Beginnings and Resources

the kumulipo sm

One of the first things I learned when I began researching Kūkanilokoʻs astronomy was that the star experts of precontact Hawai’i had a deep understanding of the relationship of the annual cycle of the sun to the annual cycles of stars.

The maps showed Pu’u Kūmakali’i in the Wai’anae Range west of Kūkaniloko. The name is mountain/hill (pu’u) rise (kū) Pleiades (Makali’i). But stars rise in the east, not in the west. So how was Pu’u Kūmakali’i related to the rise of the Pleiades?

Puzzled, I gave up trying to figure it out and went to bed. At 3:00 AM something woke me with what seemed to be  an answer. I ran the Starry Night planetarium program. And there it was. On the day the Pleiades rose in the evening the sun set on Pu’u Kūmakali’i.

That, of course, was nuts. There is nothing I could find in the archaeoastronomical literature about anywhere in the world that said that the evening rise of a star (or constellation or asterism)  announced by the location of a sunset.

So I looked for other named places on maps of the Wai’anae Range that might indicate the setting sun on the day of a starʻs evening rise. And there were several, but they required some knowledge or research about the stars the sunsets might indicate. Puʻu Pane, Summit Hill/Mountain, is where the sun set on the day Cancer rose in the evening. Cancer is the constellation in which the July zenith – one of the two “summits” of the sun – takes place. Pu’u Kaupakuhale, Roofbeam Hill/Mountain, is where the sun set on the evening Antares rose. Antares is a builder, a part of the structure of space. His (Antares is male) landscape markers, the places over which he rose or set, speak of his association with construction and houses. When Regulus, a yellow star, rose in the evening the sun set over Pu’u Kalena, Yellow Hill/Mountain. When Sirius, a star associated with dogs in many cultures, set, it set over the juncture of Kolekole Pass and Puʻu Ka’īlio (Hill/Mountain the dog).  (There is more about Sirius and dogs in Hawai’i in a paper I expect to add soon.)

So the evening rise of the Pleiades, Cancer, Antares, Regulus, and Sirius, five different stars, was signalled or indicated by the location of a sunset. That meant that the sky experts understood and recognized the relationship of the sun cycle with the star cycles.

That was an unexpected finding, and it helped me to anticipate and even expect evidence of complex astronomical knowledge. Ultimately, at least for now because I expect more to become evident, it showed that precontact Hawaiian astronomy was, in Western terms, sets of intersecting astronomical knowledge, and those knowledge sets were entwined, interwoven, and interdependent. And that they expressed big ideas, philosophical and metaphysical, ontological and epistemological, geographical and geometric, cosmological and structural.

There are no textbooks on Hawaiian cultural astronomy. There are, though, helpful resources. Those resources will be listed, probably on several different pages, of this site. Most of them, except for the downloadable planetarium programs, are written resources.

A selection of these resources is below.  The offerings are not in any order. Many of the entries  are available online, and usually downloadable, at no cost (for Free). Unlike in a bibliography, the title appears before the name of the author or authors or translator(s).

The Kumulipo, Martha Beckwith – trans., ed.,

The Kumulipo, Lili’uokalani – trans.,

The Lore of the Whare-Wānanga, written down by H.T. Whatahoro from the teachings of Te Matarohanga and Nepia Pohuhu, priests of the Whare-wānanga of the East Coast, New Zealand, trans. S. Percy Smith,

Na Inoa Hoku, Rubellite Kawena Johnson and John Mahelona, Honolulu: Topgallant Publishing, 1975. Now out of print but should be available at libraries in Hawai’i.

Na Inoa Hoku, revised edition, Rubellite Kawena Johnson, John Kaipo Mahelona, Clive Ruggles, Ocarina Books, 2015.

The Kumulipo Mind, Rubellite Kawena Johnson,

The Astronomical Knowledge of the Maori, Genuine and Empirical, Elsdon Best, Wellington: Dominion Museum, 1922,

Tongan Astronomy and Calendar, Ernest Edgar Vyvyian Collocott, Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1922,

Hawaiian Astronomical Concepts I, Maud Makemson, American Anthropologist, No. 40, 1938,

Hawaiian Astronomical Concepts II, Maud Makemson, American Anthropologist, American Anthropologist, No. 41, 1939,

Migrations, Myth and Magic from the Gilbert Islands, Sir Arthur Grimble, Rosemary Grimble, ed., at google books

This book may be available through some libraries. Google books is great, but not generally downloadable or completely available to read online.

NZETC – New Zealand Electronic Text Center/Collection – offers free downloadable texts. It is also word searchable, so one can search, for example, Aldebaran, or the Pleiades, or astronomy, or the name of an author, or . . .,

The Journal of the Polynesian Society is online, accessible for free .   It is word searchable and its papers are downloadable for free.

The Polynesian Star Catalog, Revised, downloadable free.

Planetarium programs

Stellarium is free. Itʻs also really good.

I usually use Starry Night Enthusiast. It does cost some money, but for most of the research I do itʻs faster to use in toggling among dates, places, sunrises, and sunsets.


The Hawaiian Dictionary, Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Elbert, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986, online for free at

A Dictionary of the Hawaiian Language, Lorrin Andrews, 1936, online free at

The Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary, Edward Tregear, Wellington: Lyon and Blair, 1891, online free at