Professor Rangi Mātāmua receives the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Māori astronomy

Astronomy professor Rangi Mātāmua receives the New Zealand Order of Merit

Astronomy professor Rangi Mātāmua says he is humbled by this honor.
Photo: RNZ / Ashleigh McCaull

Interest in Matariki continues to grow, says the man who led the campaign to make it a holiday.

Astronomy professor Rangi Mātāmua was awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit on Friday in Wellington along with several other Māori for their achievements in their fields.

Sir Pou Temara, along with a number of tohunga, led a hautapu ceremony at Te Papa to mark Matariki becoming an official holiday for the first time in 2022.

Professor Mātāmua chaired the Matariki Advisory Group and was appointed senior advisor to the Labor government, leading to this milestone.

On Friday he was honored with the title of Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to Māori astronomy.

“I felt very honored and I think it’s these moments where you think about all the people who influence your life and lead you to these situations, so I guess it was a lot of reflection,” Professor Mātāmua said.

Next month will be the third time Aotearoa has celebrated Māori New Year as a public holiday, and Professor Mātāmua has been described as instrumental in making that happen.

“In the two years it has been established, we have seen it grow from 50 per cent of the country celebrating Matariki to 60. It has been massive growth, huge real interest and I hope that is reflected in any support in any sector that we see in Matariki” said Professor Mātāmua.

Professor Mātāmua was also Kiwibank’s New Zealander of the Year in 2023 for his work communicating the importance of Mātauranga Māori.

With that mātauranga Māori he said that there were many tohu throughout the year, including Matariki, to show what is happening with the taiao.

“Throughout the year there are many different signs and signals that tell us about the weather and what is happening in relation to species, flora and fauna, not to mention astronomical markers. So I think what happened last year is a real indication of the fact. We really need to be more connected to our environment and really be aware of what is happening in our environment.

“It speaks to us every day, it’s just that we don’t listen, many times we don’t pay attention to the signs in the environment… the environment is not the problem, it is us, whether we pay attention to those signs or not.” signs and do something about it.”

Several other Māori also received awards today, including musician Tama Waipara, who was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Māori music.

Tama Waipara, who was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Māori music.

Tama Waipara after being appointed to the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Māori music.
Photo: RNZ / Ashleigh McCaull

Waipara and his group of followers confronted the waiata tautoko Professor Mātāmua when he received his award, shortly before he too ascended and was honoured.

He felt both humbled and whakamā to receive her praise.

“It feels somewhat disingenuous to accept an honor as an individual for something that belongs to all of us, but having said that I don’t accept it as an individual, I am here representing the kaupapa and once I understood that I was kei te pai,” Waipara said.

He won Best Roots Album at the New Zealand Music Awards in 2014 and has been a huge influence and mentor in the development of Māori musicians such as Teeks.

He also has a new album on the way.

“There are waiata que ko te reo te whenua, who sing the song of our place and our land, but more as a means of realizing our connection to each other, so there is a lot of emphasis on the separation of who we are. In reality , this amplifies our connection,” Waipara said.

‘East Coast Moon’ is his most popular song, which he performed with Maisey Rika in 2020 and has over 1.5 million streams on Spotify.

The pair worked together with other Māori musicians to record an album and concert for tautoko the preservation of Ihumātao in 2019.

The same year he also became founder, chief executive and artistic director of the Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival.

He echoed Professor Mātāmua and hoped to see tautoko towards Māori art.

“On a superficial level, it is a huge contributor to our economy, the creative economy alone. So I would expect a smart governance entity to continue to support and defend what makes us special,” Waipara said.

Astronomy professor Rangi Mātāmua receives the New Zealand Order of Merit


Photo: RNZ / Ashleigh McCaull

With all the mahi Professor Mātāmua has been doing for Matariki, I was hoping for some downtime.

“I’d actually like to go hunting, I’ll probably have to come back and mow the grass on the marae if I’m perfectly honest, I’ll probably be next on the list, I’ve got a book coming out next year which will be “My main post on Maori astronomy “It will have about a thousand Maori stars and a hundred strange constellations and all the narratives related to those astronomical bodies,” he said.

Both Professor Mātamua and Waipara have dedicated their honors to their whānau for supporting their careers.