The Maori Division of Time
months of the maori year
months of the maori year
An inquiry into the question of the months of the Maori year and their names soon reveals a somewhat puzzling fact, viz, that no common system of naming months existed. Several series of names were in use, even in the North Island. Each tribe recognised proper names for the months, but also, and apparently more commonly, employed a series of names consisting partially or entirely of ordinal numbers, as Te Tahi (The First), Te Rua (The Second), and so on. The remarkable page 19 point is that the proper names of the months did not agree. Two distinct series of such names were in use on the east coast of the North Island. Of the institutions of tribes of the western coast we know little; few cared to collect any data save that pertaining to the wretched intertribal wars.
The word marama denotes both the moon and the lunar month; this is the term in common use, but an old term for month was kaupeka, a word meaning “branch”. The 12 months were the 12 kaupeka or branches of the year.
In common with other tribes the Tuhoe folk commonly used the terms The First, The Second, etc., in order to designate the months, but the proper names of them are as follows:
Pipiri. Kua piri nga mea katoa i te whenua i te matao, me te tangata. All things on earth cohere owing to the cold; likewise man.
Hongonui. Kua tino matao te tangata, me te tahutahu ahi, ka painaina. Man is now extremely cold, and so kindles fires before which he basks.
Hereturi-koka. Kua kitea te kainga a te ahi i nga turi o te tangata. The scorching effect of fire on the knees of man is seen.
Mahuru. Kua pumahana te whenua, me nga otaota, me nga rakau. The earth has now acquired warmth, as also have herbage and trees.
Whiringa-nuku. Kua tino mahana te whenua. The earth has now become quite warm.
Whiringa-rangi. Kua raumati, kua kaha te ra. It has now become summer, and the sun has acquired strength.
Hakihea. Kua noho nga manu kai roto i te kohanga. Birds are now sitting in their nests.
Kohi-tatea. Kua makuru te kai; ka kai te tangata i nga kai hou o te tau. Fruits have now set, and man eats of the new food products of the season.
Hui-tanguru. Kua tau te waewae o Ruhi kai te whenua. The foot of Ruhi now rests upon the earth.
Poutu-te-rangi. Kua hauhake te kai. The crops are now taken up.
Paenga-whawha. Kua putu nga tupu o nga kai i nga paenga o nga mara. All haulm is now stacked at the borders of the plantations.
Haratua. Kua uru nga kai kai te rua, kua mutu nga mahi a te tangata. Crops have now been stored in the store pits. The tasks of man are finished.
This list was given by old Tutakangahau, of Maunga-pohatu. The name of the first month, Pipiri, is that of a star, or rather of two stars apparently close together. Pipiri is one of the tokens of the new year and of early winter. Ruhi of the ninth month is a summer star situated near Rehua (Antares), whose wife she is in popular myth. The word ruhi, in vernacular speech, means “enervated”, “languid”, and she is said to cause man and vegetation to become so; she and Rehua page 20 personify the heat of summer. Her full name of Ruhi-te-rangi is employed by some tribes as a name for the ninth month. Poutu-te-rangi is the name of the star Altair, Such are the months of the Pleiades year as known to the Tuhoe tribe.
Adjacent to and seaward of the tribal lands of Tuhoe lie those of the Ngati-Awa tribe of the Bay of Plenty. The following names are those of the 12 months as known to the latter tribe, supplied by Himiona Tikitu:
|1. Te Tahi o Pipiri||The First of Pipiri.|
|2. Te Rua o Takurua||The Second of Takurua.|
|3. Te Toru o Hereturi-koka||The Third of Hereturi-koka.|
|4. Te Wha o Mahuru||The Fourth of Mahuru.|
|5. Te Rima o Kopu||The Fifth of Kopu.|
Herein we have a number of the Tuhoe names, while some differ from the inland list. The first is an elaboration of the Tuhoe name. The second differs; Takurua is the name of the star Sirius, also the name for “winter” No. 3 is but a lengthened form again, as also is No. 4. No. 5 differs entirely; Kopu is the planet Venus. No. 6 also differs; Whitianaunau is an unidentified island in the western Pacific. No. 7 agrees with the former list; No. 8 differs somewhat; No. 9 differs; No. 10 agrees; No. 11 agrees; while No. 12 is partially changed.
We now turn to the month names of the Kahungunu tribe, which are apparently those of the Takitumu immigrants.
Ko nga kaupeka enei o te tau ki ta te Maori mohio. These are the months of the year according to the knowledge of the Maori:
The dictation of these names was followed by the remark: “Without exception, stars were the ariki (controllers, heads) of these months. The year commenced with the appearance of Matariki (Pleiades) on the horizon at dawn.”page 21
In the above list not a single name agrees with any of those in the Tuhoe or Awa lists – a remarkable fact. I am not absolutely sure that Aonui was the first month; one native gave Uruwhenua as the first. In addition to these proper orthodox names for the months the popular names referred to above would also be employed.
In native myth the divisions of the year are the care of some of the supernatural beings known as poutiriao, guardians of all things in all realms, appointed to those duties by the Supreme One, Io of the Hidden Face.
The following is a list of popular names of the months for everyday use, as employed in the Takitumu district:
|3. Te Toru||The Third.|
|4. Te Wha||The Fourth.|
|5. Te Rima||The Fifth.|
|6. Te Ono||The Sixth.|
|7. Te Whitu||The Seventh.|
|8. Te Waru||The Eighth.|
|9. Te Iwa||The Ninth.|
|10. Te Ngahuru tuhoehoe, or Poutu-te-rangi.|
|11. Te Ngahuru tuhoehoe, or Poutu-te-rangi.|
|12. Te Matahi.|
In many cases Te Matahi is given as the name of the eleventh month, which is more appropriate; it also appears in full as Ngahuru ma tahi (10 and one). Matahi kari piwai is a name for the twelfth month, the gleaning month; and Matahi o te tau is a name for the first month. There is some doubt as to the correctness of the list given at page 62 of Te Kauwae-runga. One such list gives the name of the twelfth month as Ngahuru whakaawhi.
Dieffenbach, who collected his data in the forties of last century, writes: “A year is called tau, and has 13 months.” He gives the list as:
|1. Te Tahi||The First.
(And so on, employing the ordinals.)
|10. Te Ngahuru||The Tenth.|
|11. Te Ngahuru hauhake kumara||The crop-lifting Tenth.|
|13. Te Tahi o Pipiri||The First of Pipiri.|
The last name is one often applied to the first month. The collector may have here been in error; he could not have been a very accomplished Maori linguist. The Awa folk of the Bay of Plenty employ the term Toruheri (or here) o Pipiri as a month name, but some confusion exists as to which month it applied to.page 22
In a list of month names collected by the late Mr S. Locke the following appear:
|March||Ngahuru paepaenga nui.|
|April||Matahi kari piwai.|
|May||Matahi o tau.|
The balance of the months are represented by the ordinals in this list. March should probably be March-April. Upokopapa is a name applied to cold winter weather. It is an error to make the months of the Maori year coincide with our own.
The names of Oipiri and Oipiriwhea probably pertain to the stars called Pipiri, a word that means “close together”. These stars are said to appear about the same time as the Pleiades. At the isle of Mangaia Opipiri seems to be applied to some form of cloud.
In the following list of month names we note some that we are already acquainted with, and two new ones:
Pipiri. Kua pipiri te kiri o nga mea katoa, rakau, tangata, ngarara, otaota. The skin of all things now contracts, of trees, persons, insects, herbage.
Pakawera. Ko haere memenge nga rau o nga mea katoa i te huka. The leaves of all things become shrivelled by frost.
Kauawhi. Ka nui te huka; ka patua te kaha o nga mea katoa i konei. Frost has become severe; the strength of all things wanes.
Mahuru-matawai. Ka whakaniho nga mea katoa o te whenua i konei. All things of the earth now sprout.
Whiringa-nuku. Kua toro te akaaka o nga mea katoa i konei. All things now put forth fresh growth.
Whiringa-rangi. Ka mihi nga mea katoa i konei ki a Rangi, ki a Papa. Now all things greet the Sky Father and Earth Mother.
Hakihea. Ka whakarei nga hua o nga mea katoa i konei.
Kohitate. Ka kauawhi a Papa i nga mokopuna i konei. Now the Earth Mother embraces her grandchildren.
Hue-tanguru. Ka pakari nga kai katoa i konei. All food products now mature.
Poutu-te-rangi. Ka hauhake te kai i konei; ka ruhi te tipu o nga mea katoa. Crops are now lifted; all growth becomes flaccid.
In this list we have but 10 month names, and a supplementary note explains the omission by stating that the other two months are negligible. At the same time the natives who employed the above list assuredly had terms to denote the other two months; that much is certain. This is a very different thing to a 10 month year. Of the period of July we are told that “the year has now turned; this is Whakaahu.” Now, this Whakaahu is a star name, and is used in connection with page 23 summer; some state that it is Castor. The Rev. R. Taylor also gives the name in connection with June and July. The list given by this writer is not a clear one, but very confusing. He seems to apply the name of Te Kahui-ruamahu to April, that of Takapou-poto to August, and Takapou-tawahi to September.
The following list of month names was collected by the late Mr John White:
|1. Matahi a Pouaka.|
|3. Te Toru||The Third.|
|9. Te Iwa||The Ninth.|
|10. Te Ngahuru||The Tenth.|
|12. Matahi o te tau.|
|13. Matahi o Mahurihuri.|
Here we have 13 month names, obtained probably from South Island sources, for Pouaka, Poaka, and Puaka appear to be South Island variants of Puanga (Rigel in Orion).
In another list collected by Mr White the name of Te Rua o Hongongoi is applied to the second month, while Whakakumu is given as a name for the seventh month, reminding us of Taylor's Te Wakumu applied to the sixth month. In this list White gives Ngahuru-tuma for the tenth month, a name that one would naturally expect to apply to the eleventh. The eleventh month appears as Haratua or Kahuiruamahu, and the twelfth as Tapatapa-rere or Takurua hupe nui. This latter is an expression used to denote winter.
In yet another list of Mr White's collection the 13 months appear; the four last names are:
|10. Te Ngahuru.|
|11. Te Ngahuru hauhake kai||The crop-lifting Tenth.|
|13. Te Tahi o Pipiri.|
The First of Pipiri is a peculiar name for a thirteenth month; it is usually given as a name for the first month. It is quite possible that the Maori occasionally employed a thirteenth month in order to regulate the year, and so recover lost time. An interesting note given by White is as follows: “Ka tahia te marae i a Puanga ka puta i te ata, a tae noa ki te marama tekau ma rua, a ma rua tuma” (“The plaza was swept when Rigel appeared in the morning, also in the twelfth month and the odd one”). This certainly looks like a thirteenth month. Williams gives Tuma as a name of the twelfth month, but this does not seem appropriate, as the word means “odd; in excess”.page 24
The name of Puwai-awatahi was applied to June by an old man of the Ngati-Kuia tribe (Journal of the Polynesian Society, Volume 26, page 119).
The following appear in the Maori dictionaries of Messrs Colenso and Williams:
|Ahikaea||September||First month of spring.|
|Ahimaru||October||Second month of spring.|
|Ahinui||November||Third month of spring.|
This identifying of the months of the Maori year with ours is somewhat misleading. Williams also gives Kaiwaka as a name for the third month, Kahui-ruamahu for the twelfth, and Tahiwehewehe as the last month of the year, presumably the twelfth. Mr White in his budget of notes gives Whakaau [? Whakaahu] as July, Mangere as August, Rehua as the eighth month, and Matiti as March; also Iwa-iti and Iwa-nui (Little Ninth and Big Ninth) as names for February. Rehua is scarcely employed as a month name, but as denoting summer and its heat. Taylor gives Mangere opposite August. Mr White used some of Taylor's matter.
In a letter written by Titoko Waru to Wahanui he gave the following names to the first six months:
Herein we see that 1, 5, and 6 agree with Tuhoe names, while 4 is a name employed in the Bay of Plenty, more as a season name apparently than as a month name. It is quite probable that Hiringa is a more correct form than Whiringa.
The Maori year may be compared to that of the Sanscrit-speaking sun worshippers of India, a year that was divided into 12 thirty-day months; it began in April–May or May–June; this system is traced to Chaldea.
To reconcile the year of 12 lunar months with the solar or sidereal year has ever been a puzzling task to barbaric man, and many schemes have been employed whereby to effect it. The year of 12 synodical months of 29½ days each would give 354 days, thus leaving 11 days to be made up – a serious deficiency. Yet if the Maori clung to his 30-day month he would find that the commencement of his tale of 30 nights did not coincide with the new moon, hence some regulation would be necessary. We have several remarks on record that point to some such system of regulation.
According to the list given by the Rev. W. Gill, the natives of Mangaia employed 13 month names, though no explanation is given as page 25 to how the thirteenth month was fitted into the scheme. A few of the month names of this list are recognisable from the Maori point of view, as Akau or Aka'au (Maori Whakaahu), and Pipiri for April-May, while Ma'u (Mahu) is probably a star name.
Of the 13 month names employed by Tahitian we recognise two as Maori, Fa'aahu (Whakaahu) and Pipiri. Ellis explains that the thirteenth month was not always employed.
At Futuna or Horne Island some of the months bear star names, and here again we recognise Fakaafu (Whakaahu) and Mataliki (The Pleiades).
The following list of Samoan month names is given by Fornander:
|Fa'aafu (Maori Whakaahu).||Mulifa.|
At the far Hawaiian Isles we encounter familiar star names in the list of months. These are Makali'i (Matariki), Ka'elo (Takero), Ka'ulua (Takurua), and Welo (Wero). The Hawaiian month names are as follow:
|Makali'i (December-January).||Hinaiaeleele (The Hina of Maori myth).|
Fornander states that the thirteenth month of the Tahitian year was generally omitted. With a system of 12 thirty-day months that extra month would be needed about once in six years.
In his account of the Moriori folk of the Chatham Isles Mr Shand gives the names of 13 months, not one of which names appears in any Maori list known to me. The fact that one bears the name of Rongo is interesting. Mr Shand tells us that the Moriori year began with the reappearance of Puanga (Rigel) in the east early in June, then a morning star. The months are as follow:
|Tchuhe a Takarore||December.page 26|
|Wairehu||January. cf. Hawaiian Whelehu.|
|Ta Upoko o T'Etchiao||April.|
Presumably the Orion year was taken to the Chathams by emigrants from New Zealand, and this makes it probable that this system was that of the original inhabitants of these isles.
The reappearance of the Pleiades or of Rigel as a morning star can scarcely be said to be the commencement of the Maori year; it was the tohu or sign of it. The year really began with the first new moon after such reappearance, hence the beginning of the year was not a fixed time, but varied considerably. Notwithstanding his inferior system of measuring time, the Maori had many checks available in the reappearance of the heavenly bodies, the blossoming of trees, etc. Mr White states that the third month was marked by the star Kerekere (not identified), the fourth by the stars Wero-i-te-ninihi and Wero-i-te-kokota, and the fifth by the star Wero-i-te-ao-marino [? marie].
The most important task of the Maori was the cultivation of food products, and the two periods during which he had to devote the most attention to that task were those of planting and crop lifting. These were both said to be marked by stars; but unquestionably other factors would enter into the deliberations of the crop grower, such as the aspect of the season, the flowering of trees, etc. The statements made by natives anent the different months being marked by certain stars simply mean that during those months such stars are visible in the heavens, not that their reappearance coincides with the commencement of the month. In some cases it appears that the morning and evening risings of stars were both considered, and hence we have stars mentioned as marking both winter and summer months.
The star Ruhi, already mentioned as marking the ninth month, is also known as Peke-hawani. This star and another called Whakaongekai are seen one on either side of Rehua (Antares), and are said to be his wives. These are prominent summer stars in Maori story. The task of Whakaonge-kai is to make food scarce, as her name signifies.
The flowering and fruiting of trees, the dying away of annual plants, the fall of leaves of deciduous trees, etc., are utilised by the Maori in denoting time. A native who had given me the names of kopurehe and kouwha as those of the male and female tui added: “These names are applied to them from the flowering of the native fuchsia to the time that the fruit of the hinau appears.” When the Tuhoe folk burned off the bracken on a tawaha aruhe (place where rhizomes of that plant are dug) they did so when the hinau and tawari trees were in blossom.page 27
The main digging of these roots took place when the mokehu or young fronds were developed. A belief existed that if the bracken were burned off when the rata and korukoru were in flower, then the rhizomes would be of inferior quality. Certain signs of vegetation reminded natives that certain birds were in good condition, and set him looking to his snares and traps. A Tuhoe native remarked that the fourth month of the Maori year was marked by the fruiting of the puahou, the fifth by the flowering of the kowhai, the sixth by that of the rewarewa (Knightia excelsa), the seventh by that of the kahika, and the eighth by that of the tawhiwhi (Metrosideros florida). The arrival of the migratory cuckoo in spring was looked upon as a call to action in the way of planting crops. That bird is the messenger of Mahuru, the personified form of spring, sent hither to call the Maori folk to their annual task of planting the kumara.
These methods of checking the lunar months were evidently introduced from Polynesia by the immigrant Maori. In Banks's account of the Tahitians he writes: “In speaking of time, either past or to come, they never use any term but moons, of which they count 13, and then begin again: this of itself sufficiently shows that they have some idea of the solar year, but how they manage to make their 13 months agree with it I never could find out. That they do, however, I believe, because in mentioning the names of months they very frequently told us the fruits that would be in season in each of them.” This writer states that each Tahitian month was of 29 days, but Ellis puts the number at 30.
Dr Thomson gives us the best account of the Maori system of time division in his Story of New Zealand, and also of the regulating agents employed: “Although time passes away among them like a shadow, the unrecorded year is divided into 13 moons, and each moon is distinguished by the rising of stars, the flowering of plants, and the arrival of two migratory birds. June is the first month of the year, and it is recognised by the appearance of the Puanga star in the morning. July is marked by the stars Kopu and Tautoru and the flowering of the karaka tree. August is distinguished by the stars Mangere and Whakaau;. September by the rising of the Oetahi star and the flowering of the kowhai, rangiora, and kotukutuku trees. It is in this month that kumara are planted. October, or the fifth month, is known by the flowering of certain plants; during this month the ground is got ready for potatoes. November is characterised by the flowering of the rata and rewarewa trees. December is known by the rising of the Rehua star, the ripening of the karaka berries, and in the south part of the Island by the arrival of two cuckoos. January is distinguished by the Rehua star, the appearance of the Uruao star, and the departure of the cuckoos. In February page 28 the Rehua star still shines and the Matiti star appears; it is the dry month of the year. March is known by the ripening of the kumara, and in April they are dug up. May, or the twelfth month, often passes unnoticed. The thirteenth month is distinguished by the Puanga star, the harbinger of the new year.”
This writer falls into the usual error of making the lunar months correspond with ours, and was certainly in error in believing that each year contained 13 lunar months. Mangere and Oetahi are star names of which we have no explanation; Whakaau is for Whakaahu; Tautoru, the Belt of Orion; and Kopu is Venus. The dates given above for the flowering of trees, etc., are not correct for some other parts of these Isles.