On Maui we have noticed a change in the weather. Rain has crept into the weather forecasts for the dry, leeward side of the island. The days are a tad cooler with the sun less intense, the breezy trades are more consistent and the nights are a little chilly and have people all over the island reaching for an extra blanket and a sweater.
It is December and we’ve entered Ho’oilo, the cooler, wetter season of the old Hawaiian calendar that lasts for half the year. It’s our fall, winter, and spring combined. In June, Ho’oilo will yield to Kau, the hotter, dryer season in the islands for the other six months of the year.
The subtle onset of Ho’oilo is here and the fireplace at Kula Lodge is a warming place for many.
While not “months” as we think of them with their clearly assigned starts and finishes, the Hawaiian culture, like most ancient agrarian societies, related events, and seasons to the cycle of the Mahina or moon. They had no need to be specific about dates as we know them, and their environment provided all the signs they needed to divide the year into recognizable and meaningful periods.
Ho’oilo, the cooler, wetter rainy season, begins in Welehu (October – November) and lasts until the end of Welo (March – April) when it gives way to the season of Kau, the hotter, dryer season that lasts from Ikiiki (April – May), literally “the time of heat and humidity” until ‘Ikuwa, “the time when dark storms rise and the sea roars,” reappears. This is sometimes also called Ha’ule lau (September – October), “the time of the falling leafs.”
The ancient Hawaiians, along with their ancestors and relatives from throughout the Pacific Islands, were acutely aware of subtle changes in their natural environment. They knew when the winds shifted and when the ocean currents changed. They knew when the various celestial bodies in the heavens appeared and disappeared or changed positions and when the life cycles of the fish, birds and animals that provided their sustenance changed from one stage to another.
Observation of their environment was the basis of their survival, and they planned and lived their lives around the knowledge gained and passed on from generation to generation by the kupuna (revered elders) in their mo’o’olelo and oli (chanted stories). So, the next time someone says we don’t have seasons in Hawaii, you can tell them about Ho’oilo and Kau – our two seasons that are as discernible to the keen observer as seasonal changes on the Mainland.