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Ethnology of Manihiki and Rakahanga

The Annual Cycle

The Annual Cycle

The Rakahangan cycle contained 13 named months (marama). These were grouped into three periods in one classification and into two in another. A list was also given of the weather conditions, appearance of stars, and their relationship to food. An attempt was also made to correlate the native cycle with the European calendar months which may be regarded as merely approximate. The recorder solved the disparity in numbers by dividing the European month of May into two and apportioning a part to the two months, Pipiri and Whakaau. Unfortunately the order of these two short months is transposed in one of the three lists recorded.

The three-period classification (Table 18) was divided as follows: A, “te tau o te mata tonga” (the period or count of the Mata tonga); B, “te pouri” (the darkness); and C, “te au po” (the nights). A further explanation runs, “Tera tatahi ingoa o te mata tonga, na riri o te tonga.” (There is another name for the mata tonga, the wrath of the south wind.) The period of the mata tonga contained six months (e ono marama). Each of the six names is prefixed by the article ko, which simply indicates the proper name of the month. Before commencing the list with the first name, Pipiri, the following was written in the Aporo manuscript: “Te akaauanga o Matariki.” Aporo explained the meaning of akaauanga (pronounced “whakaauanga”) as, “The six stars of the Pleiades could be seen plainly.” In other words, it referred to the reappearance of the Pleiades. The dark period has page 223 three months (a teru ona marama). With the last two months of the dark period the definite article te is used. The nights period contains four months all prefixed by the article te.

Table 18. Rakahangan Annual Cycle, Three-period Classification
A. The Period Of The Mata Tonga
 1. Ko Pipiri (?) May (15 days) Te matangi, te ua, whatitiri; te takaanga o Matariki ki raro Wind, rain, thunder; the Pleiades are low in the sky
 2. Ko Unuunu June Matangi rahi (puwai) Strong wind
 3. Ko Oro-a-manu July Maru te matangi, kua kopia e Paroro Wind calms down, being inclosed by Paroro
 4. Ko Paroro-mua August Te taenga o te ika tomore ki runga i te whenua The tomore fish arrives
 5. Ko Paroro-muri September Kua humaria te matangi, kare e whatitiri, kare e ua The wind has ceased, no thunder, no rain
 6. Ko Muriha October Kua humaria te rangi, kua humaria te tai The heavens are calm, the sea is calm
B. The Dark Period (pouri)
 7. Takaonga November Whakaahu te whenua The land is prepared (for food)
 8. Te Hiringa kerekere December E marama kino A bad month (winds)
 9. Te Hiringa ma January Kua ta ma te whenua, Te kite anga mai o tetahi tangata, ko Whaniu, e hetu The land is swept clean, the appearance of a person, Whaniu, a star
C. The Night Period (au po)
10. Te Utu-a-mua February Kua kitea tetahi hetu, ko Tautoru, matangi tau tika, noho ki roto A star, Tautoru, appears. The wind remains set between the whakarua and tonga points of the compass (roto)
11. Te Utu-a-muri March Te angaanga tei roto ia Te Apura, ka hakatere taua hetu i te matangi o te Pouri. Ka kitea hoki te rewanga o Matariki i roto i a ia The work is with the star Te Apura, which drives away the wind of the Pouri period. The Pleiades are also seen high in the sky
12. Te Rehu April Ko te topa hanga o Matariki The Pleiades descend (in the sky)
13. Te Whakaau (?) May (15 days) Ko te haka hua te kai; te ruiruinga o Matariki Food grows; the Pleiades are sown

The second classification into two groupings was recorded by the same person after the three-period groupings. In the two-period classification the recorder gave the names of the English months, which in his opinion corresponded with the native moons. He met the difficulty of placing the extra native month by dividing May and giving 15 nights to Pipiri and 15 to Whakaau. At the same time he transposed the order of these two half- page 224 months from that which he had previously given in the three-period classification. The native text is quoted in full, as it contains remarks about the Pleiades which are significant (Table 19).

Table 19. Rakahangan Annual Cycle, Two-period Classification

Te tau marama a to tahito.

“No Hahake mai te tau marama. Na Erengai i ka tnai te tuaroa i karangaia e to tahito e hitu ia marama. Tera tona tikaanga e ono marama e te wahanga.” (The count of months according to the ancients. From Hahake came the count of months. Erengai brought [ka] or instituted the tuaroa [long period], which was said by old people to consist of seven months. The meaning of this is six months and a part of one.)

“Te tuapoto kua karangaia e to tahito e ono marama. Tera tona tikaanga e rima marama e te wahanga.” (The short period [tuapoto] was said by the old people to comprise six months. The meaning of this is five months and a part of one.)

Te tuaroa
Te Takaonga November
Te Hiringa-kerekere December
Te Hiringa-ma January
Te Utua-mua February
Te Utua-muri March
Te Rehu April
Te Pipiri May (15 days)
Te tuapoto
Whakaau May (15 days)
Unuunu June
Oroamanu July
Paroro-mua August
Paroro-muri September
Muriaha October

The long period (tuaroa) thus comprises the Pouri and Au po periods of the previous classification. The month names follow the same order except that Pipiri has displaced Whakaau in following the April moon, Te Rehu. The following remarks are made concerning Pipiri: “Te Pipiri 15 po no May. Te takahanga ia Matariki ki raro.” (Pipiri has 15 nights belonging to May. The Pleiades are situated low in the sky.) With regard to Whakaau in the short period the recorder states, “Te Whakaau 15 po no May. Koia te ruiruinga ia Matariki.” (Whakaau has 15 nights belonging to May. In this [month] is the sowing of the Pleiades.) It will be observed that the short period corresponds with the period of the mata tonga except that Whakaau has changed places with Pipiri.

Of two lists copied by Savage from the book of Aporo-ariki of Manihiki, one is identical with that already given in the two-period classification, but the other (Table 20) differs in some of the names and their sequence and in the omission of the 13th name, Pipiri. In this different list, each month is given a star with the expression, “Tona etu i runga ko….” (Its star above is….) The sequence of the list in Table 19, commencing from Whakaau, is shown in parentheses in the second column of Table 20.

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Table 20. Twelve-month Cycle, Comparison and Stars
Month Name Sequence (Table 19) Star
1. Akaau Whakaau (1) Matariki (Pleiades)
2. Kauunu Unuunu (2) Takurua
3. (Missing)
4. Reu Te Rehu (12) Au-ma-Tangaroa
5. Manu Oro-a-manu (3) Vero-mata-utoru
6. Paroro-mua Paroro-mua (4) Ika-vaerua
7. Paroro-muri Paroro-muri (5) Ngatarava
8. Iringa-te-rangi Hiringa-ma (9) Tuaika
9. Iringa-kerekere Hiringa-kerekere (8) Ngana-kau-kupenga
10. Kautua-kerekere (Utua-mua) (10)
(Utwa-muri) (11)
11. Takaonga Takaonga (7) Teruapa
12. Miria Muriaha (6) Tautoru

After the total lack of any correspondence with the western nights of the moon, it is surprising to find that some of the month names correspond to those of Samoa (22). Of these, the two most significant are Paroro-mua and Paroro-muri. In Samoa the palolo is an edible marine worm that appears at the end of the second or beginning of the third quarter of the lunar month that includes October. It is thus a definite period in the Samoan calendar. This marine worm does not appear in Manihiki and Rakahanga. The Paroro month names must have had a western origin. The star of the first Paroro month is Ika-vaerua which means “spirit fish” or “fish without a material body.” As the paroro came from the sea, it could be spoken of as an “ika.” It may be that the memory of a fish associated with the first Paroro month has led to the local naming of a star that was visible in that month.

Aporo-ariki's list supports the tuapoto division of the two-period classification in placing Whakaau as the first month, followed by Unuunu. The further definite statement that the Pleiades (Matariki) (Table 21) are seen in Whakaau also proves that in the three-period classification Pipiri and Whakaau have been transposed in sequence, and the remarks concerning the Pleiades go with the month names. Whakaau should thus be the first month at the beginning of the Mata-tonga period and Pipiri the 13th month at the end of the Au-po period.

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Table 21. Observations Regarding the Pleiades in a Sequence of Four Months Ending with Whakaau
Native European Observation Translation
Month Month (?)
Utua-muri March Te rewanga o Matariki The Pleiades are high in the heavens
Te Rehu April Te topahanga o Matariki The Pleiades descend
Pipiri May (part) Te taka anga (or takahinga) o Matariki ki raro The falling of the Pleiades below (the horizon)
Before Whakaau Te whakaauanga o Matariki The Pleiades are seen as a group
Whakaau May (part) Te ruiruinga o Matariki The sowing of the Pleiades

From astronomical observations it is known that the Pleiades are fairly high in the evening sky in the month of March, and they get lower and lower during April. E. H. Bryan informs me that in Hawaii, for the year 1931, they were last seen in the evening sky on May 7. They were in conjunction with the sun on May 20 and were not seen again until June 5, when they reappeared in the eastern sky before sunrise. The sequence of the appearance of the Pleiades as given in the above table was thus based on practical observation and fixes the times of the native months, but the European months given are only approximate, as the lunar months do not agree with calendar months. The lunar month which was divided between Pipiri and Whakaau covers part of May and part of June.

Any doubt as to the sequence between Pipiri and Whakaau is settled by the following from Aporo-ariki's book:

1. Akaau te marama, tona etu i runga ko Matariki. Tera te tako:
“Matariki e—Matariki pu—Matariki tu—
Matariki i tokerekere ia 'i te mata o Avatea.
Ko koe ra te mata-ono kapua ki te rangi,
Te vaine i taka ia'i ite rua o te ra Tuanuku tue i marie.
Ko koe ra e te etu mata-ono.”

1. Whakaau the month, its star above is the Pleiades. There is the chant:
O Pleiades—Pleiades pu—Pleiades tu
The Pleiades which sparkle on the face of the Dawn.
You are the six-eyed cloud in the sky,
The woman who descended into the pit of the sun beyond the earth but emerged scatheless.
You are the six-eyed star.

It is clear that the whakaauanga or morning rising of the Pleiades in June was the guide to the commencement of the year, in the month of Whakaau. The morning rising of the Pleiades is the only definite sign given by which the annual cycle of months could be inaugurated. Other stars are mentioned with each month, but they were merely seen in those months and there are no details concerning their appearance or disappearance as with the Pleiades. No mention is made of the Pleiades in the November-December period, so that the evening rising of that constellation was of no significance in the Rakahangan calendar. After Whakaau was inaugurated page 227 by the morning rising of the Pleiades on approximately June 5, the tau marama or sequence of months followed automatically with the rising of each new moon. From an astronomical point of view, the morning rising of the Pleiades in June is much more definitely defined than the evening rising in November. In May the Pleiades disappear and cannot be seen at any time of the night. Their reappearance in June in the eastern sky before sunrise is thus the reappearance of that which was lost and is hailed with singing and dancing. According to the chant, the Pleiades represent the woman who descended into the pit of the setting sun in the west and who, after traveling around the tua-nuku (back of the earth), emerges again in the east scatheless after her great adventure and with her six eyes sparkling on the face of the dawn.