Mahina- The Moon

The moon was very important to the survival of Hawaiians. To the Hawaiian people, the moon was not an astral object that was projected into the sky millions of years ago as the result of a catastrophic event The moon, Mahina, was family. Personified, she was the goddess Hina She gave us the cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth each month- without fail By her very naiure of predictability, she was a reliable source of information that insured survival for generations upon generations. Just as lunar patterns and cycles were distinguished by nightly observations, so were correlating patterns and cycles noted in the sky, land and among living things on earth. Planting and fishing patterns were developed in alignment with lunar patterns that gave optimum yields. The times for resting fishing grounds or gardens were just as important, and also widely known, because of the moon. Hawaiian knowledge of the moon names, functions and rhythms was a common knowledge, shared with all, because the moon was a benevolent provider of time proven, life giving resources and knowledge. As such, great reverence was given to the moon, and chants were offered in her honor.

Hawaiian culture embraces the moon as a provider, personified as Hina, who is born, grows, dies and comes back again in birth. The moon’s characteristics determine an ancient Hawaiian pattern of activity for fishing and farming practices. Students should understand the heritage of moon knowledge and the feelings of respect Hawaiian people have had for the moon and her important role for generations.” (‘Imi ‘Ike—Cycles and Hawaiian Traditions)

Photo credit: Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council
Menehune Fishpond on Kaua`i. Photo credit: John DeLay

The Hawaiian Lunar Calendar

Just as the seven-day week suits the needs of our current time and place, so the ancient Hawaiian lunar calendar met the particular needs of Hawaii’s indigenous people. There were 30 days in the Hawaiian lunar cycle, and each of these days had a name. On each of the 30 days in the calendar, there were tasks to perform as well as prohibited activities that were reserved for other days. Just as nowadays we might designate Monday as laundry day and Saturday as fun day, so each of Hawaiian lunar calendar contained a strict order of accepted and expected activities.

Keeping Accurate Time

Hawaiians actually counted nights, not days. A new day began at sunset right after the sun disappeared below the ocean’s horizon. Each new month began with the night of the new moon. It was important to correct the moon calendar periodically so that the seasons corresponded to the movement of the sun. The lunar month of 29.5 days was probably balanced each month from 29 to 30 days, and every three to four years, another 13th month may have been added to fit the seasons.

Another trick the Hawaiians may have used to keep the days and months in balance with the seasons was simply to omit a day for each of six months of the lunar year. Another possibility suggested by King David Kalakaua was that the astronomer priest balanced his months and seasons by inserting five bonus days at the end of the Makahiki season each year. Some modern astronomers theorize that, tike the ancient Greeks, the Hawaiians readjusted their calendar every nineteen years.

Photo credit: Maui Magazine

Variations in Hawaiian Lunar Calendar

Whatever the method used, the purpose was always for the month to end on the dark night of the moon and to begin with the night of the new moon. The Hawaiian night, Muku, always needed to fall on the dark of the moon, so the day before could be left in or omitted as the need arose. Visually, to the trained eye, the moon phase told the nights exactly, and the seasons were easily differentiated.”

Source: ‘Imi ‘Ike—Cycles and Hawaiian Traditions. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2021, from–00-1–0–010—4——-0-1l–11en-50—20—00-3-1-000–0-0-11000

Explore the resources below to learn more.

2022 Hawaii Lunar Calendar by Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council

Source: Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council

Hawaiian Moon Phases and Traditional Natural Resource Management

Source: Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council