Kaulana Mahina vs. Gregorian Calendar

By Alesi Meyers-Tuimavave | Staff Writer
Graphic by Stacy Watkins | Graphic Designer

Hawaiian Lunar Months _Moon phases graphic- StacyHawaiian Lunar Months graphic

Pacific Islanders are known to have been wayfinders and navigators of the sea so it’s no surprise that the Kaulana Mahina, or Hawaiian Lunar Calendar, is based on the cycle of ka Mahina (the moon) along with the placement of the sun and stars. Ka Mahina is associated with females in many indigenous cultures, Hawaiʻi included. Originally, the Kaulana Mahina was created in association with the Goddess Hina, a Hawaiian deity otherwise known as the Goddess of the moon. Hina herself is associated with feminine strength and principle, procreative powers of womanhood, and is seen as the mother of Native Hawaiian people. While in search of a place to call home, Hina found most comfort in ka Mahina and decided to reside there in the night skies. From Hina’s location on the moon and prior knowledge of the celestial plane, astrologers were able to determine what should or should not be done on each moon phase for Native Hawaiians.

There are 360 days in the Kaulana Mahina, with 30 days in each Malama (month) based on the 30 phases of the moon. Malama are broken down into three ten-day Anahulu (weeks): the first is Hoʻonui (waxing phases), where the moon grows bigger; Piha Poepoe (round and full phases); and Hōʻemi (waning phases), where the moon descends and becomes small. Since the moon’s cycle doesn’t align with the sun’s 365 day rotation, having a five day difference, extra days are put into certain malama as needed. Additionally, every four years, there’s a “leap day” added to Kaulua (Feb.). Hawaiians also have Malama Pili - a 13th month that is added to keep the years and days aligned to the moon - a significant difference from the Gregorian calendar, which has a set 12-month cycle.

The Gregorian Calendar has a 365-day solar cycle that makes up the year. There are uneven months, ranging from 30-31 days with the exception of Feb., that usually has 28 days. Every month is composed of four seven-day weeks. Like the Kaulana Mahina, the Gregorian calendar also has a “leap year,” adding an extra day to Feb. every four years. People born on Feb. 29 either celebrate their birthday the day before or on Mar. 1. The world is almost split evenly by what day the week starts on, Sunday or Monday, depending on the country of residence. For those in the U.S., along with 66 other countries, the week begins on Sunday and ends on Saturday, but there are about 160 countries that start the week on Monday and end on Sunday, including Europe and Australia. Some countries that start the week on Sunday, a day seen as the “sabbath day” or day of worship by Christians, do so for religious purposes.

Kaulana Mahina splits the year into two seasons - Hoʻoilo (winter), known as the wet season and Kau Wela (summer), known as the dry season - consisting of six malama. Hoʻoilo is made up of Welehu (Nov.), Makali‘i (Dec.), Kāʻelo (Jan.), Kaulua (Feb.), Nana (Mar.) and Welo (Apr.). Kau Wela consists of Ikiiki (May), Kaʻaona (Jun.), Hinaiaʻeleʻele (Jul.), Mahoe Mua (Aug.), Mahoe Hope (Sep.), and ʻIkuā (Oct.). Every day of the Kaulana Mahina has a specific name and meaning, meant to guide Native Hawaiians on what they should and should not do regarding agriculture, fishing, spirituality, and daily tasks.

The Hilo moon phase (new moon) is the first night of the Hoʻonui anahulu and the first night of a new malama. Kahu (minister) Wendell Kalanikapuaenui Silva, a Hawaiian kahuna pule (spiritual healer) and author states, “The Hilo moon symbolically represented new life, and spiritual rebirth. Consequently, it was considered a very favorable day for establishing new beginnings, initiating innovative projects, creating new products and entrepreneurial enterprises.” (Silva, 23). Hilo moon is also a day for family prayer, religious worship, and farmers to grow crops such as sweet potatoes, gourds, ferns, vines, and other “creeping” plants. The indigenous people of Hawaiʻi believed Hilo’s energy to be weak and primal in nature, refraining from doing any spiritual healing or rituals relating to maʻi mai waho (illnesses caused by outside sources), along with closures or endings during that moon phase.

Another phase is Hoaka (crescent moon). It is believed that on this night, people can call upon ancestor spirits to answer prayers. It’s also a day for offerings, blessings, spiritual healing, channeling mana (supernatural energy), and for farmers to grow tuber plants. On the other hand, Hoaka is also seen as the “phantom moon”, where powerful sorcerers can call upon malevolent spirits to perform evil biddings. People were encouraged to stay indoors past nightfall on this moon, and those who couldn’t were urged to carry a green ti leaf for protection and stay away from ghostly apparitions. Fishing is also prohibited on these nights, and fish were known to “run away.”

Māhealani is the fourth night of the full moon phases, “when the moon rises just after sunset and does not set until after sunrise.” (Silva, 46). It’s also known as the “lost and found” night, where ancestral spirits are called upon in hopes of finding personal belongings or lost objects that have been misplaced. Diagnosticians favored this night for performing tests, health screenings, and seeking out causes of illnesses and cures to diseases. Although it’s a good time to seek out what’s been lost or new cures, it’s not the night to conduct any healing or clinical protocols, since it’s a transitional period into a time of increasing darkness - marking the demise of a new moon. Starting new projects and hiding objects was also discouraged during this time.

Given that this is a brief summary of only a few of the many moon phases and breakdowns of protocols during each phase, Silva’s book, ʻAno Lani; ‘Ano Honua - A Heavenly Nature; An Earthly Nature; A Spiritual Guide to the Hawaiian Lunar Calendar, is a helpful resource for those interested in learning more.