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Te Kāhui o Matariki

Te Kāhui o Matariki

Written by Brooke Patricia

Sun beats on delicate face,
Star Light, Star Bright

Sun beats on delicate face,
seeking to scold,
leaving a trace.

If it burns, it disfigures,
raucous laughter
to poisonous sniggers.

Be secure,
meet it with grace.

Stars shine on hopeful skin,
radiating light without
and within.

With warmth at dawn,
it’s great to be born.
Your days have been forecast
to win.

Winter creeps at autumn’s end.
It’s a precious life,
let’s make amends.

Through rearranging,
values changing,
we reconsider,
honour friends.
In doing so,
find that life extends.

We know we can do it
so we’re going to try.
Our hope’s shining through it –
our limit is the sky.

A New Year, whilst celebrated uniquely amongst different cultures, is universally joined by reflection and hope.

On Friday 24 June, around 70 affiliates of The Retreat gathered to celebrate Matariki, the Māori New Year.

Matariki refers to the closest cluster of stars to Earth which rises in the middle of winter. The cluster – a group of stars held together by gravity – is comprised of nine stars, with the parent star signifying reflection, hope, our connection to the environment and the gathering of people. It is also connected to health and wellbeing.

These are all key themes in the lives of recovering addicts seeking to make amends with their past, appreciate their progress and aspire to the possibilities of an abundant future.

The Retreat welcomed its guests, their whānau (family), staff, volunteers and alumni with its first hāngī, to mark the first time Matariki has been celebrated as a public holiday throughout Aotearoa New Zealand.

A hāngī is a traditional Māori oven with a pit dug in the earth and a fire lit, generally with tea tree. The Retreat used pine to get it started and then oak, with safety at the forefront. Steel was placed above the burning wood and, once it reached its ideal temperature, all the ash was scraped out to leave the remaining steel. This had to be a fast process because the steel cools faster than the wood. Baskets of food were placed on the steel. We then used corrugated iron above the baskets to avoid soil getting in. The whole hāngī pit was then covered in with the soil and compacted. It was cooked for four hours before being removed from the oven and double checked to make sure everything was ready.


The hāngī was blessed with a Karakia, Māori incantations and prayers used to invoke spiritual guidance and protection. They are generally used to increase the spiritual goodwill of a gathering, so as to increase the likelihood of a favourable outcome. This was certainly the case at The Retreat, with a joyous atmosphere enjoyed by all.

The Retreat catered for more than enough kai (food) to ensure nobody missed out. The menu included pork, lamb and chicken, with a fast array of vegetables. Attendees were then treated to steamed pudding and custard for dessert. All Retreat staff and guests were involved with preparation for the special feast, including food preparation and the assembling of tents.

The event concluded with a mid afternoon meeting to which all guests were welcome. A safe space was made available for guests throughout the day in case they became overwhelmed by a change of routine and a larger number of unfamiliar faces.

Iwi (Māori tribes) across the country celebrate Matariki in different ways at different times. Some iwi are unable to see Matariki from their rohe (region).

Mata can be a name for the face, especially the eyes, whilst riki translates to small. Retreat staff member, Ngaakete Andrews, explains that the story behind ‘small eyes’ came about through Ranginui, the Sky Father, and Papatūānuku, the Earth Mother.

“It’s believed they were holding together the pattern of the cluster, and inside of it were the seven children that they had. One of them saw a beam of light break through and realised that there was something outside of their parents,” he says.

Matariki is the optimum time for harvesting and fishing – for fruition.

“My mother used to plant by the moon for extra potatoes and then preserve them all year round,” says Ngaakete.

“This year the focus of Matariki is on reflecting. It’s a New Year and a new way of looking at things. What do you want to do? That’s what this is all about,” he says.

“How we treat our worth is how we treat ourselves. Let’s create a legacy for ourselves.”

Guests were asked to share their aspirations for the year. They were:

  • Be a better role model
  • Be positive
  • Reach my full potential
  • Be a better son, brother and friend
  • New beginnings
  • Be a present, sober father
  • Embody ancient philosophical living in harmony with nature on a day to day basis
  • See the world through sober eyes
  • Have better relationships with family and friends
  • Have a normal life again
  • Get recovery back
  • Be responsible
  • Have good energy
  • Stay serene
  • Trust in my foundation

Ngaakete encourages guests to be conduits for knowledge – to seek it and give it away.

“When you think you have knowledge, you lose it. It’s a fickle thing. Pass it on…

Matariki is a vehicle for recovery. Use it as a realm for your journey,” he says.

What the stars mean

  • Matariki is the star that signifies reflection, hope, our connection to the environment, and the gathering of people. Matariki is also connected to the health and wellbeing of people.
  • Waitī is associated with all fresh water bodies and the food sources that are sustained by those waters.
  • Waitā is associated with the ocean, and food sources within it.
  • Waipuna-ā-rangi is associated with the rain.
  • Tupuānuku is the star associated with everything that grows within the soil to be harvested or gathered for food.
  • Tupuārangi is associated with everything that grows up in the trees: fruits, berries and birds.
  • Ururangi is the star associated with winds.
  • Pōhutukawa is the star associated with those that have passed on.
  • Hiwa-i-te-rangi is the star associated with granting our wishes, and realising our aspirations for the coming year.

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