By Léo Azambuja

The children of Kapa‘a Boys and Girls Club, clockwise from bottom left, Larissa Dimms, Kaliko Sugahara, Timberlin Pereira, Ezekiel Kea, Charlize Kenney, Anthany Long, Alena Abell and Jasaiah Reis.

In ancient Hawai‘i, the sun may have been the most important celestial body. But the moon was right next to it in status. If the sun was used as a unit time for the day, the moon was the unit of time for the month. As such, the Hawaiian word mahina was used for both the moon and a month. Even in the Western culture, the word month comes from the word moon.

In Western Culture, the lunar month is divided into four primary and four intermediate moon phases — new, waxing crescent, first quarter, waxing gibbous, full, waning gibbous, third quarter and waning crescent. By contrast, in the kaulana mahina, the Hawaiian lunar calendar, each month has 30 pō mahina, or moon phases, divided in three anahulu: hoʻonui (waxing), poepoe (full), and hoʻemi (waning), according to cultural practitioner and kumu Kamealoha Hanohano-Smith.

“From my perspective as a practitioner, the purpose of the moon calendar, it gives a tool that Hawaiians used and continue to use as a way to monitor the use of natural and cultural resources,” said Hanohano-Smith, project coordinator at the nonprofit organization Kaiāulu Papaloa.

For the last few years, a program at Kaiāulu has taught schoolchildren how use the moon calendar by observing and recording changes in the natural environment influenced by the moon phases in each month. The children go out on field trips to collect information on cultural sites around the island. They match the information with the current moon phase to produce a moon calendar that can be applied to real life events.

A child from the Boys and Girls Club works at Kealia Farms. Contributed photo

The moon calendar can be used to monitor fish and other natural resources in the watershed and along the coastline, including tidepools. It tells you when it’s a good time to fish, pick limu, pick opihi, plant and even surf. And it also tells you when you should not do those things; Hanohano-Smith said there are seven nights out of the 30 that are considered to be unproductive for fishing and planting.

“The Hawaiian moon calendar allows us to look at the weather and all these kinds of things which you’re looking at, through the maka, or through the eyes, of how Native Hawaiian people lived in the past, and how we’re updating all of those traditional practices so that they’re relevant for today, not just for issues of sustainability,” said Hanohano-Smith, adding the moon calendar helps to give context for problems we are experiencing today, such as climate change, water diversion, global warming and rising tides. “All of that can be understood through the eyes and viewpoints of the native (Hawaiian) people.”

In ancient Hawai‘i, the year was divided into two six-month seasons, kau and ho‘oilo, according to the late historian David Malo, in his book Hawaiian Antiquities. Kau was characterized when the sun was directly overhead, when daylight was prolonged, when tradewinds prevailed, when days and nights alike were warm and the vegetation put forth fresh leaves. Hoʻoilo, Malo wrote, was the season when the sun declined toward the south, when the nights lengthened, when the days and nights were cool, and when herbage died.

According to Malo, there were considerable differences among islands in old Hawai‘i in the nomenclature of the months and divisions of the year. Each island used similar names to designate months, but those names didn’t correspond to the same months. For example, Ka‘elo was June on Kaua‘i, January on Big Island, May on Molokai, and November on O‘ahu.

Kamealoha Hanohano-Smith and the children from the Boys and Girls Club. Contributed photo

It gets even more complicated with the seasons. On Molokai and O‘ahu, the ho‘oilo season was from January to June. On Big Island it was from November to April. On Kaua‘i, it was a whole different story. Malo recorded information from an old man, a famous kaka-olelo from Waimea, who said on Kaua‘i, the year was divided in two seasons; mahoe-mua from April to September, and mahoe-hope from October to March. Malo also offers other sources in his book, and all of them have different names for months and timelines for the seasons. It doesn’t necessarily means there is one single truth. There are so many distinct environment throughout the archipelago, and even within each island, that it is feasible each community experienced the weather differently.

Hanohano-Smith, under Kaiāulu Papaloa, did a detailed research to come up with the names and a timeline for a moon calendar published by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council in partnership with Kaiāulu in 2016, with help from Kapa‘a Elementary School children in the Boys and Girls Club after-school program. In 2013 and 2014, he had worked with Kawaikini Public Charter School elementary schoolchildren to put together a moon calendar. This year, Kaiāulu is planning to work again with the children from the Boys and Girls Club to produce another calendar.

Aunty Lovey Harper and some of the children from the Boys and Girls Club are seen here at Lydgate Park in Wailua. Contributed photo

“What I know, some of it I learned orally, and then a lot of it was passed on through Hawaiian language newspapers and also through classes that I’ve taken to … become a better practitioner,” Hanohano-Smith said. And then there is the kilo, or observations, of the natural environment and the effects of the moon on it. “We try to make sense of what is going on above, around and under us.”

On the 2016 moon calendar put together by Hanohano-Smith, the ho‘olio season (wet season) goes from the beginning of November to the beginning of May, and the kauwela season (hot season) is during the other months.

The corresponding names for each month (with a different name in parenthesis being more related to fishing practices) in Hanohano-Smithʻs calendar are; Kāʻelo (Hilioholo) for January, Kaulua (Hilionalu) for February, Nana (Hukipau) for March, Welo or (ʻIkuwā) for April, Ikiiki (Welehu) for May, Kaʻaona (Kāʻelo) for June, Hinaiaʻeleʻele (Ikiiki) for July, Mahoe Mua (Hinaiaʻeleʻele) for August, Mahoe Hope (Mahoe Mua) for September, ‘Ikuwā (Mahoe Hope) for October, Welehu (Hilinamā) for November, and Makaliʻi (Hilinehu) for December.

A child from Boys and Girls Club doing research and observations in Kapa‘a. Contributed photo

These names were used by ancient Hawaiians for their lunar calendar. They are not to be confused with the Hawaiian names corresponding to the months in the Gregorian calendar, which are hawaiian-language versions of the English names of each month.

For every month in Hanohano-Smith’s calendar, a natural resource in a given place on the island was observed and recorded, generating stories from kupuna (elderlies), information on the month, and description of the sites.

“I really want to impact education, and this is my contribution,” Hanohano-Smith said. He added the children are smart and wonderful when they go out in the environment. We don’t spend enough time using what we already have to teach the children about agriculture, aquaculture, resource management and renewable energy. The foundation of all these things, tied to economic development, he said, comes from the moon calendar.

“This is what has made me realize the importance of doing reasonable development here that is aligned with the resources that we have. That’s a departure from what Western people think. To me, it’s more about living in balance with nature,” Hanohano-Smith said.

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