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The Maori Division of Time

nights of the moon

nights of the moon

Where we speak of the days of the month the Maori referred to the nights of the moon. When we so employ the term day we include the whole 24 hours, and the Maori used the term po (night) in a similar manner. A native of old would not ask as to how many days a person had been in performing a journey, but would ask how many nights he had been – “Po hia koe ki te ara?

Thomson states that each month was divided into 29 nights, and this may have been a local system, but certainly not universal – in fact, most of the lists collected contain 30 names.

The following list of names of nights of the moon was contributed by the late Metera Ao-marere, of Otaki, who had obtained it from Mita te Tai:

No. 1


Whiro. The kohititanga; first appearance of new moon.




























Ohua Huanga; full moon.


Turu Huanga; full moon.


Rakau-nui Huanga; full moon.












Korekore whakapiri ki nga Tangaroa















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The Huna or tenth night of the moon is spoken of as an elusive, rejected, or omitted night name. Apparently, for some reason, it was sometimes omitted, possibly in order to regulate matters. The reckoning of 30 days for each lunar cycle would naturally demand some such rectification occasionally. A native informant remarked that it sometimes conceals itself, and in that case the Ari night succeeds No. 9, Tamatea-whakapau. Metera made a curious statement concerning the above list, as follows: “The fifteenth night is an Ohua, but in certain months it is the sixteenth night, and sometimes it is the seventeenth night – that is, ere the condition of full moon is attained. If the moon does not become full until the seventeenth night, then the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth nights are all termed Ohua, and then the last three nights of the moon, Orongonui, Maurea, and Mutu, are omitted, because a new moon has appeared.”

It is a noteworthy fact that all names of nights of the moon's age are preceded by the indefinite article he, “a”, or “an”. If you ask a native what night of the moon it is he will reply, “He Tirea” (A Tirea), or “He Otane” (An Otane), or whatever it may be.

In connection with the above list may be mentioned a peculiar circumstance. It is well known that in former times the Maori regulated his pursuits in a very singular manner. Thus he planted his kumara crop only on certain days of the moon, or nights as he termed them. In like manner certain fish were taken, or certain methods of fishing practised, only on certain days or nights. Now Mita, who communicated the above calendar to Metera, employed certain symbols to represent different modes of taking fish, and these symbols he marked opposite the names of the nights of the moon on his marama taka or calendar. Presumably this arrangement of symbols would differ as in different months; this point was not made clear. One symbol represented line fishing, another fishing by torchlight, and so on. One sign represented luckless days on which no manner of fishing would be successful; this appears opposite four nights, the Huna, Atua, Korekore, and Korekore-turua. In several cases nights have but one symbol opposite them, several have two, some have three, and one has as many as seven. These symbols number 10, one being a round dot, another a straight horizontal line, another a cross. Three are segments of a circle, in different positions; another a straight horizontal line with a short transverse stroke at one end; while another is of similar form, but the transverse stroke is at the opposite end. One is the roman letter L, and the tenth is the letter e.

As to the origin of this usage one can only surmise that Mita had examined a European almanac and had noted the use of symbols. An explanation of their use might have given him the idea of formulating page 30 a series pertaining to his own craft, and utilising it in connection with the lunar month. He must have been an ingenious and adaptive person.

Names of nights of the moon differ to some extent in different districts, as also does the order in which the names occur. Quite possibly the latter peculiarity is due to forgetfulness on the part of contributors of data, for it is long since the Maori system of time division was abandoned. In the following list, given by a member of the Tuhoe tribe, such a difference is noted. The nights marked with an asterisk (*) are good fishing nights for taking eels and kokopu; the other nights are not so. The Tuhoe folk were not sea fishers, as they have no seaboard.

No. 2
1. Whiro* New moon, but not seen.
2. Tirea* Feeble radiance of moon seen.
3. Hoata* Moon clearly seen.
4. Oue.*
5. Okoro Fish are restless.
6. Tamatea-tutahi.
7. Tamatea-a-ngana.
8. Tamatea-aio.
9. Tamatea-kai-ariki-whakapa.
10. Ari-matanui.
11. Huna.
12. Mawharu.
13. Maure.
14. Ohua.
15. Atua.
16. Hotu.
17. Turu.
18. Rakau-nui.
19. Rakau-matohi.
20. Takirau.
21. Oika.
22. Korekore-whakatehe.
23. Korekore-piri-ki-te-Tangaroa.
24. Tangaroa-a-mua.*
25. Tangaroa-a-roto.*
26. Tangaroa-kiokio.*
27. Otane.*
28. Orongonui.*
29. Mauri.*
30. Mutuwhenua.*

The contributor of this list stated that the weather on the eighth night of the moon was accepted as betokening that for the balance of the month. In this list Ari is given as the name of the tenth night; in page 31 list No. 1 it appears as the eleventh night. The latter is probably correct. The Huna and Ari nights change places in No. 2 list. Again, from the eleventh to the twelfth nights the names have been transposed. Williams's Maori Dictionary gives Atua and Hotu as being two names for the fifteenth night, but a good many lists contain both. Williams gives Atua-mate-o-Hotu as the full name of the night; his full list of names is given in list No. 3.

The contributor of list No. 2 stated that on the Ari night fish fly from the torch; he was alluding to the kokopu, a freshwater fish. On the Huna night they are concealed (huna), and difficult to take until the Oika (Oike) night. Fishing becomes good again on the second Korekore night about midnight. The Mutuwhenua is a very good night for taking kokopu; they sleep until sunrise. The number of Korekore nights differ in the above lists, and the Maurea night of No. 1 becomes Mauri in No. 2. Of No. 2 list Tutakangahau remarked: “These are the nights of the moon, 30 in number. The moon disappears on the Mutuwhenua night; it acquires form on the Whiro night and its radiance is seen; it is actually seen on the Tirea night, and becomes round on the Ohua night. It is big on the Atua night, and passes the full stage on the Rakau-matohi night. There are 10 nights of ahoroa (bright moonlight), five nights of waning, and two of decrepitude.”

A list given by Tikitu, of the Awa tribe of the Bay of Plenty, differs somewhat from the Tuhoe list. Oue receives what is apparently its full name Ouenuku (Uenuku), and there are five Tamatea nights. The names of nights about the middle of the month change again. Evidently forgetfulness has been at work. What else can one expect of a usage that was abolished from two to three generations ago!

The Rev. R. Taylor gives six lists of these names in his New Zealand and its Inhabitants, which lists contain a number of names differing from those I have given. They were probably obtained in the Whanganui and far northern districts, and certainly many years ago, probably not less than 60, yet are they marked by such transpositions as are seen in the two given above.

The two lists given below are probably as correct as any obtainable as to order of names, but other names were employed for some of the nights in certain districts. The list marked No. 4 is from the Takitumu district.

No. 3 No. 4
Williams's Maori Dictionary Takitumu
1. Whiro. Same.
2. Tirea. Same
3. Hoata. Same.
4. Oue. Same.
5. Okoro. Same.page 32
6. Tamatea-tutahi. Same
7. Tamatea-turua. Same
8. Tamatea-tutoru. Same
9. Tamatea-tuwha. Same
10. Huna. Same
11. Ari. Same
12. Maure. Mawharu.
13. Mawharu. Atua.
14. Ohua. Same.
15. Atua. Oturu.
16. Oturu. Full moon. Rakau-nui.
17. Rakau-nui. Rakau-matohi.
18. Rakau-matohi. Takirau.
19. Takirau. Oike.
20. Oike. Korekore-tutahi.
21. Korekore-tutahi. Korekore-turua.
22. Korekore-turua. Korekore-tutoru.
23. Korekore-piri-ki-nga-Tangaroa. Tangaroa-a-mua.
24. Tangaroa-roto. Same.
25. Tangaroa-kiokio. Same.
26. Tangaroa-whakapau. Kiokio.
27. Otane. Same.
28. Orongonui. Same.
29. Mauri. Same.
30. Mutuwhenua (also Omutu). Same.

These lists agree very fairly as to names, but in many cases they do not occupy the same position. In conjunction with the Takitumu list occurred some remarks that refer to some form of intercalation or omission with regard to the nights of the moon, but which remarks are, unfortunately, by no means clear.

A list from the far north shows 31 names, that of Takataka-putea succeeding Mutuwhenua. Maurea appears as the thirteenth, Otane as the twenty-sixth, Orongo as the twenty-seventh, Mauri as the twenty-eighth, and Omutu as the twenty-ninth, otherwise the list is much the same as No. 4 above.

The following list has been culled from the late Mr John White's papers:

No. 5
1. Whiro Moon invisible.
2. Tirea Moon is seen.
3. Hoata Moon is seen higher up.
4. Oue.
5. Okoro.
6. Tamatea-kai-ariki The kapekape wind prevails.
7. Tamatea-turua Unfavourable weather.
8. Tamatea. page 33
9. Tamatea whakapau.
10. Hune [? Huna].
11. Ari.
12. Maure.
13. Mawharu.
14. Atua Moon is now round.
15. Hotu.
16. Oturu Moon is now filled out.
17. Rakau-nui Moon is circular.
18. Rakau-matohi.
19. Takirau.
20. Oike.
21. Korekore-tutahi.
22. Korekore-turua.
23. Korekore-piri-ki-nga-Tangaroa.
24. Tangaroa-a-mua The kokopu fish is taken.
25. Tangaroa-a-roto.
26. Kiokio.
27. Otane.
28. Orongonui.
29. Orongomauri.
30. Mutuwhenua.

In this list the Tamatea nights are apparently not correctly given. The Maure and Mawharu nights are rather liable to change places. The name Ohua, denoting the full-moon stage, is missed in the above list, and there are only two Tangaroa nights. The Mauri becomes Orongomauri. Remarks concerning winds would probably have but a local signification. A list given by Witana Papahia, of Hokianga, has nights 1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 10, 13, 17, 19, 25, 26, and 28, marked as being unlucky for fishing or crop planting. But No. 28, the Orongonui night, was a specially favoured one for planting the kumara, or sweet potato; doubtless the name represents Rongo-maraeroa of far-spread Polynesian fame. In Papahia's list Tirea becomes Tireo, Mutuwhenua appears as night No. 29, while No. 30 is Hui-te-rangiora.

A list collected by the Rev. Mr Williams contains but 29 names. It includes Aurei as apparently another name for the Hoata night; it contains only two Korekore and two Tangaroa nights, but gives four Tamatea. On the east coast of the North Island the Tamatea are said to bring stormy weather or rough seas; sea fishing is impracticable; but in one of Mr White's lists two of the Tamatea are said to bring calm-weather conditions. This probably means that it is a northern list. A Kahungunu list collected by the late Mr G. H. Davies contains but 29 names. It gives the seventh night as Tamatea turua a Hotu, and the fifteenth as Atua mate o Hotu. Hotu or Hoturoa is a name connected with the moon; the cusps of the moon are alluded to as te mata o Hoturoa.

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A Whanganui list contains no less than 33 names, though how so many nights could be worked into a month one cannot imagine. It may be due to error. The first name is Whiti-karaua, while Oiro, presumably for Whiro, is the third. The sixth name is Mawete, the seventh Otama, the ninth Tutai, the tenth Pa, and the fourteenth Ono. No. 32 is Nonihape, and No. 33 is Takataka-putea, opposite which is marked “high tides”, which is puzzling. Again, Tireo appears for Tirea. It will be observed that this list contains many names not encountered in the other lists given above.

In the Rev. R. Taylor's Maori and English Dictionary is another list, in which Nonihape appears as the first night, and is marked “moon invisible”. The next night is Ngaro-muia, but on the same line appears Ohowata [? Hoata], as though it were a duplicate name. The third night is Whitiki-raua, probably the correct form of Whitikaraua above. The fourth is Ohoata, which may be the original form of Hoata. The sixth night is given as Maweti, the seventh as Tutahi, the eighth as Otama, the ninth as Pa, the nineteenth as Oheke, and the twenty-seventh as Rongomai. These names appear for the most part in the previous list, though not applied to the same nights; some are misspelt.

Mr White has a note to the effect that Ohomauri is a name for the moon on its first night, when it appears like a paring of a fingernail. In Volume 20 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society, at page 113, is given a list of these night names as collected from the Ngati-Whatua tribe; it resembles that culled from Williams's Maori Dictionary. A Kahungunu list also closely agrees with the Williams's list, but the twenty-sixth night is given the name of Kiokio-tarawai, coming after Tangaroa-kiokio. A note connected with this list states that 11 months have each 30 nights, but that the twelfth has only 29. This may possibly be a post-European usage. Another statement is to the effect that the moon remains invisible for three nights. Presumably these would be nights Nos. 29, 30, and 1, the Mauri, Mutuwhenua, and Whiro nights. Many lists have a note to the effect that the moon is first seen on the Tirea (second) night. This Tirea is probably the correct form of the name, and not Tireo, as occasionally given. The root word is evidently rea — to grow, increase; and ti is used as a causative prefix, hence tirea = whakarea.

The following list from a Kahungunu source includes interesting remarks concerning the different days:

No. 6
1. Whiro An unpleasant day. The new moon appears.
2. Tirea The moon is seen very small.
3. Hoata A pleasing day. The moon still small.
4. Ouenuku Get to work! A good night for eel fishing.page 35
5. Okoro A pleasing day in the afternoon. Good for eel fishing at night.
6. Tamata-ngana Unpleasant weather. The sea is rough.
7. Tamatea-kai-ariki The weather improves.
8. Huna Bad weather. Food products suffer.
9. Ari-roa Favourable day for eel spearing.
10. Maure A fine desirable day.
11. Mawharu Crayfish are taken on this day.
12. Ohua A good day for working.
13. Hotu An unpleasant day; the sea is rough.
14. Atua An abominable day.
15. Turu Collect food products from the sea.
16. Rakau-nui The moon is filled out. Sea products are the food.
17. Rakau-matohi A fine day. The moon now wanes.
18. Takirau Fine weather during the morning.
19. Oike The afternoon is favourable.
20. Korekore-te-whiwhia A bad day.
21. Korekore-te-rawea A bad day.
22. Korekore-hahani A fairly good day.
23. Tangaroa-amua A good day for fishing.
24. Tangaroa-aroto A good day for fishing.
25. Tangaroa-kiokio An excellent day for fishing. A misty aspect prevails on land.
26. Otane A good day. Eel fishing night.
27. Orongonui A desirable day. The inanga now migrate if the proper moon has arrived.
28. Mauri The morning is fine. The moon is now darkened.
29. Omutu A bad day.
30. Mutuwhenua An exceedingly bad day. The moon has expired.

In the above list we note a displacement of some names. Ari appears as the ninth night, owing to the omission of two of the Tamatea nights. It is noticeable that lists of these names prepared by the same individual for different lunar months do not agree with each other, and there must be some reason for this. Evidently the remarks attached to Metera's list above have some bearing on this subject. The omission noted displaces the Ohua or full-moon name by two nights, which would appear to render the name a misnomer.

A note appended to the above list states that June is the lunar month Te Tahi o Pipiri, though there is some overlapping. Thus in this year (1922) the lunar month Te Tahi o Pipiri commences on Saturday, 27 May, and ends on Saturday, 24 June, according to a native almanac. The second lunar month of the Maori year will commence this year on 25 June, which will be the Whiro night, according to the above almanac. In this first month the Pleiades, or Matariki, is said to be preceding Rigel. Matariki spends seven nights in Papawhakatangitangi, and then enters Mahutu, wherein it abides until the Tangaroa nights arrive.

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A list collected by the late Mr S. Locke contains but 27 names; the authority explained that the moon was invisible for the other three nights. He begins the list with Tirea and ends with Omutu. Of the Atua night he says: “High tides now commence. The inanga are moving.” These remarks concerning the movements of fish, however, apply only to certain months. The Korekore nights are so named because no food products of land or sea can then be obtained. The name Ohua is omitted in the above list.

A list contributed by Wi Kingi, of Okirihau, in 1849 appears in Mr White's MS matter. It has the peculiarity of commencing with the disappearing of the old moon. It resembles a list given by the Rev. R. Taylor, and contains names not known on the eastern side of the Island:

No. 7
1. Nonihape The moon disappears; sinks into the underworld.
2. Takataka-putea The moon moves in the underworld.
3. Whitikiraua The moon begins to ascend from the underworld.
4. Ohoata The moon is visible.
5. Ouenuku.
6. Mawete.
7. Tutahi.
8. Otama.
9. Pa He and his wife Haere-ahiahi are together. When the moon is seen early in the morning it is called Pa.
10. Ari.

The rest of the names agree pretty well with east-coast lists, save that Oike becomes Ohika, Rongomai replaces Orongonui, and the fifteenth and twenty-fifth nights both appear as Kiokio. Only 29 names are given.

In the following list, collected by the late Judge Fenton, the explanations are of interest:

No. 8
1. Whiro The new moon appears.
2. Tirea An unlucky day.
3. Hoata An unlucky day. Moon plainly seen.
4. Oue A lucky day from morn to midday.
5. Okoro A lucky day from noon until evening.
6. Tamatea-ariki An unlucky day. The sea is rough.
7. Tamatea-ananga An unlucky day. The sea is rough.
8. Tamatea-aio A calm day.
9. Tamatea-whakapau A rough and windy day.
10. Huna An unlucky day for obtaining food supplies.
11. Ari-roa A doubtful day; if good, it is through the influence of the Mawharu.
12. Mawharu A good day.page 37
13. Maurea If a desirable day, it is influenced by the Mawharu; if unpleasant, the Atua has affected it.
14. Atua-whakahaehae An abominable day.
15. Turu Full tides. The moon rises as the sun sets.
16. Rakau-nui Moon appears large and of a red colour.
17. Rakau-matohi The moon is now gapped.
18. Takirau A fair morning.
19. Oika Desirable in the evening, hence the saying: “Hapara o Takirau, ahiahi o Te Oika” (“Morning of Takirau, evening of the Oika”).
20. Korekore Unpleasant days.
21. Korekore-turua Unpleasant days.
22. Korekore-piri ki nga Tangaroa Unpleasant days.
23. Tangaroa-amua A desirable day.
24. Tangaroa-aroto An excellent day.
25. Tangaroa-kiokio An excellent day, but misty on land.
26. Otane A desirable day.
27. Orongonui A desirable day. Whitebait migrate.
28. Mauri A desirable day. The dark (hinapouri) phase of moon commences; the moon is obscured by the sun.
29. Omutu An undesirable day.
30. Mutuwhenua An undesirable day.

In this list the Maure of No. 3 list becomes Maurea, and moves forward a night. The name Ohua is omitted, and the subsequent names disarranged. As in many other lists, Omutu appears as a name for the twenty-ninth night instead of the Mauri of No. 3 list. The six days, 23 to 28, of No. 8 list are said to be extremely lucky. One should be strenuous now in procuring food supplies by sea and land. Here the native informant remarked: “Po ngahuru ma rima mai i te kohititanga ka Turu te marama. Po ngahuru ma rima mai i te Turutanga ka Mutuwhenua, ara ka pau te marama i te ra; ka kawhakina e te ra ki roto ki te hinapouri, a ka mahuetia e te ra, ka kohiti mai ano.” (“There are 15 nights from the appearance of the moon to its Turu [full] phase. There are 15 nights from the Turu phase to that of the Mutuwhenua, when the moon is overcome by the sun. It is carried away by the sun into darkness, and, when abandoned by the sun, it again appears.”)

In a list contributed by a Tuhoe tribesman nights Nos. 1, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 15, 21, and 22 are marked as unlucky. Nos. 2, 6, 11, 14, 20, and 23 are said to be average nights (days included), neither particularly good nor bad. All the rest are favourable for the obtaining of food supplies, etc., and lucky days. Night 26 is Tangaroa-kiokio; all other names are well known to us.

page 38

In a list collected by Sir George Grey appear some new forms of names. Tirea appears as Tireo; the third Tamatea night is Tamatea-whakapa, then come:









Herein Ohua has moved five nights down the list, and has assumed a reduplicate form; also it covers two nights. Ari also has become a reduplicate, and includes two nights. This list closes with the Omutu night, and a note runs as follows: “Each day had its own special name, even until the disappearance of the moon. There are certain meanings in this list of names concerning the taking of fish, the fruits of the earth, and the slaying of enemies.” The Orongonui is omitted in this list, and the last name is Omutu. Williams gives Omutu and Mutuwhenua as being both names for the thirtieth night, yet in some lists we find Omutu given as the twenty-ninth night, and Mutuwhenua as the thirtieth.

We have now scanned a number of lists of these night names, and, as in the case of the month names, have noted certain discrepancies. Now, there were evidently differences as to these names in different districts. Again, in as much as this mode of recording time has long been abandoned, it is highly probable that correct sequence, etc., had been forgotten by some of the native contributors of data. We know this much: that the Maori had fixed the lunar month in the same manner that many nations of antiquity had instituted, or perchance they had brought it from far hidden lands in the remote past.

Natives have informed us that the Oue, Ari, and Orongonui phases of the moon (the fourth, eleventh, and twenty-eighth nights) were the favourable times for the planting of the sweet-potato crop. The Korekore nights and those pertaining to the full or rounded phases of the moon were unfavourable.

It has been shown that the new year's day of the Maori was not a fixed date, but that it differed to a considerable extent because it was marked by the first new moon after the Pleiades were first seen above the eastern horizon in the very early morn. Here another question arises: All communities would not so see the Pleiades at the same period; if a group rose just prior to dawn it would be seen by those having a low eastern horizon, but not by the residents of a deep valley. So that the Maori might well have become out of his reckoning, and so be compelled to adopt preventive measures.

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