The four seasons were hōtoke (winter), kōanga (spring), raumati (summer) and ngahuru (autumn). The year was divided into lunar months. The new year began in winter in the month of Pipiri (May–June), signalled by the pre-dawn rising of Matariki (the Pleiades) or Puanga (Rigel).
Each month was also signalled by a particular pre-dawn star. The timing of activities was determined by the nights of the moon, each of which had a particular name.
The following calendar was compiled by Raymond Firth from various sources in 1929.
‘Hōtoke’ literally means cold, as does ‘makariri’, another word for winter. Hōtoke was the first season of the year and included the months of Pipiri, Hōngongoi and Here-turi-kōkā.
Bird snaring and kiore trapping began. Piharau (lamprey) were running, as were warehou and moki fish. Kākahi (freshwater mussels) were collected. Harore (mushrooms) and perei (potato orchids) appeared. New ground was broken up for crops and gardens were turned.
Bird snaring and kiore trapping continued. Fat kākā were taken by hand, and tūī were caught at night. Toitoi, warehou and moki fish and piharau (lamprey) were caught. Kākahi (freshwater mussels) and karengo seaweed were collected.
Bird snaring and kiore trapping continued. Fern was burnt off and new ground was turned for crops. Toitoi, tarakihi, kehe and kumukumu (gurnard) fish were caught.
Nights of the moon
The appropriate time to plant, hunt, fish and gather was governed not just by the season and the month, but also by the nights of the moon. Each night of the lunar month had a name, based on the phases of the moon. Kūmara was planted on the nights called Ōuenuku, Ari, Rākau-nui, Rākau-ma-tohi, Takirau and Ōrongonui. Ōuenuku and Ōkoro were good nights for eeling, and Ari-roa was good for spearing eels. Ōrongonui was good for īnanga (whitebait). No planting or eeling was done during full-moon days.
The root of the word kōanga is kō, meaning spade – the season is literally a time for digging. It includes the months Mahuru, Whiringa-ā-nuku and Whiringa-ā-rangi.
Ground was dug and prepared for cultivation. Tī kōuka (cabbage tree) tops were cut off. Kōura (crayfish) were caught on the East Coast, and īnanga (whitebait) were taken at Taupō. Toitoi, tarakihi, kehe and kumukumu were caught.
Crops were planted. The roots of the tī kōuka were dug for kāuru (sugar). Kōura were caught on the East Coast, and īnanga were taken at Taupō. Paraki and piharau (lamprey) were caught at Otago. Tarakihi, kehe, and kumukumu were caught.
Tītī (muttonbirds) were taken. Kōura were caught on the East Coast. Freshwater crayfish and īnanga were taken at Taupō. Piharau and paraki were taken in Otago. The kahawai fishing season began on the East Coast.
The summer months of raumati include Hakihea, Kohi-tātea and Hui-tanguru. These were the most difficult months to find food.
Tī kouka was dug, and early forest fruits were collected. Kererū were taken on tawa trees. Late planting and cultivation work was done. It was fishing season on the coast. Kōura (freshwater crayfish), īnanga and kōkopu were taken at Rotorua.
Tī kōuka was dug for kāuru. Forest foods, including tutu berries, raupō pollen, roots and fungi, were collected. Felled trees and scrub were burnt for new gardens, and crops on older gardens were weeded. Kākā and tūī were speared on the kōtukutuku (fuchsia) tree.
Kōura, īnanga and kōkopu were caught at Rotorua, and maomao fish on the East Coast.
Tapu (ritual restriction) was lifted from crops. Crops were weeded. Pā tuna (eel weirs) were built. Kōura, īnanga and kōkopu were caught inland. Maomao were caught, while kahawai fishing ended on the East Coast.
This season’s name is an old word meaning 10, as autumn started during the 10th month (February–March) in the traditional calendar. Ngahuru was also the word for harvest, which occurred at this time. Autumn consists of Poutū-te-rangi, Paenga-whāwhā and Haratua.
Crops were dug and tubers were stored, followed by a harvest festival. Tī kōuka was dug. Tītī were taken in Otago. Kōura (freshwater crayfish), īnanga, kōkopu and kōaro were caught at Taupō, and tuna (eels) were taken in rivers. Hāpuku, kehe, maomao and tāmure (snapper) were caught, and ūpokororo fish were caught on the East Coast.
Cropping was finished. Tuna (eels) were taken during heke tuna (eel migrations). Karaka berries were gathered. Tūī and weka were caught in Southland. Hāpuku, warehou and tāmure were caught, and ūpokororo were caught on the East Coast. The maomao season ended.
Remaining kūmara were dug up. Tūī were taken in Otago. Toitoi, warehou and tāmure were caught, as were tuna (eels) and piharau (lamprey).