To take part in a celebration drawn from this land. To continue a tradition going back centuries. To feast on the summer’s bounty, to look for signs of the coming season. To consider time differently. To remember those who passed away; to say their names again, into the night, and to let them go.
In Aotearoa, the new year begins in mid-winter with the rising of the constellation Matariki. This year, for the first time, we all have a day off to celebrate it together. What should we do? Nic Low spoke to Rangi Matamua, the guy responsible for it all, and a number of tohunga kōkōrangi, astronomers, about what Matariki was and is and could be.
One of the themes that emerges is that Matariki offers an opportunity to look outwards rather than inwards. The lunar calendar, the maramataka, like the one included with this issue, is a way to start thinking about your relationship with the land, sea and stars.
You can also start in your backyard. Go to nzgeo.com/local to read stories about exploring what’s around you. These are stories about what can be found on the rocky shore, what can be foraged and eaten among the weeds that grow on driveways and berms, and what species live in the mudflats that border urban motorways. These are reminders that the natural world isn’t out there in a national park: that the turning of the seasons can be marked by the flowering of onion weed (which is delicious) as much as by the migration of the godwits. Throughout Aotearoa, we’re lucky to have a good view of the stars.
So: rug up and go outside for Matariki. As omicron continues to spread, as medical professionals predict a flu season to rival all flu seasons, spending time outdoors is a safe way to see others.
In the past, our survival depended on our ability to closely observe the natural world. We no longer rely on these observations for our next meal, but they’re important to us in a different way. They counteract the abstracted fashion in which we increasingly connect with each other online, the fracturing of our attention spans by the communication devices in our pockets. Many of us participate in online communities, and the internet offers us a place of affirmation and connection. The internet can also make it harder for us to empathise with others and to be present in the physical world.
The way to pull our minds out of the Cloud and back to earth is, literally, to concentrate on the earth, in ways that might seem, at first, to be pointless. In ways that are usually deemed unproductive.
One of my favourite thinkers, Jenny Odell, dedicated a whole book to this, called How to Do Nothing. She writes: “I’m suggesting that we protect our spaces and our time for non-instrumental, non-commercial activity and thought, for maintenance, for care, for conviviality. And I’m suggesting that we fiercely protect our human animality against all technologies that actively ignore and disdain the body, the bodies of other beings, and the body of the landscape that we inhabit.”
Matariki is a reminder that we inhabit an ever-changing place alongside ever-changing fellow humans, and that there’s something crucial in noticing these transformations.