As Aotearoa approaches its first year with Matariki as an official public holiday, for broadcaster Miriama Kamo it will be a particularly special – and bittersweet – time. Along with esteemed academic Dr Rangi Mātāmua, Miriama has released a book about Matariki, but it’s also her first Matariki since her beloved father Raynol Kamo died. She talks to Capsule about discovering the meaning of Matariki later in life and what it means to know her father will be up in the heavens this year.
This year is the first year that Matariki, the Māori new year, is a public holiday in Aotearoa and for many of us, it’s a time to learn about this festival and what it means for both ourselves and the world around us.
Miriama Kamo (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Mutunga), Sunday and Marae presenter and one of our most beloved broadcasters, is excited that we are all embarking on this journey together.
“We need to approach Matariki with a sense of wonder and curiosity about the evolution of this knowledge as well,” she says. For Miriama, that evolution started around 15 years ago when she first started to properly learn about Matariki when she was doing immersion Māori.
“I remember suddenly becoming aware of this new-to-me concept and being surprised, because I grew up in Māoridom. We were little marae kids! So it was unusual for me to discover something I hadn’t ever come across before.”
“The more I’ve connected with it, the more fantastic it’s been. It’s been a really awesome way to connect back to parts of our mātauranga that I didn’t expect it would lead me to.”
“Matariki is a time when we rest, we acknowledge, we celebrate and we honour”
For Miriama, Matariki means a variety of different things. “Matariki is a time when we rest, we acknowledge, we celebrate and we honour, and we look after each other, as people and as whānau and as iwi. It’s also celebrating what the atua, the gods, provide for us.”
“And it’s a really beautiful way of connecting back to the planet – whatever your belief system is, whatever your mātauranga is around sustainability – I think it gives us a really wonderful framework to connect back to concerns like water quality and soil erosion. And it’s a uniquely Aotearoa way of connecting to them.”
Matariki is also the start of the Māori lunar calendar – the Maramataka – which covers not only the moon cycle but the energetic ebbs and flows of the natural world and how they can affect us.
“There have always been Māori experts who have followed the Maramataka their whole lives but now there is also a really concerted effort to connect as many as people as possible to it,” Miriama says. “It’s a new area of mātauranga that I feel joyfully able to partake in – but I’m only in the beginning of it. And iwi around the country have their different ways of acknowledging and following the Maramataka.”
“It’s a new area of mātauranga that I feel joyfully able to partake in – but I’m only in the beginning of it”
This is the same with Matariki, Miriama says. Different iwi have different customs and beliefs around the Māori new year, as well as different stars that they place greater importance on. “I’m Ngāti Mutunga on the Taranaki side and we acknowledge Puanga, so it’s not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, it’s not just one line of knowledge. If you’re Māori, you want to find out ‘how does it work inside my own iwi and what are the traditions we followed, and why were they important?’”
Miriama refers to two experts in the field that she looks to for advice on both Matariki and Maramataka: “I love watching the incredible Professor Rangi Matamua who created the Living by the Stars mahi, and Rereata Makiha, who is the godfather of bringing the maramataka mātauranga back to life.”
As a leading academic in Māori astrology and indigenous studies, Professor Rangi is “one of the kindest and busiest people on the planet,” Miriama says. The pair have teamed up for a new educational book called Matariki Around The World: A Cluster of Stars, A Cluster of Stories.
Not only is it a big way for Miriama to help others on their journey to learning more about Matariki, there’s another reason why this book – and this Matariki in particular – is so important to her.
Miriama’s beloved father, Raynol Kamo, died in August last year and the book is dedicated to him. In the ‘acknowledgements’ of the book, Rangi Matamua asked Miriama to use his part to talk about the passing of Raynol. When Raynol died last August, it was at the height of the lockdowns and restrictions, and like so many bereaved family members, Miriama’s whānau was unable to hold a tangi. Instead they held a restricted service which Miriama attended over Zoom. “It was a very painful time for our family,” Miriama says.
“At Matariki this year, my dad will be released into heaven as a star.”
But the timing of Matariki – and the birth of a new year – comes with its own legends around deceased loved ones. “At the time when this book is launched, it will be when Taramainuku will be releasing the souls of those he has collected over the year and they will be released into the heavens as stars,” Miriama says.
“So under this belief, at Matariki this year, my dad will be released into heaven as a star. It will be a beautiful time – bittersweet and sad, but also joyful. Because of the stories that Matariki provides us with, I have this comfort in understanding that my father has been on this beautiful journey so I can look to the sky and know that he’s there.”
Having that wider perspective on what our lives mean while on earth is a comfort for many of us, Miriama says. “We’ve done that for all of humanity, haven’t we? We’ve always looked for something bigger than us. And whether you believe in ‘the other side’ or not, I think what we can connect to as a bigger story is our environment.”
There is something also bittersweet in the timing of this first public holiday; of having national landmark date built around an ancient event that, in part, highlights the importance of the natural world… just as our understanding of the climate crisis deepens.
“Whether you look at that through a spiritual world view or through a practical one, the fact is that our world speaks to us and it couldn’t be clearer what it’s saying to us right now, which is ‘we’re in trouble,’” Miriama says. “Matariki – again, in a beautiful way – connects us back to being able to listen to those messages and act on them with the mātauranga we’ve been given.”