The Hawaiian Islands were populated over many generations, in many migratory waves. Each new group of people brought their own traditions and ways of marking time, and each sphere of work had its own way of marking time.
Though of small landmass, Hawai`i is a vast and varied ecosystem, and each island’s environment is unique. Once here with their diverse traditions, people in the different areas evolved different traditions to suit the environments in which they lived. Different stars’ risings, or other signs would be chosen to mark the seasons important to a specific community. Thus, a “traditional” Hawaiian calendar for a farmer in Hanapepe, Kaua`i can be quite different from one for a fisherman in Kailua, Hawai`i.
While throughout Hawai`i nei, the Hawaiian months are based on the phases of the moon, which months fall on which specific moons varies from island to island, and even, sometimes, from district to district.
The island of Hawai`i, the largest in the archipelago, has the greatest number of documented calendars, as well as the greatest number of climate zones and widest geographical spread, creating many different ecosystems in which people lived, hunted, farmed, and fished.
In Ka`ū, the year is counted as beginning in the thunderous autumn. The new year begins at the start of the rainy season, with Kā`elo marking the fourth month of the year and the ending of the heavy winter rains: `Ikuā, Welehu, Makali`i, Kā`elo, Kaulua, Nana, Welo, Ikiiki, Ka`aona, Hina i a `ele`ele, Māhoe Mua, Māhoe Hope.
In the large Kona district of Hawai`i Island, three different calendars are documented. Kalokuokamalie, who lived in in the late 19th and early 20th centuries at Napo`opo`o, Kona, Hawai`i, begins the year at the subsiding of the storms, around the Gregorian March. In his calendar, Kā`elo marks the beginning of the rainy season, rather than the end: Nana, Welo, Ikiiki, Ka`aona, Hina`ia`ele`ele, Mahoe Mua, Mahoe `E Lua, `Ikuā, Kā`elo, Makali`i, Welehu, Kaulua.
Kepelino, of approximately the same era, also lived in Kona, Hawai`i, but arranged the months a little differently. He began, possibly because of Western influence, in the Gregorian January: Makali`i, Kā`elo, Kaulua, Nana, Welo, Ikiiki, Ka`aona, Hinaia`ele`ele, Mahoe Mua, Mahoe Hope, `Ikuā.
A newspaper, published in 1906, provided another Kona variant, which began about October: `Ikuā, Welehu, Makali`i, Kā`elo, Kaulua, Nana, Welo, Ikiiki, Ka`aona, Hinaia`ele`ele, Māhoe Mua, Māhoe Hope.
The researcher Emerson documented a fifth Hawai`i Island calendar, from the Native Hawaiian historian David Malo, in the very early 1900s. Beginning in November, Malo’s calendar runs: Welehu, Makali`i, Kā`elo, Kaulua,Nana, Welo, Ikiiki, Ka`aona, Hina ia`ele`ele, Māhoe Mua,Māhoe Hope.
On the island of Moloka`i, one calendar began in the Gregorian January with `Ikuā: `Ikuā, Hina ia `ele`ele, Welo, Makali`i, Kā`elo, Kaulua,Nana, Ikiiki, Hilina Ehu, Hilina Ma, Welehu.
On O`ahu, the calendar also was said to begin in January: Nana, Welo, Ikiiki, Ka`aona, Hina ia `ele`ele, Māhoe Mua, Māhoe Hope, `Ikuā, Welehu, Makali`i, Kā`elo, Kau`lua.
And on Kauai, where things are often done quite differently, the calendar begins in the Gregorian April: `Ikuā, Welehu, Kā`elo, Ikiiki, Hina ia `ele`ele, Māhoe Mua, Māhoe Hope, Hili na ma, Hili nehu, Hili o holo, Hili o nalu, Huki pau.
One of the first sayings students learn when they take up a traditional Hawaiian art is `A`ohe pau ka `ike i ka hālau ho`okahi, “not all knowledge is in one school.” How fitting that the very calendars which helped regulate Hawaiian daily life is an excellent example!