The inky night sky is as much a part of the Maui experience as the more celebrated blue of the day. For Hawaiians, perhaps the night sky was more important. Sunset marked the start of the Hawaiian day. The hours of darkness were also the time when the veil between the natural and supernatural parted. Night, known as po, was also the time for Mahina, the moon, and na hoku, the stars.
Hawaiians had star observatories known as hale kilo hoku. The stars played an integral part of Polynesian navigation. They showed the way. On its 29-day cycle, the moon marked the Hawaiian year while the phases of the moon indicated the proper time to plant particular crops and when to gather particular food fish.
Mahina piha, the full moon, received a lot of attention during the last week. The Earth crossed its path and turned its normally silver hue into a shade of red. The media trumpeted what news stories called a "blood moon." If the appellation was appropriate, the blood was anemic when viewed by eyes plagued by a minor color blindness.
The color was caused by the Rayleigh effect, a scattering of minute particles in the air. The effect is also responsible for the blue color of the daytime sky, the color of the sun and the sunset pallet, green flash and all. It was discovered by John William Strutt Rayleigh. The English baron won a Nobel Prize for physics in 1904. So much for the scientific explanations.
Over parts of Maui, the April 14 eclipse was shrouded by clouds. Not so in Kula. The sky was particularly clear from Kula - a velvet black punctured by stars only visible in places where ground light is at a minimum. A Maui girl who has a home in Kihei always marvels at the night sky over rural Maui and wishes she had studied astronomy.
Mahina appeared over the southeast flank of Haleakala. At about 10 p.m., she was accompanied by two vivid stars and a planet. If an inexpert study of a star map put out by Bishop Museum and Melody Chang is to be believed, Spica appeared below and to the left of Mars. Arcturus was above and to the right.
Arcturus should be familiar to everyone in Hawaii as Hokule'a, the star of gladness. The name was chosen for the history-making voyaging canoe soon to set off in an around-the-world journey to spread the message of aloha toward the land, the sea and the Earth's people. The crew will be using the same star- and ocean-based navigation techniques used to sail across the Pacific while Europeans were still hugging continental shorelines.
Spica is called Hikianalia, the star near the horizon. Mars, which was abnormally close to the Earth this week, is called, appropriately enough, Hoku'ula, the red star.
Visible this time of year, there are a number of other stars important to Hawaiians. Crux, aka the Southern Cross, is known as Hanaiakamalama, cared for by the moon. In the southwest sky lies Sirius in the constellation Canis Major. Hawaiians call Sirius A'a, or fire.
Ursa Major, or Big Dipper, points to the all-important Polaris at the west end of the Little Dipper in the north sky. Polaris is known to Hawaiians, especially those far out in the ocean, as Hokupa'a, the stationary star. The more visible Big Dipper is known as Na Hiku, the seven. Jupiter is called Ikaika, the strong and powerful. Nearly overhead is the constellation Leo, which Hawaiians call Hokupa, or star fence.
Not visible from Maui at this time of year are Antares, Corvus and Venus. Antares is called Lehuakona, the southern lehua blossom. Corvus has the lyrical name Me'e or Mele, the voice of the chant. Venus is known as Hokukauahiahi, the fiery setting star.
For those who want to know and understand, the names of stars - both Hawaiian and Greek - are important. For the rest of us, the stars are simply the stars, bright points of light decorating the darkness overhead.
On most nights, Mahina covers the island with a ghostly sheen. Mahina piha, the big, round moon, also has a kind of power over the susceptible - a sleep-killing urge to get out and about. Cats prowl, dogs howl, cows bawl when calves are taken away, and some humans become restless to the point of wandering byways and getting into trouble. Just ask any police officer.
This week, in her red, or ulu, guise, Mahina provided a celestial spectacle, one that made the night sky a thing of wonder and amazement. Just ask any reporter or editor looking for a news story.
* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.