Nights in the Maramataka | the Māori lunar month

Discover the nights in the Māori lunar month, and the activities related to them.

The Māori lunar calendar is called the Maramataka, which literally means the turning of the moon. It marks the phases of the moon in a lunar month.

Each night, which also typically marks a day, was given a name and over time each day/night was accompanied by information guiding fishing, gardening, and other activities in the natural world.

During a typical lunar month, some days are noted as being favourable for resource harvesting, whereas other days are known to be unfavourable.

Māori woman gardening with a timo, date unknown. Photograph by Lindsay Charles. Te Papa

The lunar cycle

A typical lunar month cycle lasts for 29.53 days. Each night carries a name according to the Maramataka. For example, Whiro is the first night of the new moon, Tirea is the second night, and so on until Mutuwhenua, the last night.

The cycle starts again with the appearance of the next new moon, with Whiro, Tirea, and so on.

The following names for the days of the lunar month have been taken from the Maramataka of a number of iwi. The differences are only in the sequence of the phases. As many names were similar, the Māori Language Commission decided to use those employed by the majority.

The moon enters a new phase. An unfavourable day for planting food and fishing. A good night for taking eels.

A reasonably good night for crayfishing, eeling, and planting food. A good day for collecting shellfish.

A very good day for eeling, crayfishing, planting kūmara, and sowing seed crops.

A good day for establishing tuber beds, planting food, and fishing.

Another good day for planting food. Fish are restless.

A day for planting food. West winds prevail that only rain will quell.

Eels are voracious feeders this night. A good day for planting food and fishing, but beware fog and a foaming sea.

Eels, fish, and kūmara are abundant but small. A productive day for collecting shellfish. Fishermen, beware!

A favourable day for planting food from morning to midday. Not very good for fishing.

A disagreeable day, one for marking time.

Do not plant food. Not a good day for fishing. Eels and crayfish are wary.

A most favourable day for planting food. Kūmara are large but rot quickly. A good day for fishing. A good night for trapping crayfish and eels.

A very good day for planting food.

Not a good day for planting food or fishing.

A good day for bobbing eels. A good day for fishing and for planting food from midday to sundown.

A very good day. Crops are bountiful. A good day for fishing but not eeling.

A very good day for fishing but not eeling. Seed plants grow vigorously.

An unfavourable day. Allow resources to recover.

Not a good day for fishing or planting food.

An unproductive night on the shore. Winds sweep the seas.

Not a fruitful night. Food is scarce, but await the turn of the tide.

A good day from midday to sundown. A productive period for taking eels, trapped or otherwise. Most foods are plentiful.

A good day for planting food, fishing, and eeling.

Productive days for fishing and planting food.

A good day for fishing and the cultivation of seed beds.

A very good day for taking eels, fishing, and setting crayfish and eel baskets.

A good day for fishing, eeling, and crayfishing. A reasonably good day for planting food.

A very productive day for planting food, fishing, and eeling.

Not a productive day. Food is scarce. Fish are restless and turn tail.

Unproductive, day and night. The moon has diminished, and the world is now in total darkness.

*All images of the moon courtesy of Maurice Collins

Using the moon to understand nature

The Maramataka below was taken from a 1918 book by ethnologist Elsdon Best. It was provided to him by Rev. Metara Te Aomarere of Ōtaki, but the calendar itself was credited to Mita Te Tai.

It names the 29.53 nights in the lunar calendar and the symbols next to each night represent how favourable the night was for certain food gathering activities.

For instance, straight lines indicated good nights for line fishing, and black dots for fishing by torchlight. A night such as Whiro, with a dot and a line, was good for both.

A night such as Atua ‘is always condemned as unlucky for all forms of food-seeking’.

A Maramataka from a book by Elsdon Best, Fishing methods and devices of the Maori. Dominion Museum, 1929, p. 94

Do people still use the lunar days today?

Fishing and planting food by the way of the moon, the tides, and the elements is still common today – and so the Maramataka still plays an important part in people’s lifestyle.

For example, eel fishing is not productive on the full moon (Rākaunui) because bright moon light would not allow the eel to hunt as its prey could see them. Eels don’t have very good eyesight, and generally avoid bright conditions. They tend to hunt and be more active when the conditions favour their sensory systems (smell, vibrations).

Tuna (eels) at Battle Hill, 2016. Te Papa

Shellfish tend to be more common after a low tide as there’s more reef or beach to access with a spring tide – and the tides are controlled by the moon’s current phase.

When it comes to planting crops the gravitational pull of the moon is thought by some to influence how much water is in the soil. The amount of light coming from the moon may be another contributing factor. This may be why, according to the Maramataka, there are good and bad days for planting seeds.