Owen Ormsby (Ngāti Maniapoto me Waikato) is a TEU Te Toi Ahurangi member and lecturer in the School of Bridgepoint at Te Whare Wānanga o Wairaka | Unitec. Here, Owen shares his memory of the significance of Matariki as a taitamaiti.
My recollections and childhood memories of another time – Ngā Mata o te Ariki, Matariki ‘The Eyes of God’ – are of the tradition of celebrating new life and preparing the soil for planting for the coming year. A time of karakia to the land and to the heavens, from Papatūānuku to Ranginui, a time of waiata and joining ancient songs with that of the birds as we planted and sang.
I grew up listening to and watching my father, my grandfather, and my grandmothers’ people of Ngāti Maniapoto and Waikato working with their gardens in turning the soil which had been nurtured since the previous harvest, and their commencement with an ancient karakia that acknowledged the seeds that we are planting, their ancient source from other lands that we brought to these shores of Aotearoa. Their healing properties in sustaining our lives, acknowledging Papatūānuku and Ranginui for together they sustain our lives, and too that we must acknowledge our blessings from the ancient lore of Iore.
Such was my learning and understanding to be one with the land and to acknowledge all who created and set the scene for life and living.
I remember my father collating the seeds from the respective vegetables, setting them aside and laying them out to dry, from preserving kūmara to taro, all were treated differently and stored separately and accordingly in readiness for planting in July with the arrival of Matariki in the heavens. My father taught me the respective depths for planting the seeds, not all were planted the same depth. That the kūmara had its place and depth for planting and our taro and ufi had their areas. I was fascinated with the variances in planting and as I grew older, I could see why my father and my grandparents accorded each seed and plant with much respect.
I was raised by my koro, with the old way of learning whakapapa, that nothing was to be written down - that one learnt by memory and recorded mentally the lineage from tūpuna and therefore could recite it when called upon.
I was taught that our plants too, have a whakapapa and are to be respected for they sustain our life force. That our birds are to be respected for they nurture our gardens and insects and that the birds also have a nurturing system, if we only look and listen. My elders taught me to listen to the birds of the forest for they are one with us. To respect, to acknowledge, to enjoy, and to appreciate.
We grew up with tūī, tīwaiwaka, and kererū and at night the ruru would sit in the tree outside calling. What fascinated me the most was the karakia and waiata during planting and seeing my father’s sisters preparing food with the gathering of huhu bugs from the fallen tree logs and roasting them for us.
In closing, the Matariki that I knew as a young boy is now a memory of another time, forgotten in many ways.