Stars of the Matariki cluster: Waitā

Stars of the Matariki cluster: Waitā

There are nine stars in the Matariki star cluster. It has many different names around the world, and is known as the Pleiades – its ancient Greek name – or the Seven Sisters in English. The Hawaiian name is Makali‘i, or ‘eyes of royalty’, and in Japan it is Subaru, meaning ‘gathered together’. 

The star Waitā (Greek: Taygeta) is associated with the ocean, and food sources within it. Assistant Curator Art Hanahiva Rose talks about a connection to this whetū in our collections.

Waitā is the star associated with the ocean: from the many moods and tides of Te Moana Nui a Kiwa to all the different lifeforms that call it home. Waitā sits below his twin Waitī, who is responsible for freshwater; freshwater always flows down into salt.

The ocean holds, and connects, many histories. Taonga from across our collections belong to these histories, making visible the incredible influence Te Moana Nui a Kiwa has had on our pasts and will continue to have in our futures. Some of these narratives are well known, others less so.

Between 2011 and 2013 the Waitaha, Kāti Māmoe, and Kai Tahu jeweller Areta Wilkinson spent time in museum collections around Aotearoa, engaging with taoka connected to her Te Wai Pounamu whakapapa.

One of those museums was Te Papa, where she paid particular attention to early adornment histories – viewing hei matau, hei tiki, mau kakī, taoka tawhito, mau Taringa, hei pounamu, and rei niho paraoa. Many of these taoka draw on the resources of Te Moana Nui a Kiwa to express Kai Tahu relationships with the ocean: the fish-hook shape of hei matau and sharp fish-hook point of mata, the sperm whale tooth of niho paraoa, the hundreds of shells strung along necklaces.

Hei Tupa by Areta Wilkinson, 2013. Purchased 2015. Te Papa (2015-0008-1)

Tupa are scallops – Hei Tupa is a necklace made of scallop shells. Wilkinson’s sterling silver forms echo shell adornments she saw in our Taonga Māori Collection. Rather than replicate their form exactly, Wilkinson has simplified the shape – creating what looks almost like a shadow of the original taoka.

This ‘shadowing’ draws on a process developed by Wilkinson and photographer Mark Adams, where they take cameraless photographs of taoka by placing them on photosensitive paper and exposing them to light.

The resulting photograph is generated by the imprint of the taoka on the page: marking a presence – a touch – while at the same time recording the absence of the actual object in the image. What is left is a memory of an encounter between the taoka and the light.

The pieces of jewellery made following these photographs ‘do not seek to replicate an existing image of the world,’ Wilkinson says, ‘but instead alert me to a new way of seeing from the world in which I stand, whilst still maintaining a relationship with the past’.[1]

I’ve been thinking of Hei Tupa as we prepare for Matariki, reflecting on its negotiation between absence and presence. By bringing these taoka back into the light, and giving them new form, Wilkinson has acknowledged their capacity for change and transformation, guided by connection and persistence.

Hei Tupa mediates a dynamic relationship between people, anchored by the many histories of a particular landscape. Like Waitā, Hei Tupa carries the ocean with it: reminding us that the life Te Moana Nui a Kiwa sustains is far greater than ourselves.


[1] Hei Tupa at Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū

Top image credit: Te whānau Matariki. Image by Te Haunui Tuna, 2016, supplied by Rangi Matamua

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