rising stars. Will they experience the emotions of devout Christians as Christmas and Easter approach?

To those who sincerely embrace the Christian faith, these public holidays have been transformed into crass orgies of commercialism. Santa and the Easter Bunny have ruthlessly shoved aside the manger and the cross. People stuff their faces: they bicker, fight, get drunk; and, just maybe, shed a maudlin tear when a particularly effective rendition of “Silent Night” rises above the hubbub of the shopping-mall.

Not that this bothers the overwhelming majority of Kiwis, for whom Christmas was long ago transformed into a celebration of family and friendship. Not for us the dark of winter. Our Christmas is a secular quest for sunshine and happy release. We Pakeha are a people of the middle: beginnings and endings are not really our style.

This gift of Matariki, then, what will be made of it? Can a people spiritually unconnected to anything other than their digital devices truly appreciate the relentless progress of gods and heroes across the heavens? The elders of Maoridom must wonder. Can Te Ao Māori be concentrated into the equivalent of spiritual orange-juice – to be distributed freely every June in a handy cultural packet? “Here you are Tau Iwi – just add water!”

Too harsh?

Isn’t it possible that Matariki may yet prove a cure for, rather than a cause of, racist contention? Maybe, as the Earth grows warmer, and the pretensions of science and modernity are increasingly laid bare, the hunger of all Aotearoans for gods and heroes will increase. Perhaps, when we realise that these islands are all we’ve got, the thought may grow in our hearts and minds: If all things are, indeed, related and alive, then why not be guided by the stars?


This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 24 June 2022.

34 comments:

CXH said...

No real problem with Matariki, although I am a little surprised that after pointing out how wrong it was to force Maori to follow white man's traditions, it is considered right to do it the other direction.

As for the spiritual part. The majority of Kiwis, from all backgrounds, have no real link. Many may on a personal level, but as part of an organised system where you are punished if you step out of line, not so much.

David George said...

How do I feel? All of the above probably.
Douglas Murray's remarkable new book, The War On The West, is, in large part, a warning of the dangers to, and a call for a proper appreciation of, the West's cultural and technological contributions to humanity. Douglas is far too nuanced a thinker to leave it at that however.

His conclusion: "the best of human knowledge and culture must be transferable and understandable across racial and social lines. Otherwise, we decide that somethings must be cordoned off, offered to, and appreciated by only certain racial and ethnic groups. That way lies a replay of all the worst things of the past. Replayed in the guise of opposition to just such a replay"

"And today when people ask where meaning can be found, they should be encouraged to look at what is all around them and just beneath their feet. If they look properly, and with some forgotten humility, they just might recognise that what they have is more than just luck. It is all that they will ever need."

The Matariki does seem to be being hyped up to the max. I think that's a mistake; lasting and widely accepted traditions rarely start that way, people, rightly, don't like being told what to think. The adulation of all things Maori narrative would be a little more accepted if it wasn't accompanied by an equal and opposite denigration of other cultural beliefs and traditions. Jacinda Ardern has blindly waded into war against Bethlehem school's support for Christian marriage beliefs for example. Her warped idea of a genuinely pluralistic, liberal society is worryingly one sided. A "a replay of all the worst things of the past. Replayed in the guise of opposition to just such a replay" ?

Anonymous said...

Wonderful!

iceman said...

Blimey!! Did you read what you have written? What a jumbled load of cobblers!

Brendan McNeill said...

American Sociologist Philip Rieff pointed out in his book “My Life among the Deathworks” that all social orders are first predicated on a sacred order. The sacred defines a societies taboos; those objects actions that are set apart from every day use and dedicated to the god(s) In this way a society is ordered and functions.

In the west, we have largely lost our understand of what is sacred as previously understood through the Judeo / Christian faith story. Instead we have sought to fill the void with large screen TV’s and the pursuit of pleasure, but still the void remains.

We subsequently embraced the new orthodoxy of “Diversity, Inclusion and Equity” (DIE) and continue to sanction those who engage in wrong think. Complementing the DIE trinity, we have recently added critical race theory; a conscious attempt to expunge the sin of ‘whiteness’ from our ‘lived experience’.

And now Matariki is competing for our embrace of the spiritual. How will it fare in what is becoming a highly contested market place? My guess is that most Kiwi’s will take the holiday, be oblivious to who is paying for their ‘free time’ and enjoy the extended weekend. Who can blame them? It provides a welcome opportunity to brush up on their pronouns, question their gender and repent of their whiteness.

John Hurley said...

The thing about matariki is that it is top down culture and the MSM are forming a tight scrum.
Are we supposed to be too dumb to notice? Personally I hate manipulation (I grew up under a narcissist).

I was thinking how things like the Shoe Fence near Burkes Pass grew spontaneously but once it was removed by Post-Colonialism Praxis Kotahi copiers sprang up but lost their oomph.

Sean Plunket has been dissing matariki as fake. He commented on the language in government publications. What a breath of fresh air because (as Isaiah berlins says) "to be free to choose and not be chosen for is what makes us human".

Ricardo said...

"pretensions of science...laid bare" what sort of pretensions exactly?

The pretension that vaccinations protect us, taniwhas actually don't exist, carbon is warming the planet, methodists do not inhabit alpha centauri, dinosaurs did not roam 6,000 years ago and certainly not alongside a fair-skinned and beautific couple called Adam and Eve.

If not these Chris, how is science pretending?

Tiger Mountain said...

My partner sent out a text to her close friends (female, late 50s to early 60s) this morning, and she got replies straight back for once, all positive about Matatirki, and some even feeling a bit teary after watching the TV coverage.

Despite all the failures, and successes, and incremental changes that few seem to know about, from this Govt. the Matariki public holiday will definitely be a significant legacy for decades to come. And it fits in nicely for a move to a Republic–why have a Queens Birthday when there is no more Queen? and the other issues you mention Chris.

I live in the Far North and am well used to Māori culture in daily life, but this is a new dawn and opportunity–I mean how much more do you want than the Cosmos itself?

Max Ritchie said...

I doubt that this day off will do any of the things you suggest. Like most holidays in this country most people will have a lie in and enjoy some leisure. For example, while ANZAC Day is pretty special, almost nobody attends a service. A few thousand at best. We make a big deal out of 5,000 people going to the Auckland Domain out of a population of over a million! Some might use it to have a Mid-Winter Christmas Dinner. Governments of all persuasions will try to make some capital out of it, hence the multi-channel TV coverage this morning, but by and large it’ll just become another day off.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Ricardo.

The pretensions of science are best exposed by its attempt to relocate the entirety of human experience within the material sphere. It is the scientists' repudiation and denigration of the sacred that has allowed the applications of science - and those who paid for them - to place not just the whole of humanity in danger, but also to threaten the survival of countless species and their habitats.

Science is not the danger, it is those who control its application and use.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Philip Rieff also said " we treat the past with considerable contempt. Or nostalgia. One is as bad as the other."
I suspect Brendan that you are guilty of the latter.
Personally I regard Matariki as a breath of fresh air – Sean Plunkett is more of a fart. It's about time we had more specifically New Zealand holidays, more specifically Maori holidays, and certainly a midwinter celebration.
Christmas is ridiculous in summer, particularly as most of the iconography comes from the northern hemisphere, where we get chubby old man in furs and a lot of snow. Not to mention it's a Christian holiday stolen from pagans.
I don't know who Ricardo is, he doesn't seem to post here very often, but I thought you were going to allow antivax crap here Chris.

There is a lot of mean-spirited bullshit about this online – particularly about "Maori stuff being forced down our throats." – Fine don't take the damn holiday then – life is about choices after all. I for one wouldn't give a stuff if you chose to ignore it – I tend to ignore daylight saving time myself. It's one of those things nobody asked me about before they brought it in. So I just leave my clocks on normal time. See how easy it is to sort these things? Less easy to keep one's mouth shut about it I guess though

Ricardo said...

To: Chris

Science does not attempt to relocate the entirety of human experience within the material sphere. There exists clearly an Einsteinian god as opposed to an Abrahamic one. Science attempts to provide explicable and organic harmony without the need for sheer belief based on faith and faith alone. Faith is too easily perverted.

Your assault on the applicators of science is surely an ideological one. Science has seen vast improvements in the human condition from the Enlightenment. For every Josef Mengele there has been a Jonas Salk.

greywarbler said...

I like your direction Chris and Tiger Mountain. Most others are too mean and narrow to hold a door open courteously to a different idea, a concept that suggests giving attention to our place in the universe, and how we are made of it, and how amazing that bits of it have come together to become us, and the wonder of it all and each other.

We don;t wish to take the time out to remember we are restless and emotional, trying to pretend we are rational to the core, and take advantage of each other and climb on each other's bodies to wrest our goal or desires from their place, or ignore harm to others that results in good to ourselves in some way. And how we trade in virtually worthless tokens that are controlled and valued in a worldwide system that gives these tokens a value acceptable by all, or in contrast no value, and yet though people are priceless it seems impossible to establish a way to treat each other as people of ubiquitous high value.

We talk high, elevate our minds with education, enquiry and judgments, or by quoting that of others, but cannot understand the humility we need to understand our world, and our own pretentious or flamboyant conceit, and in the end, reveal ourselves as blowhards who naturally descend to our default position which is to rationalise our regular, faulty decisions and actions. We can do wonderful things but need to apply the measure of rationality to them, and when we decide to suspend rationality for this occasion, apply an objective eye to the harm that could arise and decide within our society what level that would be, along with our society, before proceeding. One example of this is the use of mechanical vehicles on our roading system.

But at the end of the day, and the peroration of this, the system of interaction of 'heavenly' bodies in the sky, is a marvel that we are part of and can never take charge of and control, despite our trying ways. We need, for our own spirits to acknowledge that wonder which includes ourselves, and fall silent from our pretensions.

Joni Mitchell had something to say about Woodstock (beneath the song lyrics) that resonates with our world here at the present in these words:

We are stardust, Billion year old carbon
We are golden, Caught in the devil's bargain
And we've got to get ourselves
back to the garden

https://jonimitchell.com/music/song.cfm?id=75

Singing the message, the poetry of life, Woodstock -
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4lx86B6a3kc

Trev1 said...

The top-down imposition of an ethnic "tradition" is unlikely to endure. What next, an official cult of the Empress Ardern?

Anonymous said...

Matariki might well be the only legacy of the Ardern government that survives intact - if only because it provides an antidote to Waitangi Day, which has become tainted by it's focus on the over-burdened Treaty. I look forward to the day when we can revert to 'New Zealand Day' for February 6th - to symbolise the inclusive multicultural country we will become.

DS said...

There's the other possibility, of course. People see it as a long holiday weekend at the darkest time of the year, and appreciate Matariki as a "day off" where they don't have to negotiate frosty roads.

"Something about stars and Maori New Year. Let's put the kettle on."

Stu W said...

Matariki has the potential to be a great New Zealand holiday/festival. As a farmer we have always celebrated the winter solstice as a time of transition to the new growing year and a chance to put the previous season behind you and look forward with optimism to the next. Just as Maori do. I agree hyping it from the top down does it no favors, let it develope naturally and see what it grows into. Personally I think it has the potential to become more significant than Watangi Day which the majority of the population tend to shun and treat as irrelevant because a minority have turned it into a day of protest which turns the rest of the country off making it almost irrelevant. Perhaps ditching Queens Birtday holiday once our present monarch dies would give Matariki even more prominence.

Barry said...

To most kiwis another 'day off' is another day without pay. To all those children in so called poverty that means another day without warmth or good food. Many Maori are in this group.
Matariki has been hyped as something special -and I can see some reasons why but just like Easter (which is also based on movements of heavenly bodies) the significance will wane.
A few Iwi favoured people and the political savy will benefit from whatever the government spray around but like other such programmes few who really should benefit will see any input.

John Hurley said...

I've been analysing Arderns Nationhood speech. One question that comes to mind is - if everything is weepy and wonderful and going to unite us, does that mean she is going to cut out the "very violent histories" curriculum? Is she going to declare the neo-Marxist attack on majority culture dead?

Not bloody likely this is just Simon Durings:

"New Zealanders will come to know themselves in Maori terms"

AB said...

Sophisticated people are fascinated by everything - continually stowing new things under their mental hatches in the attempt (ultimately in vain) to understand the full amazing strangeness of the human organism. And while far from sophisticated myself - I'm happy to learn about Matariki and the offering of food to the heavens and saying out loud the names of the dead - just as every Easter I will make a couple of hours to listen to Bach's St John or St Matthew Passion. And without believing literally in either of them.
And other cultures have a winter solstice festival - it's now revived as a thing at Stonehenge for example. For those of us of European extraction there must be a winter solstice festival buried in our deep past as well. The objections to Matariki are tiresome and childish, while the dewy-eyed idealism about it is less objectionable because it's well-intentioned. I do wish people would just grow up.

Sean OConnor said...

@Chris Trotter I may have you pegged wrong, but aren't you a Marxist materialist?

Kiwi Dave said...

It seems a bit like Halloween, somebody else’s superstitious nonsense foisted on the public. If Matariki can enthuse children as Halloween does to some extent with dressing up and ‘free’ confectionery while making a profit for relevant businesses, it might take off, but I resent being manipulated by government sponsored, preposterous tales. Christmas has its preposterous tales too, but as you note, it has morphed into a celebration of family and food.

David Stone said...

At least Matariki has a basis in the natural world. Unlike any other holiday we celebrate. It must have been a significant time to all and any people living close to the agricultural calendar, or the hunting and gathering one come to that. With our dependence more than any other nation on earth on our agricultural output though only a very small proportion of the population is directly involved in it, it is a totally appropriate day for us to celebrate. The natural beginning of the year , without any need to make an racial issue of it.
Happy Matariki everyone
D J S

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I'm an atheist, many of my friends are also atheist though some are religious. I've never come across anyone who "mocks the Eucharist" at least not in front of me. The thing a lot of people don't understand about atheists is that apart from a few prominent nutcases, many of whom are Islamophobic and would feel quite at home with some of your commenters, most of us have no problem with religion as long as it's not forced on us. Which it often is to be honest. However all the atheists I know still celebrate Christmas in one form or other, I still buy Easter eggs, even though a block of chocolate is a much better bargain. :) I think though that many of us would prefer a midwinter celebration so we can have a better traditional Christmas dinner. So please don't casually characterise us as laughing at the Eucharist, it's pretty much a nonstarter.

larry mitchell said...

As an initial Matariki doubter ... "not another holiday", I must admit to having become captured by the concept.

An indigenous people's celebration connecting us all with the cosmos and the Tangata Whenua's perceptions of its mysteries, is powerful for forging stronger bonds of unity and national identity.

Could we please, though in future Matariki celebrations, have pauses, or a voiceover throughout a very long Karakia spoken in Maori and given ... the English version.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Sean O'Connor.

Nope, Sean, I'm a Christian socialist - always have been.

To: Barry.

Matariki is a public holiday, Barry, which means that all workers get to take it - and get paid for it.

Bloody socialism - eh?

Anonymous said...

1. ... scientists' repudiation and denigration of the sacred ... place[s] ... the whole of humanity in danger
2. Science is not the danger, it is those who control its application and use.

Science almost by definition excludes the sacred. That's not so much a fault as the whole point. However, on this earth, science is done by humans. Some embrace the sacred, many do not. When we are do science we attempt to measure what exists. Perhaps the pretensions are not so much of science as of humans who 'repudiat[e] ... the sacred'?

As a former priest, a practising scientist, and probable human I guess that logically makes me pretentious. And maybe dangerous - at least when viewed through the lens of Christian Socialism?

Frankie Lee said...

"Not to mention it's a Christian holiday stolen from pagans."

No, it isn't.

https://historyforatheists.com/2020/12/pagan-christmas/

Shane McDowall said...

You are right, Chris, it is "...a wee bit peculiar offering-up a cooked meal to a random configuration of stars".

But it is also peculiar to worship a Jewish carpenter as God.

At an early age I realised that all religions were equally boring.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Anonymous Frankie Lee said...
"Not to mention it's a Christian holiday stolen from pagans."

Read it ages ago, don't really believe it. There have always been midwinter festivals, long before Christianity. I didn't say that Christmas was based on a particular one.
The Hopi had one, the Persians had one, the Chinese, Indians, Japanese Peruvians ... Christians just couldn't do without one. But honestly, it's not really enough to get excited about one way or the other. Except perhaps we should celebrate it sometime around June. Like Matariki. :)

Frankie Lee said...

"Read it ages ago, don't really believe it."

That's your perogative, but it dosen't make the article wrong.

But whatever, I have more pressing concerns right now, as I'm sure you do too.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Chris, a thought provoking post, and very interesting discussion.

I think the deepest difference between any kind of spiritual belief and modern science is over the nature of living things. The modern scientific view is that there are no "life forces" or "spirits" or "mauri" or whatever, it's all governed by complicated, but knowable, physics and chemistry. At the molecular level, there's nothing special about living things. That statement seems outrageous at first. Surely, anyone can see there are obvious major differences between a living person and a dead body?

But what of viruses? They can be purified and crystallized, the crystals showing no metabolism, no sign of life. Yet, as the world knows to it's cost, they can also hijack living cells, use them to reproduce wildly, and undergo evolution to adapt to changing circumstances. Viruses are on a borderline, not quite really alive, but not quite really inanimate, either.

The test is who can produce effective countermeasures? Scientists have produced a range of safe and effective vaccines and therapeutics, based on their understanding of the chemistry of life. If there was a "spirit" or "vital force" or "mauri" or some such, they couldn't have done that without spiritual help of some sort, surely. The number of scientists involved in vaccine development reporting such spiritual help was essential to the effort is, to the best of my knowledge, zero.

The other thing that seems outrageous at first, is that all life is pretty much the same at the molecular level. What, really, irises and elephants, insects and humans, and all the other amazing diversity, fundamentally similar? Yes, it all uses DNA, RNA, and proteins in a similar way. That's why the mRNA vaccines work, and why transferring genes between organisms works.

The widest gene transfer I know of is between a plant and an insect, with a functioning plant gene operating in an insect. Some mad, wild eyed, illegal genetic engineer doing crazy stuff in a secret laboratory hidden from view? No, not at all, it occurred in Mother Nature. The plant uses the gene to reduce the effect on itself of a poison it produces to kill insects. The insect benefits from having the functioning gene inserted to help it eat the plant and survive. The insect also acts as a vector for plant viruses, and its thought the virus was involved in the gene transfer. So much for genetic engineering being "unnatural". It's turning out that horizontal gene transfer like this is quite a common source of variation for evolution to act on. Anyone who didn't much like the idea of evolution before, is going to hate it even more now!

But that we do need a change in who runs science, away from those who run it to benefit themselves, is clear.

In a rational world, developing new antibiotics to replace the ones that bacteria have become resistant to would be a top priority, fully funded, treated as a "moonshot".

In the real world, no pharmaceutical company sees big enough profits to make it worth their effort and investment. Siouxsie Wiles does her very best on very limited funding. Wholeheartedly and publicly spiritedly taking up science communication to help against covid can not have helped progress the antibiotic development. That she personally aknowledges even modest donations is a sign of how underfunded the work really is. In an updated version of a poster from my youth: "It will be a great day when the air force has to run cake stalls to get a new bomber, but antibiotic development gets all the money it needs".

David George said...

I have more interest in and affection for Christianity and it's modern shamans - Jonathon Pageau, Paul Kingsnorth and Jordan Peterson and all. But just what is going on?

An official endorsement, complete with gushing media support and mandatory holiday for a religious festival. The old God forgotten, at least I've not seen even an acknowledgement by the PM of the holiest days in the Christian calendar. Perhaps it's the novelty value that gives vibrancy to the Matariki and the non western mythologies generally. Or perhaps it's something else but it's very strange that otherwise profoundly (and proudly?) secular westerners would embrace with enthusiasm that while eschewing their own fabulously rich religion and their own ancient mythologies.

"I was an Aztec, a European Aztec. Or a European aborigine. One day, three tall ships arrived off our coast. They were captained by Darwin, Freud and Einstein. Effectively they were our conquistadors, because when they came inland and looked at it with their hard scientific eye, our golden bough became a blasted bough, and that, I had reason to know, is very serious. Disinheritance from delusion is still disinheritance. And it is when the disinheritance is radical that the truly dreadful can happen.

With that I felt I had the key to what has happened in Europe in the last three centuries.

Europeans didn't just disinherit Aztecs and Incas. Continuously since the sixteenth century, we have been disinheriting ourselves. And so hills that echo back the ring of our geological hammers have also echoed back the whistles of our 'nact-und-nebel' trains."

From Nostos by John Moriarty

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I don't think somehow that having a midwinter Solstice celebration, Maori or not, pagan or not, somehow means that people are abandoning Christianity – not that I disapprove of that. It's just a "nice thing". Most if not all secular westerners celebrate Christmas as well. And many still buy Easter eggs for their kids at Easter.
Christianity is just one Western tradition although an important one, but like many traditions it can lose relevance. And it has– particularly in its fundamentalist form, in spite of Jordan Peterson's weird efforts to make it seem more relevant – if you can understand him which I confess I can't often.
And what has happened to Europe in the last three centuries is quite possibly a good thing given that secular societies tend to be less crime ridden and more livable than religious ones.

"Sapristi nobolas"
Count Jim ‘Thighs’ Moriarty (Gypsy saxophonist to the house of Romanov)