Hawaiian Lunar Month
In the traditional Hawaiian calendar, the lunar month was determined by the 29.5-day cycles of mahina, the moon, and the passage of days were marked by the phases of the moon. The approximately 30 days of the moon cycle were divided into three 10-day periods known as anahulu.
The first 10-day period was called “ho‘onui,” “growing bigger,” beginning on the first crescent (Samuel M. Kamakau, Works of the People of Old / Na Hana a ka ka Po‘e Kahiko 17; David Malo, Hawaiian Antiquities 31-32).
1. Hilo (faint thread; cf. puahilo, “faint, wispy”). The month began with “the first appearance of the new [crescent] moon in the west at evening,” just after sunset, as the moon moved out from behind the sun (David Malo, Hawaiian Antiquities 31).
2. Hoaka (crescent; arch over the door; Handy and Handy say the name means “faint light” or “casting a shadow.”)
3-4-5-6. Kūkahi, Kūlua, Kūkolu, Kūpau (The four Kū days, literally, First, Second, Third, and Last Kū)
7-8-9-10. ‘Ole Kūkahi, ‘Ole Kūlua, ‘Ole Kūkolu, ‘Ole Kūpau (The four ‘Ole days, literally, First, Second, Third, and Last ‘Ole Kū. ‘Ole Kūlua was the first quarter of the moon; the names for days 7-10 match the names of days 21-24 of the last quarter moon. Days 7-10 mark the transition from less than half-lit moon to the more than half-lit moon.)
The second 10-day period was called “poepoe,” “round” or “full,” as the moon became full and round.
11. Huna (“to hide”; when the moon hides its “horns” and appears more rounded)
12. Mōhalu (“to unfold like a flower,” “to blossom”)
13. Hua (fruit, egg)
14. Akua (god; the first night of fullness)
15. Hoku (the second night of fullness; if the moon is still out at sunrise, it is called Hoku ili, “Stranded moon”; if it has set just before sunrise, it is called Hoku palemo, “Sunken moon.”)
16. Māhealani (the third night of fullness; “māhea” means “hazy, as moonlight”)
The nights of the bright moon – Akua, Hoku, and Mahealani – were referred to as “nā pō mahina kōnane,” kōnane meaning “bright moonlight.”
17. Kulua (E.S. Craighill Handy, with Mary Kawena Pukui, gives this day name as “Kulu,” which could mean “to drop” or “to pass, as time does.”)
18-19-20. Lā‘au Kūkahi; Lā‘au Kūlua; Lā‘au Kūpau (Literally, First, Second, and Last Lā‘au Kū. During this sequence, the sharp “horns” of the moon begin to appear again.)
Notes on the Full Moon
The moon appears full on three days, the 14th (Akua), the 15th (Hoku), and the 16th day (Māhealani).
Kamakau (Works of the People of Old / Nā Hana a ka Po‘e Kahiko) writes: “The night when the moon was full was the night of Akua; the second night of the full moon was Hoku, when it began to crumble (puehu) and peel; the second night of this peeling was Māhealani” (p. 17).
Lorrin Andrews, Dictionary of the Hawaiian Language (1865), gives the following definitions:
- Akua: “The name of the night when the moon was perfectly full.”
- Hoku: “The name of the fifteenth day of the month.”
- Māhealani: “The name of the sixteenth day of the month; the day when the full moon began to lose its roundness.”
Pukui-Elbert, Hawaiian Dictionary (1986), gives the following definitions:
- Akua: “Name of the 14th night of the full moon.”
- Hoku: “Night of the full moon.”
- Māhealani: “Sixteenth day of the lunar month; night of the full moon.”
David Malo (Hawaiian Antiquities) writes: “... and the fourteenth night, by which time the shape of the moon had become distinctly round, was called Akua, this being the second night in which the circular form of the moon was evident” (pp. 31-32).
Handy and Handy, Native Planters in Old Hawaii (1972), write that Māhealani was “the full moon” (p. 38).
Malo writes of the period of the full moon, “it sood directly overhead at midnight,” having risen at sunset on the opposite side of the sky from the sun.
The third 9-10-day period was called “‘emi,” “decreasing” or “waning,” as the moon loses its light. The last quarter moon rises around midnight and sets around noon. Muku, the new moon, is unseen between the earth and the sun.
Of this period (ano), Malo writes, the moon, as it waned, “showed itself in the east late at night,” as it was now over three-quarters of the way behind the sun along the path of the ecliptic.
21-22-23. ‘Ole Kūkahi; ‘Ole Kūlua; ‘Ole Kūpau (Literally, First, Second, and Last ‘Ole Kū; ‘Ole Kūlua was the last quarter; the names of days 21-23 match the names of 7-10 days of the first quarter moon, and mark the transition from more than half-lit moon to less than half-lit moon. );
24-25-26. Kāloa Kūkahi; Kāloa Kūlua; Kāloa Pau (Literally, First, Second, and Last Kāloa Kū. Kāloa is short for Kanaloa, a major akua, or god.)
27. Kāne. (The name of a major akua, or god.)
28. Lono. (The name of a major akua, or god.)
29. Mauli (“Ghost,” “spirit”; Malo: “fainting”; Kepelino: “last breath”)
30. Muku (“Cut-off.” The new moon; the end of the moon cycle. The moon is in front of the sun: its backside is lit, and its frontside, facing the earth, is dark.)
A chant for remembering the days of the moon:
Kamali‘i ‘ike ‘ole i ka helu pō
Kamali‘i ‘ike ‘ole i ka helu pō
[Chidren who do no know how to count the nights]
Muku nei, muku ka malama
[Here is Muku, cut off is the moon/month]
Hilo nei, kau ka Hoaka
[Here is Hilo (Faint streak of light), the Hoaka (Crescent) rises]
‘Eha Kū, ‘eha ‘Ole
[There are 4 Ku days, and 4 ‘Ole days]
Huna, Mōhalu, Hua, Akua
[Huna (Hidden), Mohala (Blooming), Hua (Fruit), Akua (God)]
Hoku, Māhealani, Kulua
[Hoku (Full Moon Night), Māhealani (Full Moon Night), Kulua (Trickling away)]
‘Ekolu Lā‘au, ‘ekolu ‘Ole
[There are 3 Lā‘au (Plant) days, and 3 ‘Ole days]
‘Ekolu Kāloa, Kāne, Lono, Mauli no.
[There are 3 Kāloa (Kanaloa) days, Kāne, Lono, and Mauli (Life-Spirit). Kanaloa, Kāne and Lono are three major gods of ancient Hawai‘i.]
The Cycle of Moon Phases
As the moon orbits the earth and changes its position in relationship to the sun and the observer on earth, the moon goes through a cycle of 29-30 “phases,” its lit surface waxing and waning from dark to fully lit, and back to dark.
These phases are determined by the position of the moon on the Celestial Sphere. (For an explanation of the moon’s position on the Celestial Sphere, see “The Celestial Sphere.”)
When the moon is on the same side of the Celestial Sphere as the sun, between the observer on earth and the sun, the observer faces the unlit side of the moon, which appears dark (New Moon); when the moon moves away from the sun and off to the side, the observer sees more and more of the portion of the lit side, as the moon waxes from crescent to gibbous. When the moon is on the opposite side of the Celestial Sphere from the sun, with the observer on earth in between, the observer sees the fully lit side of the moon (Full Moon). As the moon moves back toward the sun on the Celestial sphere, the observer sees less and less of the portion of the lit side, as the moon wanes from gibbous to crescent.
Chart from Skywatchers of Ancient Mexico by Anthony F. Aveni (Austin: U of Texas, 1980).
From the canoe:
1. When the sun is setting, and the moon is between it and the observer on the canoe, its backside is lit, its frontside dark (New Moon).
2. When the sun is setting, and the moon is rising on the opposite side of the sky, its frontside is lit and it appears full of light.
3. When the sun is setting and the moon is in the first quarter, the moon is near the Zenith, overhead, and its western side is lit, its eastern side dark.
4. When the sun is setting and the moon is in the last quarter, the moon will rise six hours after sunset, at around midnight, and be overhead toward sunrise, with its eastern side lit by the soon-to-rise sun and its western side dark.