Best Chance To See Hōkūloa (Venus), The Alarm Clock of Ancient Hawaiian Farmers
Look toward town just around sunrise and you can’t miss seeing Venus. The planet is 2.5 times brighter than normal in late November and early December. And since we have clear skies and low light pollution on the west side, it’s even brighter for us.
In ‘Ōlelo Hawai’i, Venus is called “Hōkūloa.” For ancient Hawaiians, Hōkūloa was their alarm clock. According to a translation of Kepelino’s Traditions of Hawaii:
“Hōkūloa was a chiefess of the morning, for it was customary to till the dry land in the early morning when it was cool and not yet hot. When the cultivators saw Hōkūloa they went at once to their farming or other labor.”
(The original Hawaiian—it was printed without diacritical marks, but we did our best to fill them in—corrections welcome!: “O ka Hōkūloa, o ke aliʻi wahine o ka wanaʻao ia, no ka mea, he mau i nā ʻāina malō ka mahiʻai i ka wanaʻao, oia ka wā ʻoluʻolu a wela ʻole. Inā ʻike ka poʻe mahiʻai i ka Hōkūloa, o ka hele koke no ia i ka mahiʻai, o ia hana kū ia hana kū.”)
Hōkū means star, and loa can mean a lot of things, mostly to do with size or magnitude, so one direct translation is “Great Star.” But Venus also had other names, according to Kepelino: Hōkū ali’i wahine, “chiefess-star,” Ka’āwela, “star close to the sun,” Ka ‘elele o ka wana’ao, “messenger of day,” and Ka hōkū komohana, “star of the west.”
Venus has multiple names in other cultures as well, often translated as “the morning star” or “the evening star”. Venus has a faster orbit and “passes” Earth on our respective trips around the Sun. So it’s sometimes visible in the morning, and then, at other times of the year, appears in the evening.
Because it was so bright, no ancient stargazers would have missed seeing Venus. But some didn’t realize that the morning and evening “stars” were the same object.
Evidently the ancient Hawaiians figured this out. Kalākaua, the last king of Hawai’i, wrote about Hawaiian astrology in his book The Legends and Myths of Hawaii: “Five of the planets—Mercury, Mars, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn—were known to the ancient Hawaiians, and designated as nā hōkū ʻaeʻa, or wandering stars.”
The Hawaiians, like many ancient people, made a distinction between the “fixed” bright objects of the constellations, which always move together, and the planets, which dance to their own tune. According to Kepelino, Hōkūloa was considered one of the three most important “stars” in Hawaiian culture — the others being the Sun (Lā) and the Moon (Malama).
If you’re up early to drive to town, make sure you check Hōkūloa out—she’s welcoming you to the new day just like she did for ancient Hawaiians. And if your GPS breaks down, just follow her until you hit Ala Moana.