Kara Rickard: ‘Matariki is being home and being on our whenua’

For Kara Rickard, Matariki means being on her whenua and spending time with her whānau. That’s why this year, RNZ’s afternoon Matariki programme presenter is going on the road for a live broadcast from her hometown of Whāingaroa Raglan.

It’s a “dream result” for Rickard who has hosted the programme each year since Matariki first became a public holiday in 2022.

“This year I just wanted to go home with my family, and then [RNZ] said, ‘what about if we come to Raglan and do it there instead?’ and I was like ‘great’. I just didn’t want to be in Auckland, so taking the show to Raglan is the dream result.”

On Friday 28 June, Rickard and Mark Williams will host Matariki On The Air from 12pm – 5pm on RNZ National. It’s a packed show, with guests including musicians Jordan with a Why, Erny Belle, and Lost Tribe Aotearoa; Olympian and surfing champion Billy Stairmand; and chefs Kārena and Kasey Bird.

“We’re gonna do it live from a great little restaurant there called Ulo’s Kitchen, out on the deck, and we’ve got lots of local guests. We’ll have kaumātua in to talk about the history of Raglan, and my dad will probably stop in for a chat, so a pretty fun Matariki show from my hometown.”

Rickard’s whānau is a part of Raglan history itself – her grandmother Tuaiwa ‘Eva’ Rickard was a pivotal figure in the Māori land rights movement from the 1970s to 1990s.

“I whakapapa to Raglan, my dad was born there, my grandma, and all the generations back. I wasn’t born there, but I grew up there. In the [second world] war, the government took our land off us under the Public Works Act for an airfield so that planes could land, and then after the war they were supposed to give it back and they didn’t.

“My nan fought for years and years to get it back, she got arrested, she protested, and then finally in the 80s the government gave it back. When she got the land back, she rang my dad, cause he’s the eldest, and she’s like, ‘you need to come home’, so he moved us all home and I grew up on that land, pretty much on my marae, and lived there my whole childhood.”

Black and white image of Maori land rights activist Eva Rickard

Rickard says growing up, she was aware of Matariki but didn’t celebrate it the way she does today.

“It’s a fairly new concept to us, like lots of people, it wasn’t something that we really grew up with, even though I grew up in my te ao Māori. I knew what the stars were, but Matariki wasn’t something that we talked about or celebrated. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve really started to learn about it along with lots of other people.”

Awareness of Matariki has undoubtedly grown since becoming a national holiday in 2022. For younger generations, celebrating Matariki is also a part of schools and kura across the motu.

“I’m lucky cause one of my kids is in kura kaupapa and the other two are in reo Māori education, so they have a hautapu ceremony at kura. We get up at 4am, go down, do our karakia, and then they do their kai ceremony where they give gifts to each of the stars. They’ve been doing that since they were really little, that’s something I never got to experience as a kid.

“For them to have a hautapu and know which food items belong to each star and what the karakia are for each gift you’re giving to the stars is awesome.”

Rickard’s whānau has built a star compass, kāpehu whetū, up on one of their local maunga so they can stargaze together.

“We get up really early morning and go up and try and see Matariki, we take hot chocolate and cups of tea and watch the stars, and then we go home and have breakfast together which is quite nice. Whoever doesn’t get to come watch the stars has to cook breakfast. We always go out on the moana, whether that’s going surfing, or we have a waka down there and lots of the kids are learning how to sail.

“But for us, it’s about being home and being on our whenua, sharing kai together, sharing stories with the kids. It’s reflecting on the people that we’ve lost over the last few years and being grateful for what we have and being in the present and then planning for the future. It’s a big reset and a nice way to take stock of everything that’s going on in your life.”

One ceremony Rickard does with her tamariki each year involves writing down on a piece of paper one thing they want to let go of and one thing they want to achieve.

“They don’t have to show it to me, we just write it down and let that go up in the sky. It’s a cool way for them to process any negative things or something they want to leave in the past year and think about something they aspire to. I don’t know if that’s very Māori but it’s just something we’ve been doing as a family.”

Rickard says matauranga Māori, Māori knowledge, is at the heart of Matariki.

“Even if you’ve been raised in te ao Māori, it’s a specialist kind of knowledge knowing about that stuff, so when you have people like Rangi Mātāmua who have been sharing all of the matauranga and information, it’s amazing for us because you don’t really know where to find it. Not every family has people can do a hautapu or who know the karakia; amongst Māori there’s been a real surge in trying to bring the knowledge back.”

Matariki is observed at different times in June or July each year – this is because Māori follow an environmental calendar system that considers the sun, the moon, various stars, and other ecological indicators to determine time.

The Matariki public holiday falls on the closest Friday to the Tangaroa lunar period during the lunar month of Pipiri. In 2022, the Matariki Advisory Committee set out the Matariki public holiday dates for the next 30 years.

“I think it’s amazing that they’re sticking to that tikanga. They’re saying, every year it’s gonna be on a different date and that’s just how it is because if we want to stay true to that matauranga, then that’s the way we have to do it.

“Since it’s become a holiday, we’re doing national broadcasts every morning of the Matariki public holiday, which is quite cool, to have that on mainstream platforms for everybody to be a part of. Even when I did the first RNZ Matariki show, I was a bit worried that people would have negative feelings about it, but it was wonderful. I really feel like Matariki is a holiday that all New Zealanders can embrace.”

Last Matariki, Rickard learned how to make frybread – and she’s been practicing it for this year’s gathering.

“I’m not as good as the ladies who make hundreds and hundreds of frybread at the marae, but my frybread is quite good so there’ll definitely be lots of that. I’m trying to work on getting my aunty to give me our family steamed pudding recipe cause I also love steamed pudding.

“My brother always cooks a lot of meat, if the diving conditions are right, we’ll probably go out and get some paua, and the kids always do some baking; my son likes making little star cookies which is a fun activity, I like involving them in that kind of stuff. But basically there’ll just be a lot fo eating all weekend. As long as there’s frybread and golden syrup, I will be very deeply into that.”

As for future planning, Rickard ultimately wants to return home to Raglan.

“I wanna move home, I have a house there and I had always intended on raising my kids there; my oldest is 12 and my youngest is seven. We still haven’t made it but definitely in the next few years, my plan is to move back there and raise my babies on their whenua.”

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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