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Puaka, Matariki and Me

 

Approaching winter, we get ready to celebrate Matariki, the Māori New Year. Down south in Dunedin, we also celebrate Puaka (known as Puanga up north), and this year will be the 8th annual Puaka Matariki Festival.

 

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When do we celebrate Puaka Matariki?

Cultures around the world have looked to the night sky to tell the time and date. They celebrated New Year by using stars to find the middle of winter. Because the seasons are reversed here in the southern hemisphere, for us that’s in the middle of the year.

Different iwi in New Zealand celebrate at slightly different times. In Otago, Kāi Tahu celebrate at the first new moon following the rising of Puaka and Matariki. This year, that’s 5 June. But that’s just the beginning. Here at the Otago Museum, we’re celebrating for a month, with renowned Māori astronomer and researcher Dr Rangi Mātāmua visiting us on 1 July to speak about astronomy and skylore. Come along to find out more; it’s free!

 

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 Image: Courtesy of Dr Rangi Mātāmua

 

What does Puaka Matariki mean?

Matariki is a cluster of stars in the constellation of Taurus, the bull. It has a few other names you might recognise, including the Pleiades and the Seven Sisters. They’re a group of bright blue stars, lighting up a cloud of dust around them.

Puaka is a star in the Orion constellation. This one’s easy to spot by finding the three bright stars in a row called Orion’s belt, and moving up from them. Astronomers also call it Rigel, and it’s a blue supergiant star, the brightest in this constellation.

Puaka Matariki is a celebration of the rising of both of these stars in the morning before dawn. While northern iwi mainly celebrate Matariki, Puaka is commonly acknowledged in the southern part of New Zealand. Here in Otago we celebrate both.

If you want to find these yourself in the sky, come along to our Matariki edition of The Sky Tonight in the Perpetual Guardian Planetarium and we’ll show you where they are.

 

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How can I get involved?

You can get involved in many parts of the celebration! Check out our full list of Matariki event and Dunedin’s Puaka Matariki hub for more information. There's plenty to do – join in the lantern festival, enjoy kapa haka in the valley, have a Matariki experience at the Museum or go stargazing in the dawn sky.