Issue 9.5: October/November 2006

When the Rains Come

story by Roland Gilmor
photo by Luke Stoffel


There’s a standard joke offered up to recently arrived malihini who bemoan the lack of four regular seasons in the Islands: we have them—mangos, whales, North Shore surf, South Shore surf. In reality, once one begins to pay attention to their surroundings, it’s not too hard to define Hawai‘i’s seasonal patterns. Traditionally, the year was divided in two: Kau, the hot and dry season, began in May and was the time for outdoor work. Women would make kapa (bark cloth), using the sun’s heat to dry it. Men were hunting in the uplands, working on canoes and fishing nets. February through May was recognized as a spawning time for many fish, and so inshore fishing was restricted during those months—with the onset of Kau, men not only ventured further offshore in search of deep-sea fish, but also took up shore fishing again. Things ripened throughout Kau, and culminated in the major late fall sweet potato harvests, undertaken before the outset of the hard rains.

The names of particular months varied to a certain extent from island to island, but in at least one tradition, the season of Kau ended with the month of ‘Ikuwa, which translates as “loud voice” and was the time (roughly October) when surf began crashing on north-facing shores and thunder might be heard in the uplands and on the plains. ‘Ikuwa marked the outset of Ho‘oilo, the colder, wetter season, as well as the time of the makahiki, the four-month period in which war was prohibited and sports and religious festivals were observed. With the coming of wetter weather, work moved indoors: Women wove baskets and mats, men worked on weapons, fishing and hunting gear.

As for the month of ‘Ikuwa, in their book Native Planters in Old Hawaii (from which much of the above information comes), E.S.C. and Elizabeth Handy quote Mary Kawena Pukui: “The Hawaiians thought of thunder as the voice of Kane-hekili (Kane-the-thunderer), a god who was dark on one side of his body. My people, therefore, in respect for him, observed his every kapu. For instance, nobody spoke in whispers, as that offended him; and in his wrath he was known to change persons into stone or send a thunderbolt to destroy the homes of those who broke his kapu. …”