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Aotearoa celebrates Matariki with a nationwide feast

The winter solstice brings with it the rise of Matariki and a new nationwide celebration of food.

A Matariki feast is prepared to celebrate the harvest and look forward to the year ahead. Credit: Aaron McLean

Aotearoa New Zealand is into festive mode with the arrival of Matariki on June 25, an increasingly significant time in New Zealand’s cultural calendar marking the beginning of Māori New Year.

As the southern hemisphere midwinter deepens, the Matariki star cluster - known to astronomers as Pleiades or the Seven Sisters - rises in the New Zealand night sky. Formed more than 100 million years ago, the cluster plays a pivotable role in ancient and now modern Māori mythology.

There is a rising popularity for Matariki celebrations, both local and national, and the 2019 edition will be the biggest festival yet.

Feast Matariki

Eat New Zealand - a food community dedicated “to connecting people with our land through our food” - is the force behind New Zealand’s first national food celebration, Feast Matariki.

Running throughout June and July, Feast Matariki has confirmed at least 40 events and regional activations, and this is likely to rise to 100 as more are announced over the coming weeks.

The festival will include regional efforts such as the Feast Festival in Taranaki, Elemental Feast in Auckland, Matariki Dish Challenge in Waikato, Dine Dunedin, FAWC in Hawke’s Bay, and Feast Matariki in Wellington.

Leading Māori chef Monique Fiso from Hiakai restaurant in Wellington and international chef Charles Michel of Netflix The Final Table fame, will collaborate on a Matariki feast using foraged flora and an exploration of indigenous flavours and ingredients, alongside an evening of storytelling.

Chief Executive of Eat New Zealand Angela Clifford says the festival is a chance to recognise and celebrate our national food culture in a way that is uniquely New Zealand.

“It is important to us that our original food culture and story is better known by all New Zealanders. Our aspiration is to use this important platform as a way to carry discussion about what makes New Zealand unique in the world of food. We imagine it will evolve over the years and the vision is that it becomes our way to give thanks for this amazing country and all it can provide.”

Events throughout the country will be as diverse as street festivals, Matariki dish competitions, hāngis (food cooked in pits under the earth), community food celebrations, long tables and chef collaborations.

“Other parts of the world celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas with food in cooler months too. It’s a way to slow down, bring people together, and enjoy the best of what can be put on our tables from the preceding harvest season. This is something we did traditionally; we just want to highlight this again,” said Clifford.

Feast Matariki went global, as chef Alex Davies of Gatherings in Christchurch took the festival to London, joining fellow New Zealander and chef Margot Henderson, founder of London’s Rochelle Canteen for a one-off ‘Dinner Takeaway’ on June 4. Davies presented a plant-focused menu showcasing a unique array of New Zealand ingredients.

Feast Matariki is the chance to honour New Zealand’s bi-cultural heritage, to hero native ingredients and to showcase and acknowledge the spirit of manaakitanga or hospitality.

Matariki - Dawn rising

Matariki takes place in mid-winter from late May or early June (the dates vary according to tribes and geography) as the stars reappear to the human eye just before dawn throughout winter and early spring.

For Māori, the arrival of Matariki signals a seasonal ending and a beginning. It gives people the chance to connect with their whanau (family) to reminisce and reflect on the year that has passed and rejoice and rejuvenate for the new year that lies ahead.

Like many cultures, food plays an integral role in the rituals and life of Māori. Traditionally, Māori believed the earth was the giver of life. From the earth came food and so Matariki was a time of ceremonial offering to the Māori land gods Rongo and Uenuku in the hope of a bountiful harvest in the year to come.

When Matariki appeared the annual harvest and stockpiling for the harsh months ahead became a priority. Once the harvesting was complete, it was time to celebrate with kai (food) often cooked in a hangi in the ground and shared with whanau and friends.

Since the beginning of the 21st century there has been a revival of Matariki. Initially seen as an opportunity to help revive the Maori language, the event continues to rise in popularity. The first modern day Matariki celebrations took place in 2000. Around 500 people attended that first festival, with numbers swelling to 15,000 within just a few years.

Events can be found on the Feast Matariki website where regular updates will be added:

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