Matariki around the world

In Aotearoa, this constellation represents the crushed eyes of Tāwhirimātea on the chest of Ranginui. Elsewhere, the star cluster is known as the seven brothers who ran away, the sisters who share a husband, or the six faces of one god.

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The story of the Matariki constellation is the lesser-known continuation of the Māori creation myth, after Tāne pushed Ranginui and Papatūānuku apart to bring light into the world. Tāwhirimātea, god of the wind and weather, wanted his parents to stay together. He sought utu for their separation, attacking his siblings, the other atua, one by one. His stormy rage defeated them all, until he reached Tūmatauenga, the god of humanity and war. The devastation of this defeat led Tāwhirimātea to gouge out, crush, then fling his eyes at his father’s chest, their gleam forming the Matariki constellation.

Māori aren’t the only people who saw and were struck by the Matariki star cluster. It is honoured by many cultures, each with their own stories and traditions. Matariki Around the World, written by Māori astronomy academic Rangi Matamua (Tūhoe) and journalist Miriama Kamo (Ngā Tahu, Ngāti Mutunga) dedicates half its pages to Māori astronomy, while the other half traverses the world, gathering stories from China, Tahiti, North America, Greece and other places. Elsewhere, this constellation is known as the Blossom Cluster, seven brothers who ran away, sisters who share a husband, and the six faces of one god.

In Japan, the stars are called Subaru, meaning “united”. For followers of the Shinto religion, the stars are a collection of jewels, which were used to bring Amaterasu, the sun goddess and ruler of the universe, out of a cave. Amaterasu had been hiding, leaving the world in cold darkness (also known as winter), after her brother picked a fight with her. He left the world in ruins. “You know how it is with brothers,” note Matamua and Kamo. Luckily, the jewels, hung at the entrance of the cave, drew her out into the world. Now, they are a sign that spring is on its way.

Watercolour illustrations by Isobel Joy Te Aho-White are textural and rich. In a spread about the maramataka the sky is a luminous purple, bordered by the waning and waxing moon. Layered dioramas show an eel slithering, people collecting shellfish, and delicate hands sowing seeds. In another spread, the sky darkens, and on it, a series of symbols, rendered in elegant linework, stand for each of the nine named stars. Waipunarangi drips with rain, Tipuānuku is crested with leaves, and a kererū perches on Tipuārangi. The Māori symbology of each of these stars is depicted in the following pages through detailed scenes.

This book is set to become an iconic resource for children and those who help them read it. If Matariki is a time to reflect on the past, celebrate the present and anticipate the future while gathering together, then this book does just that.

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