The Hawaiian calendar, based mostly on the lunar phase, is similar to the common calendar used by the majority of the world, although there certainly are differences. To this day, many Hawaiians actively follow the Hawaiian calendar and utilize the moon phases as environmental guides. Each Hawaiian island keeps a separate calendar and has different names for each month, with many similarities and overlaps. The wet season, Ho’oilo, begins in November and ends in early May. The dry season, Kauwela, runs from May to October. See the two photos below for (1) a depiction of the Hawaiian months and the wet and dry season, and (2) the various names of each month on the Hawaiian islands.
Each island’s new year, called Makahiki, begins anywhere between October and January. On some islands, the rising of Makaliʻi (Pleiades) at sunset following a new moon (most often in late October or early November) notes the new year and the beginning of the wet season. Pausing any ongoing wars or strife, Makahiki was historically celebrated with a festival that centered around a harvest, honor for Lono (god of fertility and rain), and competitions. In Kaua’i, a large Makahiki celebration regularly occurred at Kāneiolouma heiau in Poipu.
Hawaiian months are determined by the 29.5-day cycles of the moon. This ~30-day month is broken up into 3 ‘weeks’ of 10 days each, called anahulu. Instead of a 7-day week, the Hawaiian calendar has a 10-day week.
The first 10 day anahulu is “ho‘onui,” or “growing bigger.” These are the 10 days of the month when the moon is waxing towards a full moon.
The second 10 day anahulu is “poepe,” meaning “full” or “round.”
The third 9-10 day anahulu is “emi,” meaning “decreasing.” These are the 10 days of the month when the moon is waning towards a new moon.
As evident by the labels below the moon, each lunar phase has a name with a specific meaning. For example, a Hilo moon is the first crescent moon (top left). “Hilo” translates to “wispy” or “faint,” and was also the name of a famous Polynesian explorer. As the first glimpse of the moon following a Muku moon (new moon), Hilo moons were very important in navigation. Hilo moons are also associated with good deep-sea fishing but poor reef fishing, and it is not recommended to gather below ground roots and vegetables on these nights (Hawaii Lunar Phases). Hawaiians have a chant to help remember the names of all the moons, the Nā Po Chant,
Kamali‘i ‘ike ‘ole i ka helu pō
Muku nei, Muku ka malama
Hilo nei, kau ka Hoaka
‘Ehā Kū, ‘ehā ‘Ole
Huna, Mōhalu, Hua, Akua
Hoku, Māhealani, Kulu
‘Ekolu Lā‘au, ‘ekolu ‘Ole, ‘ekolu Kāloa
Kāne, Lono, Mauli, Pau
Little children who cannot count the nights
Muku is here, Muku the dark moon
Hilo, followed by Hoaka
Four Kū, four ‘Ole
Huna, Mōhala, Hua, Akua
Hoku (“star”- full moon), Māhealani, Kulu
Three Lā‘au, three ‘Ole, three Kāloa
Kāne, Lono, Mauli, Done
To view the names of all the moons, follow the link to the Hawaiian Voyaging Traditions website. To view the full 2021 Hawaiian Lunar Calendar by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, click here.
Continue on the course with a lunar observation activity, and then learn about the traditional sayings and fishing practices associated with each Hawaiian month. For your reference and because each island used different names for the months, the months are listed in this format: ‘English name – Hawai’i island name/Kaua’i island name.’