Learn the Hawaiian moon names and more about the lunar calendar
The moon and moon night names are of great importance in Hawaiian culture. In this section I will explain about the moon, the names of each night of the month (lunar cycle), the shape of the moon when observed along with its location, the reason for the change in the amount of illumination from “new” to “full”, and perhaps some other aspects of the moon along the way.
Note to our Hawaiian language readers:
He mea nui ka ʻike ʻana no nā pō mahina ʻoiai he ʻike kuʻuna ia e nalo nei i kēia wā hou e neʻe nei. Ma ʻaneʻi au e wehewehe ana no ka mahina, ka inoa o kēlā a me kēia pō, ke kino a me kahi o ka mahina ke nānā aku, ke kumu o ka mālamalama hapa ʻana a me ka mālamalama piha ʻana, a me kekahi mau kumuhana hou aku nō hoʻi.
Inā makemake e heluhelu ma ka ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, e hiki ana i kēia mua aku, ke haku au.
There are most likely many ways of describing the moon night “system” traditionally used here in Hawaiʻi: variations in location, understanding, use, and explanation of the observable phenomena are all partly responsible for the differences. As we should all remember, ʻaʻole pau ka ʻike i ka hālau hoʻokahi, meaning that not all knowledge is contained within one hālau, or school. So it is with that initial caveat that I shall attempt an explanation of the moon names and positions as I have come to understand it from my two main sources: David Malo’s incredible explanation in his work Ka Mooolelo Hawaii and my own observations since about 1998, when I first became interested in truly understanding the traditional system of moon nights.
I am going to approach this from what I believe was a traditional viewpoint, rather than from a modern scientific viewpoint with its intrinsic precision and its ability to include information unattainable by traditional people (like minute and second accuracy, prediction of distant future events, exact percents of illumination, and true space-based observation of the Earth-Moon-Sun system). Although the scientific explanation of the moon’s appearance and times of rise and set is a wonderful thing, I want to try and explain the whole to you in a “traditional Hawaiian” manner as best I can.
First, there are thirty nights in the month; or, I should say, we have 30 names to use for the nights of one moon cycle. Each night has its own name. We want to use the term “night” rather than “day” because that’s just how you have to do it in the traditional system. It’s essentially the same thing either way, since both names (Hawaiian pō and English day) both refer to the 24 hour daily cycle which is repeated more or less 30 times to make one month.
The Hawaiian word for the moon is mahina, and a lunar month is a malama. Sometimes, however, you may find a confusion of the names with mahina used for a month, and malama used for the moon! Either way, as is usual for Hawaiian, you have to ascertain the context of the word’s use and that will inform you of its meaning within that context. For this article, I will use mahina for the moon, and malama for the month.