The culture of the Maori people, spanning across many centuries, is incredibly rich and complex – and yet, to most foreign observers, it may come as a surprise to learn that the original inhabitants to New Zealand observed rituals or celebrated the passing time precisely like “Western” populations.

Such is the case with the New Year celebrations. The Maori have a specific name for that: Matariki, and it falls into a completely different season for us living in the Northern Hemisphere, as it falls around mid-June, generally (but different tribes have different dates for Matariki), as it’s the middle of the winter in the Austral sky. The concept is similar to the Sol Invictus celebrations that constitute the base for the Christian Christmas holidays: it’s the time for celebrating the start of the new year, rejoicing in the abundance of food that has been harvested over the summer. At the same time, it is a moment to get together and remember the loved ones who passed away in the previous year.

Matariki means “eyes of God”, and the name for the celebration comes from the Maori name for the Pleiades’ constellation, as mid-winter is when they become visible in the Southern hemisphere. According to Maori mythology, the Pleiades were formed when the god Tawhirimatea tore his own eyes out and threw them in the sky, out of anger because the gods Papatūānuku and Ranginui had become separated.

A tribe will come together for Matariki for at least three days, with the celebration itself consisting in feasting, dancing and singing. During this peculiar Maori New Year there will be moments for giving thanks and respecting the land that gives its sons and daughters their fruits in such a generous way, while elders will come together with younger members of their family to talk about the importance of their ancestors and genealogy at large.