27 May 2011

Māori New Year stamps from New Zealand

Date of Issue : 1 June 2011

New Zealand Post will issue a set of six stamps to mark the start of the Māori New Year with its Matariki 2011 - Hei Matau stamp issue on June 1, 2011.

Once a year, twinkling in the winter sky just before dawn, Matariki (the Pleiades) signals the Māori New Year. Traditionally, it was a time for remembering the dead, and celebrating new life. In the 21st century, observing Matariki has become popular again. Heaven-bound kites, hot-air balloons and fireworks help mark the occasion.Various Māori tribes celebrated Matariki at different times. Some held festivities when Matariki was first seen in the dawn sky; others celebrated after the full moon rose or at the beginning of the next new moon.

Matariki - Māori New Year Celebration

In the final days of May each year, a cluster of tiny stars intermittently twinkles as it rises on the north east horizon. To astronomers this constellation is known as Pleiades but to the Māori people of New Zealand, it is Matariki - a celestial signal of an ending and a beginning.

Matariki has two common English translations:

  • mata riki or 'tiny eyes'
  • mata ariki or 'eyes of god'.

But while there are two translations, for the Māori there is only one universal theme of Matariki. This is the beginning of a new life cycle, and the celebration of traditional Māori new year. The new year is marked by the next new moon after the appearance Matariki.

Preparation and ceremony
In days gone by, Matariki was a time to prepare for the year ahead, a time to learn and a time to celebrate the future.
Matariki was also a time of ceremonial offering to the land gods Rongo and Uenuku in the hope of a good harvest in the year to come.

As Matariki appears in the middle of the winter, at a time when all crops have been harvested, it was an important signal to the Māori people that they needed to be prepared with sufficient preserved food stocks to last them through to the next harvest. Once this important task was completed, the people were free to focus their attentions on other winter-time occupations such as learning, sharing, family and celebration.

End of harvest
The end of harvest was a plentiful time for all, and with village food stocks replenished to the brim, it was time for Māori to feast on and to share what was left of the harvest.
During Matariki, guests and visitors were showered with gifts and great hākari (banquets) were held in celebration of the New Year and the future.

Matariki tradition
The tradition of Matariki continues and is very much alive in modern day Aotearoa.

Exhibitions, lively festivals, concerts and cultural performances are among a growing myriad of entertaining events that take place throughout the country during the celebration of Matariki. Matariki celebrations vary in style and timing from region to region but the underlying principle of sharing, learning, feasting and festivity is constant throughout.

Matariki is a celebration unique to Aotearoa, and a chance for everyone to forget the winter blues by embracing the warm spirit of Matariki ahunga nui - Matariki provider of plentiful food.

NZ 12

The appearance of the star cluster known as Matariki is a time to celebrate New Zealand's unique history and place in the world. Meaning 'fish hook', matau are traditionally an important aspect of Māori life, providing Māori with the means to catch their kai moana or 'food from the sea'. Many fishermen had their own 'lucky' fish hook, which they would wear around their necks (hei matau) for safekeeping.

Today hei matau are used less for catching fish and more for catching someone's eye when worn as pendants. They remain a cultural treasure (taonga), and have an important link to the origins of Aotearoa, New Zealand. According to Māori legend, New Zealand's North Island was once a giant fish that was caught by the half-god and seafarer Māui, using a woven line and his magic bone matau.

Hei matau have a strong connection to Tangaroa, god of the sea, and as such the stamp products in this collection feature the common stylised element of the sea. Meaning 'the fish hook of Māui', the phrase 'Te matau o Māui-tikitiki-a-Taranga' has also been incorporated in the design.

NZ 12

60c Pounamu stamp

This modern hei matau has been handcrafted by Lewis Gardiner . Made from pounamu, it is representative of strength, abundance and provision. Commissioned specifically for this stamp issue, it is now a part of the New Zealand Post Collection.

60c Manaia stamp

This hei matau dates from 1500 to 1800, is housed in The Museum of New Zealand - Te Papa Tongarewa, and is an example of a functional fish hook that might have hung around a fisherman's neck. Made from whalebone, it's elaborately carved with manaia (Māori spiritual guardian) faces at the apex of the shank and also at the bait-knob. The traditional hook shape is designed to cut into the fish's mouth.

$1.20 Inanga stamp

This hei matau dates from around 1800, and is also housed in Te Papa Tongarewa. Sourced from Westland in the South Island, it is made from inanga (milky white) pounamu. The elaboratively carved crown is entirely decorative, and the barb point has also been decorated with delicate notching.

$1.90 Te Puia stamp

This hei matau was crafted for this stamp issue by Te Puia, the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute. It is based on the traditional pā kahawai, i.e. made from multiple materials and lashed together. Pounamu, whalebone, feathers and muka (flax fibre) are used for the hook, while the eye inserts are made with paua.

$2.40 Pukengaki stamp

Housed in the Auckland War Memorial Museum (Tamaki Paenga Hira), this hei matau is made from wood and dates from around 1800. The wood was trained to grow into the shape of a fish hook, then carved and combined with an unusually large bone barb designed to hook the fish’s mouth securely. The top of the hook features an intricately carved manaia face.

$2.90 Tohorā stamp

Also housed in Te Papa Tongarewa, this hei matau dates from 1750 to 1850. It is a classic symbolic representation of the fish hook used by the Polynesian cultural hero Māui. Made from whalebone, some say its shape is designed to wedge in the fish’s mouth rather than hook it.

: New Zealand Post

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