matariki festivities

Matariki, learning health lessons from our ancestors

Jul 7, 2021 9:30:24 AM / by Synergy Health

The rising of the Matariki star cluster (the Pleiades or Seven Sisters) marks the start of the Māori New Year. This year, the 2nd-5th of July is the rising, when you can see Matariki just above the horizon before the sun comes up.


Matariki in the sky

Interestingly, some iwi celebrate Puanga instead of Matariki. This is because in some parts of New Zealand, Matariki is not visible, and Puanga is the next closest star of importance. 


Matariki festivities were a celebration of life, honouring ancestors, and farewelling the dead. Offerings were made to land-based gods who would help provide good crops, and new trees were planted to signal new beginnings. 

Māori used Matariki as a signal for when to plant crops after the long winter.  It was believed if the Matariki star clusters were bright and clear, the upcoming harvest would be plentiful, and planting would begin in September. However, hazy stars warned of cold weather and poor crops, so planting would be left until October.

Matariki is still seen as an important time to celebrate the earth and show respect for the land on which we live.  Many traditional celebrations are still practised today; however, nowadays, most celebrations are focused on music, song, dance, food and family. 

Today it is also seen as a time for growth and change. It’s a time to pause and reflect on the year behind us and the year ahead. It’s a time for people to take a look at their lifestyles and health, and make some changes for the better. 

And one way to do that is to look back and take a good look at how our ancestors lived.  It was simpler times and are there real lessons to be learned from how they lived their lives.  With help from our Wellbeing Partner Synergy Health Ltd we take a look at a few that resonate with our GoodForYou 10 Healthy Habits philosophy.


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The lives many of us lead today are distant from those that our ancestors led.  Even reflecting back three to four generations will highlight the many differences we experience in our day to day lives now in comparison.  In a relatively short space of time, we've radically changed our lifestyles and environments. 

Much of this change and advancement has been for the better; however, there is growing evidence to support that some of these changes are in part to blame for many modern illnesses that are affecting such a large proportion of our population.  Let's take a look at a few examples of these changes in lifestyle and the habits we can create to overcome the negative impacts. 



Early Māori couldn't just pop down to the shops if they ran out of ingredients for dinner.  Making sure they had plenty of food to survive on took a lot of hard work.  Moving a lot during the day was just a part of life, and much of their strength was gained from simply carrying out their day-to-day tasks.  Planting, hunting and fishing were the only options they had if they wanted to eat—harvesting and storing food needed to be completed before the cold winter set in. 

Going about our day-to-day tasks now couldn't be more different.  We often spend 30+ minutes sitting in a car, bus or train commuting to work, followed by eight hours of sitting in front of a screen, only to commute home again and then sit in front of the TV all night to unwind from the day. 

Regular movement protects us from disease by preventing oxidative damage and inflammation. Find ways to move more, especially on the days that you don’t exercise. Long periods of low intensity movement are best.

  1. Try to take a break from sitting every 20-30 minutes by standing up and move around, even just for a minute or two.  If you need to meet with a colleague, then take it outdoors and go for a walking meeting.
  2. Instead of having a coffee at your desk, get together with your workmates and have it on the go whilst taking a short stroll. 
  3. And while you might not need to gather your food in the traditional way, you could try carrying your groceries instead of wheeling your trolley to the car or taking the stairs instead of the lift to maintain your strength. 



For our ancestors, long winter nights were a signal to rest more.  Something that is important to help our immune systems to deal with the impacts of winter and the colder weather.  In our modern environments, we pay less attention to what the seasons are telling us, staying up late staring at our blue-lit screens (think phones, tablets, computers, and TVs) and not allowing our circadian rhythm to tell our bodies' when to rest. 

  1. Take a cue from the sunset and turn off the mobile devices and hunker down for the night earlier.
  2. Dim the lights in your house where you can after dark and try to spend at least the last 60 minutes before sleep doing something to relax that doesn't involve an electronic device (e.g. a good old fashioned book!).  You should find you wake up feeling more rested and ready to tackle the day.



If there is one thing that our ancestors did not have access to, it’s all of the processed foods we have today. Looking back at our ancestral diets provides us with some simple insights into how we should perhaps be eating today.  Basing our meals on foods that grow from the land is great for our health.  You wouldn't have found processed food with a list of unrecognisable ingredients within the meals of our forefathers.  And whilst we don't necessarily need to plant our own crops anymore, if you do, you will have access to cheap, fresh, and seasonal real food right outside your door. 

  1. The best way to avoid processed, sugar-laden foods is to shop the perimeter of the grocery store.
  2. Stock your own pātaka (fridge, freezer, and pantry) with plenty of in-season fruits and vegetables along with any combination of meats and fish, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats.  This way, you always have a supply of good-for-you food on hand, and you will be less likely to reach for sugary treats.  
  3. Try opting for organic foods is a great way to improve your health and the health of the planet. Try eating as many raw, organic fruits and vegetables as possible. If you eat meat, try eating organic, grass-finished beef, fresh-caught fish, and free-range poultry. You may also want to try adding more wild game, a staple of our ancestors’ diets.


Our ancestors didn’t have the same level of daily stress we have today in the form of deadlines, the hustle-bustle of commutes and business travel, and corporate ladder competition that has so many people trying to climb to impossible heights.
They also did not live in a 24-7 technology driven world. While technology makes our lives better in many ways, we need to know when to pull the plug.

  1. When stressed, lost in a problem (or a mistake) or the past or future in your mind breathe with your belly for two minutes and just focus on the air going in and out. This will calm your body down and bring your mind back into the present moment again.
  2. Do one thing at a time. You’ll get better results and feel better and less stressed while doing those things.
  3. Stop trying to do things perfectly. Go for good enough instead and when you are there you are done. Get things all the way to done this way and then move on to the next thing.


These lessons are still relevant today and they form part of our 10 Healthy Habits which are the cornerstone of our GoodForYou Wellbeing Program.  If you haven't already checked it out click on the tile below and have a look for yourself:


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As with all things in life, there is a balance between our ancestors’ healthy lifestyle and how we live today. And so hopefully by taking advantage of the best of both worlds we can become a healthier version of ourselves.


Tags: Health & Wellness, GoodForYou