The Maramataka, which literally means ‘the moon turning,’ is the Māori lunar calendar, and is the traditional Māori way by which time was marked.
Instead of following the movement of the sun throughout the year, iwi communities in history noted the movements of the moon over a typical month and year.
Each phase of the moon was named and each typical year was marked by the passage of 12 or 13 lunar months (depending on the location throughout the country).
Learn more about the nights in the typical lunar month
The months in the Māori lunar calendar
Most iwi (tribes) list 12 months in the lunar year.
Each month also had its own name, which sometimes varied between tribes.
Tūtakangahau, a Ngāi Tūhoe chief from Maungapōhatu, provided the ethnographer Elsdon Best with these names and descriptions:
Ka pipiri ngā mea katoa i te whenua i te mātao, me te tangata.
All things on earth are contracted because of the cold; likewise man.
Kua tino mātao te tangata, me te tahutahu ahi, ka pāinaina.
Man is now extremely cold, and so kindles fires before which he basks.
Kua kitea te kainga a te ahi i ngā turi o te tangata.
The scorching effect of fire on the knees of man is seen.
Kua pūmahana te whenua, me ngā otaota, me ngā rākau.
The earth has now acquired warmth, as also have herbage and trees.
Kua tino māhana te whenua.
The earth has now become quite warm.
Kua raumati, kua kaha te rā.
It has now become summer, and the sun has acquired strength.
Kua noho ngā manu kai roto i te kōhanga.
Birds are now sitting in their nests.
Kua makuru te kai: ka kai te tangata i ngā kai hou o te tau.
Fruits are now ripe and man eats the new food of the season.
Kua tau te waewae o Ruhi kai whenua.
The foot of Ruhi (a summer star) now rests upon the earth.
Kua hauhake te kai.
The crops are now harvested.
Kua putu ngā tupu o ngā kai i ngā paenga o ngā māra.
All straw is now stacked at the borders of the plantations.
Kua uru ngā kai kai te rua, kua mutu ngā mahi a te tangata.
Crops are now stored in pits. The tasks of man are finished.
What was the Maramataka used for?
Historically, the Maramataka was consulted for almost any activity taking place in an iwi community.
Some days (nights) of the Maramataka were better to do certain activities than other days. For example, planting and harvesting food supplies was conducted almost always through consulting the Maramataka.
Similarly, fishing or convening an important hui or conducting rituals, such as baptisms, the Maramataka was consulted.
The Maramataka also marked significant annual events such as celebrations in the time of Matariki and other seasonal activities.
Learn more about Matariki
Where did the Maramataka come from?
The Maramataka was brought to New Zealand by the first Pacific Islanders from Hawaiki, it was then adapted by the Māori to accommodate the southern hemisphere's sky, seasons, and climate.
The original Maramataka was an oral tradition which was later documented by early ethnographers who recorded some of this knowledge while it was still in use today among various iwi.