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Review: Matariki: The Star of the Year

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Matariki: The Star of the Year
by Rangi Matamua
Huia Publishers, 2017
paperback, 128 pp., illus.
ISBN 978-1-77550-325-5

Since the Northern Hemisphere contains the largest portion of Earth’s human population, general astronomical texts tend to focus on the stars viewable by these peoples. One focus area that does not receive much attention outside of hard-core astronomy books are those star groupings viewable from the Southern Hemisphere, and the mythologies surrounding them. Through the voyages of Kon-Tiki and Hōkūleʻa, experiential archaeologists and cultural anthropologists have solidified the narrative about how Oceana’s sea-venturing civilizations relied upon their connection to the stars to determine positioning, navigation to their destination, and timing throughout the year. When presented to Western audiences, often these tales are viewed through (mis)translation and interpretation that dilutes the original meanings.

Inside Matariki: the Star of the Year, Dr. Ranga Matamua, a Māori professor of indigenous studies and astronomy, has created an eclectic tome on one of Oceana’s most storied astronomical phenomena. Known as the Pleiades to Western astronomers, the star cluster is also recognized as Messier object 45 (M45) or colloquially as the “Seven Sisters.” Dr. Matamua’s interest in Matariki and indigenous astronomy began during his undergraduate days, when he asked his grandfather Timi Rāwiri Mātāmua about the Māori New Year celebration around the rise of the star cluster. His grandfather produced a 400-page handwritten manuscript of astronomical observations collected by family ancestors, stretching back to the 19th Century. Toward the end of his life, Timi Rāwiri Mātāmua implored Dr. Matamua to share the astronomical knowledge, stating “Knowledge hidden, wasn’t knowledge at all.” [1]

Matamua, a Māori professor of indigenous studies and astronomy, has created an eclectic tome on one of Oceana’s most storied astronomical phenomena.

Within the pages of the book, Dr. Matamua weaves a tale of Matariki’s relevance from the days of Greek astronomers in the West to the varying tribes in Oceana. Introductory chapters lead readers through the eyes of the Māori people and their connection with the stars, for both travel and annual societal shifts, such as harvest and coming of winter. For mythological lore, Dr. Matamua includes a family genealogy of Matariki and her children, representing stars within the cluster. Additional tidbits of indigenous astronomy fill out the book, such as the Māori lunar calendar with identified phases, translated names of the planets, and dates of the rising and setting of Matariki until 2050 AD.

One of the most refreshing portions of the book is set near the end, presenting Māori proverbs that feature Matariki, such as:

Ko Matariki te kaitō i te hunga pakeke ki te pō
(“Matariki draws the frail into the endless night”)


Ka rere ngā purapura a Matariki
(“The seeds of Matariki are falling”).

The former proverb details the coming of winter, where often the elderly and weak pass away, while the latter identifies when winter snowfall occurs during Matariki’s rise into the sky.

Due to its release and printing in Aotearoa New Zealand, the paperback copy has a steeper price than similarly focused astronomical mythology books in the United States. For budding cultural anthropologists interested in astronomy around the world, however, Dr. Matamua’s book will provide a refreshing view of the night sky and lore attached to the stars and is worth the purchase cost.


[1] Arnold, Naomi. “The Inheritance.” New Zealand Geographic, Issue 152, Jul - Aug 2018.

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