In Maori mythology, Matariki has 2 meanings.
Firstly, Mata riki literally means “eyes of the God”. Legend has it that when Rangi (sky father) and Papa (earth mother) were ripped apart from one another, one of their sons ( Tāwhirimātea – god of the winds) was so angry he ripped out his eyes and threw them into the sky.
The second legend has it that Matariki is the mother star surrounded by her 6 daughters. They rise early in the winter to reinvigorate Te Ra (the sun) as he becomes weary on his long journey.
Maori of all tribes identified the presence of the stars as a signal of the success (or otherwise) of their upcoming crops. The brighter the stars shone, the better the harvest would be. Marariki is also a time for family (whanau) to come together to reflect on their relationships, and remember their Whakapapa (ancestors). Celebrations centred on the family and giving thanks.
Matariki traditionally has been celebrated at different times for different iwi (tribes), but all celebrations centre around the rising of the star constellation Pleiades in the morning sky. In the Southern Hemisphere this happens some time around the end of May/beginning of June.
Pleiades is a cluster of 7 stars (only 6 are now visible to the naked eye – but in ancient times, all 7 could be seen) in the constellation of Taurus. There are myths and legends about these seven stars in almost all cultures world wide – from the ancient Greece, Navajo in North America, Japan (the car manufacturer Subaru uses Pleiades as it’s logo!) and even the Aztec and Inca of Central and South America.