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The Maori Division of Time

names of seasons and miscellaneous notes

names of seasons and miscellaneous notes

To the Maori there are two main divisions of the year, winter and summer, takurua and raumati. There was also the usual division of the year into four seasons, as follows:

Winter Takurua. Hotoke.
Spring Koanga. Mahuru.
Summer Raumati.
Autumn Ngahuru.

Takurua is a star name, apparently pertaining to Sirius. Hotoke carries the sense of cold. In the following remark the name of Pipiwai is not known to the writer: “Na, i te wa o te hotoke, o te takurua o Pipiwai” (“Now, in the time of winter, the winter of Pipiwai”). It is just possible that the name is connected with Pipiri, a star name that is employed to denote the cold season. As a name for spring page 47 Mahuru is not often used, but it is also the title of the personified form of spring. The term Koanga simply denotes the digging season, from ko, the old native digging implement, also ko, the verb “to dig”. Spring is the digging and planting season. Another expression is Aroaromahana, which implies the welcome warmth of spring. Waru-tuhoehoe, Waru-tumahoehoe, Waru-puahaaha, and Te Waru i kanga i a Tahu are all terms applied to the eighth month, the warm, dry period of February and March. The last of these expressions probably refers to the scarcity of food products, of which Tahu is the personified form. The words tuhoehoe, tumahoehoe, and tumarohoehoe mean “high, vertical,” of the sun. It is not clear to the writer why the term should be applied to autumn, as in Ngahuru tuhoehoe.

The word ngahuru means “10”, hence it is employed to denote the tenth month, and is also used in the wider sense of “autumn”. The Ngahuru is the crop-lifting season, when food was plentiful, hence it was called the Ngahuru-kai-paenga, Ngahuru-kai-paeke, and Ngahuru-tikotiko-iere. Whaturua and takurua-waipu are terms for midwinter. Matahi o Rongo is a name applied to autumn, or perhaps early winter, the eleventh month. An old saying of the Awa folk is, “When Poutute-rangi is seen it is the ngahuru ma tahi” (“When Altair is seen it is the eleventh month”).

The season names of Orongonui and Maruaroa are decidedly puzzling. The last of these appears in various recitals as a name for the second month of the Maori year, in others as denoting the third month. Mr S. Percy Smith noted the Maruaroa as the winter solstice; Hamiora Pio gave it as the second month, and stated that the sun changes in that month. “Te Maruaroa, ko te marama tuarua, ka taka te ra.” So that it should presumably be June-July. But apparently there are two Maruaroa seasons or periods, one pertaining to winter, the other to summer. In one of the recitals of Moihi, given in 1865, he remarks: “During the Matahi o te tau [first month of the year] the sun moves at the time of the Maruaroa to the head of the ancestor [i.e., the heavens]. On arriving at his shoulders he turns and retires to the other extremity. Now, that is the Maruaroa of the winter. The Maruaroa at the shoulders [i.e., when the sun is high in the heavens] is called the Maruaroa of the Orongonui. These are the tokens of winter and summer.” Evidently the name is applied to a summer and winter period when the sun changes its course; thus the two Maruaroa denote the solstices. A line in an old song runs, “Te ra roa o te Maruaroa o te Orongonui” (“The long days of the Maruaroa of the Orongonui”). Herein the term Orongonui clearly applies to summer.

A member of the Awa tribe of the Bay of Plenty stated that Maruaroa is the latter part of June, when the sun turns (te takanga o te ra).

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In 10 nights the sun seeks his other wife, Hine-raumati, the Summer Maid, whose task is the fostering of the food products of the land. This is the winter solstice. Mr White gives two brief notes concerning the expression; one is, “Te Maruaroa, ko Poaka ka kitea” (“During the Maruaroa Rigel is seen”); the other is, “Ko Aotahi te upoko o nga whetu; hei te Maruaroa te kite ai i te ata” (“Canopus is the principal star; it is seen in the morning during the Maruaroa”).

As to the Orongonui season, we have several distinct statements in old recitals that it represents summer, and yet we meet with some contradictory evidence. Perchance there were two Orongonui periods also. In an old recital we note the following: “Ko taua manu he koekoea, te manu tena o te Matahi o te tau o te Orongonui; ko te Orongonui he raumati” (“That bird was a cuckoo, and that is the bird of the Matahi o te tau of the Orongonui; the Orongonui is summer”). Herein, apparently, the phrase matahi o te tau does not bear its usual signification of the first month of the Maori year, for that comes in winter. Presumably it should read: That is the bird of the first (month) of the Orongonui season. The cuckoo arrives here in spring. In the myth of Mataroa the month of Tatau-uruora (? November-December) is said to be one of the months of the Orongonui season. The same statement appears in the legend of the wanderings of Whatonga — “Ka kiia hei a Tatauuruora o te Orongonui o te tau.

In the following extract from an old recital we encounter a puzzling remark: “Ko te koekoea, ko te wharauroa, he mea tuku hei whakaatu i te matahi o te tau i te Orongonui o te ngahuru tuhoehoe” (“The long-tailed and shining cuckoos are dispatched in order to call attention to the first (month) of the season, the Orongonui of the autumn”). The expression ngahuru tuhoehoe is applied to the latter part of the Maori year, the last two months, or the tenth and eleventh months, before which time both cuckoos have left these Islands. In the above sentence it must be the spring that is referred to, because the cuckoos arrive here at that time, but I cannot understand the allusion to autumn. The wording of the sentence might lead one to surmise that it had been composed in some far northern isle, but yet the Orongonui is connected with autumn. In yet another old recital we find the sentence, “Hine-rau-wharangi was born in the Aonui (month) of the Orongonui.” Now, Aonui is late autumn, and here again Orongonui is associated with the autumn. Again, in an old myth we are told that Te Ikaroa (personified form of the Milky Way) and two other beings were appointed as guardians of the Orongonui and Takurua seasons, to keep them separate, and so avoid confusion, lest one of them should become continuous. So that it would appear that the name of Orongonui was applied to a prolonged season, from September to about May.

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Summer and winter are personified in two beings named Hineraumati, the Summer Maid, and Hine-takurua, the Winter Maid. These damsels are said to have been the daughters of one Tangaroa-akiukiu, and both of them were taken to wife by Te Ra, the sun. The Winter Maid dwells out on the ocean and controls the food supplies of that region, the innumerable tribes of fish represented by Tangaroa. The Summer Maid dwells on land, her task being to foster the food products of the earth. Ra, the sun, spends half a year with each of his two wives. At the time of the takanga o te ra, or changing of the sun of the Maruaroa (that is, the winter solstice), Ra commences to return from the ocean toward the land, there to dwell with Hine-raumati.

In certain myths the moon is alluded to as being of the male sex, and he also had, or has, two wives, Rona and Tangaroa-a-roto; the former is “the woman in the moon”. The moon is ever connected with water, hence, perhaps, the association of the name of Tangaroa, an ocean being, with the moon. We have seen that several nights of the moon are named Tangaroa, while Tangaroa and Rona are said to be the “tide-controllers”, hence their secondary names of Whakamau-tai. When Hina-uri (the darkened moon) crossed the ocean to a far land she was taken to wife by Tinirau, son of Tangaroa.

A quaint old myth shows how Raumati (summer) mated with Raro, the lower world, their offspring being Puanga, Takurua, and Matariki (Rigel, Sirius, and the Pleiades).

Not only did certain stars mark the seasons, they were also believed to control them and to foretell the coming conditions of seasons. Hence, by noting the appearance of stars the Maori believed that he could foresee good and bad seasons. Ruaumoko of the underworld is said to bring about the change in the seasons, often marking such change with an earthquake. As one old sage remarked concerning the latter phenomenon: “It is the Earth Mother shaking her breasts, and a sign of the change of seasons.” Fine calm summer weather is termed the Paki o Ruhi. When Raumati (summer) issues her commands to Rehua (Antares) he appears in hazy form, and heats and dries up the earth and vegetation, and renders man languid. Then man is heard to say, “Kua tau a Rehua kai raro” (“Rehua has alighted”), also “Kua tahu a Rehua” (“Rehua has kindled”). Rehua also directs the migration of whitebait, while Whanui (Vega) tells the Maori folk when to lift their crops.

Another old myth tells us that Day and Night begat Whakaahu and Oipiri (Pipiri), summer and winter, who were born in the vast realm of Watea (space). Both were females, and both were taken to wife by Rehua.

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The following terms applied to seasons have been collected in divers quarters:

When a native was giving me a number of these season names he commenced with the remark: “Ko nga ingoa o nga tau,” etc. – the names of the seasons. Here he clearly employed the term tau as denoting a season, not a year, thus following the old Polynesian usage. The Paumotu Vocabulary gives the meaning of tau as “a period”.

The word “Matiti”, apparently a star name, seems to have been employed to denote summer, much as Rehua and Whakaahu were. Whakaahu is probably Castor or Pollux. Williams states that “Five subdivisions of the season were indicated by the addition of certain terms: Matiti-tau; Matiti-hana; Matiti-kaiwai; Matiti-kai-paenga; Matiti-ruwai.

Matiti-tau commences some time in November, and Matiti-ruwai ends in April. In the narrative of Bligh's voyage to the Pacific we are told that the Tahitian division of time was by moons, but that they likewise divided the year into six parts, each of which was distinguished by the name of the kind of breadfruit then in season.

We have now scanned the Maori system of the division of time as far as it is known to us. In as much as the year commenced with the appearance of the first new moon after the Pleiades or Rigel was first seen above the eastern horizon just before daylight, then it follows that the new year's day of the Maori was no fixed quantity; it had not the precision of our own. Moreover, the hints concerning intercalation or rearrangement, and the use of a thirteenth lunar month, show that the Maori endeavoured to make his year of 12 lunar months agree with the solar or sidereal year. These were the difficulties encountered by barbaric man in his endeavours to mark the passage of time. The Maori possessed a number of checks on his incomplete system, and should he stray too far he could insert a supplementary month to put him back on the right road. The differences noted in month and night names may page 51 perhaps be accounted for by isolation, or comparative isolation, of tribes for a long period of time. In this connection we must also consider the question of the various parties of immigrants having come from different regions.

The Maori relied on regularly recurring phenomena, etc., as the tides, the morning song of birds, and so on, in order to indicate specific time, hence such remarks as the following: “Kaore ano kia ko te manu ka haere matau” (“Ere the birds began to sing we departed”).

From some far land lost amid the shades of the setting sun the Maori brought hither the Pleiades year and his crude reckoning of time by the lunar month. He brought also the knowledge of Ra, and Sina, and Rongo, and Ira, and the Whanau Marama, the Shining Ones who gleam across the realm of Watea when Whiro sends darkness to cover the body of the old Earth Mother. He invoked the aid of those beings in his perilous journey down the path of life, for he believed them to be wondrous powers, to be potent gods in themselves. To Tane, the ruddy sun, he ascribed the origin of mankind; to Rongo he looked for aid in the art of the husbandman; to the little suns he directed invocations concerning the fruits of the earth. To all of these, moreover, he turned when endeavouring to regulate his system of time division. He had not evolved any true chronological system; he was still groping his age-long way on the dim path of progress when our forbears appeared from the great ocean and arrested his march.

Never again will the Maori scan the heavens to note the appearance of the revered Pleiades; never more will his womenfolk greet the lordly stars with dance, and song, and tears. The appearance of Vega is no longer looked for in the chill hour of dawn; never again, from hamlet to hamlet, will resound the ringing cry, “Ko Whanui E! Ko Whanui!

In the days of the gods the celestial beings Uru-te-ngangana, Roiho, and Roake abode at Poutiriao in order to control the “branches” of the year. It was there that the science of tatai arorangi was born. They controlled time, and to them we owe the unceasing regularity of the movements of the Shining Ones on high. And even as his women turned ever to Pale Hina in their hour of trouble, so did the Maori rely on Rongo of the great waters and Tane of the heavens to measure out the fleeting year.