I had never heard of Matariki until just a few years ago when Te Papa organised a series of events to celebrate the 'Maori New Year'. It seemed like a jolly good idea for a number of reasons especially recognising a uniquely New Zealand holiday emerging from Maori culture and having a midwinter celebration to complement our summer chock full of Northern hemisphere holidays. Matariki is the name of the constellation also known as the Pleides which rises just before dawn during winter in New Zealand. The first new moon after its appearance marks the Maori New Year. Traditionally its significance related to the success of the next season's kumara crops.
Contemporary celebrations in the last few years have included art exhibitions, performances, tours of places of significance to Maori, lectures and so on. Last night we went along to a Matariki party hosted by some new immigrants (from Scotland) to New Zealand, in their beautiful straw bale house at out Whangarei Heads. We arrived not long before dusk and the drummers were already going hard, a tribe of children ran wild in the garden, and the long table was laden with food brought by guests. Later, after we had eaten our fill the party drifted out to the bonfire complete with fireworks, marshmallow toasting and wheelbarrow rides for the children.
It reminded me of some of the parties I went to with my family when I was a kid in the 1970s, the same kind of country setting, unconventional adults, lots of kids of all ages, musicians jamming together and best of all the bonfire. In those days, I would fall asleep in the car going home and, oh joy, be carried inside and tucked into bed. These days I am designated driver, but the ride home along the shore of the harbour was beautiful. Marsden Point, the oil refinery which is so ugly by day was lit up like a fairy kingdom and the crescent moon laid a silver path on the shimmering sea.