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Using Hawaiian Lunar Practices To Understand The Environment

Full moon over Koko Head
Pexels / Pixabay

Kalei Nu'uhiwa is an educator and ethnoscientist. She has been studying the Hawaiian lunar calendar for over 35 years. In 2015, Nu'uhiwa organized the first Pacific-wide lunar conference, to identify lunar practices and link observations to climate science. Now, Nu'uhiwa's group has developed a simple, free, moon observation tool and worksheets, (let's not kid ourselves it's not a slam dunk especially since it requires consistency) to help people connect with the environment.

 Full moon over Koko Head
Noe Tanigawa
Full moon over Koko Head

"What the moon makes us do is realize cycles."

Ethnoscientist Kalei Nu'uhiwa said moon cycles are an ideal entry point for getting in tune with the environment.

"Then from cycles we see seasons and from seasons we see expected climate," she said.

Since 2013, Nu'uhiwa and a handful of other scientists and educators have been working to meld Hawaiian lunar practices with ongoing environmental observations and evolving understanding about climate change.

"What I quickly realized personally, is that the environment, the 'aina, because that's how you can translate 'aina, too, is environment, I don't just mean land," Nu'uhiwa said. "It's constantly teaching us things, it's so patient."

All it takes is to be observant, said Nu'uhiwa. Her group, Ai Malama, focuses our attention on the moon and makes it simple to observe the phases. They've got a chart with a hole you cut out.

"What you do is you take that frame and you look in the sky whether it's day time or night time and it shows you while you're looking through that that little frame you can check out phase which it's closest to and get an idea where we are in the cycle of the moon," she said.

Nu'uhiwa said each of the 12 lunar months has its own environmental indicators. To tune in to those, Ai Malama has simple worksheets on how to observe. Same time, every day, and listening, tasting the air.

"Using all of your senses," Nu'uhiwa said. "The actual practice is called kilo, the actual practice. It was a very important job, responsibility for many different practices in the old days, to understand that. Because once you start to see trends, you're actually able to predict what's going to come because you've been observing them for multiple years, sometimes generations."

Nu'uhiwa contends becoming more attuned to these indicators increases one's connection with the natural world.

Kalei Nu'uhiwa - Extended Interview
An extended interview with Kalei Nu'uhiwa, ethnoscientist with Ai Malama, which aired on The Conversation on May 28, 2021.

Asked what that connection feels like, she cited Master Navigator Mau Piailug, of Micronesia, recalling his connection to the stars.

"He described himself in the middle and all these strings attached to all of the stars, so he can tug on them and know where they are, what they're doing," Nu'uhiwa said. "That's how I feel about the moon."

"What the moon calendar teaches us is how to get the best productivity in the limited amount of effort. So least amount of effort, big productivity."

Nu'uhiwa said that applies for fishing, farming, and even in human affairs. Links and an extended interview online with this story.

Learn more at aimalama.org.

Noe Tanigawa covered art, culture and ideas for two decades at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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