Ancient Hawaiians used the phases of the moon to divide the year into cycles. A new season begins this week so I thought it would be fun to tell you a little about the system itself and then about an important commemoration.
The methodology of measuring time by the moon is called Kaulana Mahina (moon calendar). Each month is determined by the 30 day cycle of the moon (Mahina). The moon cycle is divided into three 10-day weeks (anahulu). The weeks begin with the Hilo moon (new moon) in the Ho‘onui (waxing moon) phase. The full moon (Poepoe) and waning moon (‘Emi) are the other two moon phases. These three phases occur in each 30-day month.
The months are divided generally into two seasons: Ho‘oilo, the cooler, wetter season, and Kau, the hotter, drier season. The first month of "winter" is Welehu (mid-October). It is also the beginning of the Makahiki season (more about that later). The month that began on November 16 is Makali‘i (small eyes or very small). The next month will begin in mid-December; it is called Kā‘elo. Heavy rains are expected during this winter month. Kaulua is the month of transition between the rainy and warm seasons, beginning in mid-January. The name means "two seasons" as weather changes quickly from showers to sunshine and back again. Nana is the name for the month that begins in mid-February. It is considered the start of the growing season. Welo (March-April) is the last month of Ho‘oilo.
Each month had specific tasks, like preparing the land for planting, or planting certain crops (kalo, gourds, sweet potatoes, etc.) in certain areas. There were fishing seasons when certain fish could be caught or protected for spawning. Within each month, some days were better for fishing, others for planting, depending on the phase of the moon.
Makahiki is a celebration that combined features of harvest festivals and new year observances with religious/spiritual and political significance. It began in October and continued through January. During the four months of Makahiki, war was forbidden, instead energies were devoted to celebration. I’ll give you more details next time.
November 17th, 2009