The Lunar Calendar of Tablet Mamari
This an adapted summary of "On the lunar calendar of Tablet Mamari"
(Journal de la Societe des Oceanistes, Paris. Vol. 91, No.2)
In his "Grundlagen zur Entzifferung der Osterinselschrift" Thomas
Barthel has identified a sequence of hieroglyphs which had all the
characteristics of a lunar calendar. This sequence starts near the end
of line 6 of side A of Tablet C of Barthel's nomenclature, also commonly
known as "Mamari". It contains several repeated sequences of signs,
colour-coded in the accompanying illustration:
The meaning of those sequences is open to speculation.
- Sequence type A, in blue
- Sequence type B, in green
- Sequence type C, in red.
The remaining signs, in black, represent the nights of the traditional
lunar calendar, of which we have three versions independently collected
by Thomson, Englert, and Metraux. Those three versions are in almost
perfect agreement, except that:
Thus whereas Metraux reports 30 nights in the calendar, Englert has only
28 and Thomson 29.
- Thomson's version lacks night Hiro of Metraux's
- Englert's version lacks nights Ari and Hotu of Metraux's
- Englert puts Hiro after Ata, Metraux puts it after.
A lunar month is 29.52 days long. To be accurate, a lunar calendar must
alternate 29-days and 30-days months so as to match the phases of the
moon. This can be done by keeping a close watch on the moon phases, and
adding an extra night to the basic, shorter, calendar whenever needed.
It seems that the ancient lunar calendar of Easter Island consisted of
28 nights, plus two additional nights to be inserted as needed, one
shortly before the full moon, the other after the full moon, immediately
before the new moon.
THE NIGHT SIGNS
In black, they are numbered 1 to 30.
Glyph Groups Type A (in Blue). Their meaning is unknown. I have proposed
that they are instructions to observe and note the apparent diameter of
- 1. The new moon. Thomson and Englert: Oata, Metraux: Ata. The various
meanings of "ata" in Polynesian, "cloud, shadow" are compatible with
the notion of new moon: the moon is "clouded", in a "shadow".
- 2. First night after the new moon, when it become faintly visible.
Thomson: Oari, Metraux: Ari. This word, ari, is probably cognate with
Hawaiian "ali = white, clarity, whiteness". The crescent is
accompanied by what looks like a loop of string with barbs. Routledge
reports that: "Every year there was a great gathering of rongo-rongo
men at Anakena... They brought 'heu-heu' (feathers on top of sticks),
tied pua [a plant] on to them, and stuck the sticks in the ground...
Te Haha [her informant] and his comrades stood on the outskirts, and
he and one other lad held maru [a string of white feathers tied to a
stick] in their hands... In addition to the great day, there were
minor assemblies at the new moon, or at the last quarter of the moon,
when the rongo-rongo men came to Anakena". Does the barbed loop
represent the strings of white feathers used in those ceremonies? In
popular parlance "new moon" is often taken as meaning the night when
the moon becomes visible again, so that it is quite possible that
Routledge, or her informant, may have meant the first night after the
new moon, Ari, instead of the new moon proper, Ata.
- 3-8. Six plain crescents in succession, without any accompanying
hieroglyphs. These are the six unnamed nights reported by Thomson,
Englert and Metraux: Kokore tahi, Kokore rua, Kokore toru, Kokore
haa, Kokore rima, Kokore ono. "Tahi, rua, toru, ... ono" are the
numbers from one to six, "kokore" is cognate with Hawaiian "'a'ole =
no" and Tahitian "'aore = there is/are not" hence its means probably
here "without [a name], nameless".
- 9. Thomson, Englert, Metraux: Maharu.
- 10. Thomson, Englert: Ohua, Metraux: Hua. "Hua" variously means in
Polynesian "fruit, to fructify" or "vulva, scrotum, bulge". The
accompanying sign could be a representation of a prickly fruit or of
- 11. Thomson, Englert: Otua, Metraux: Atua ("God"). The accompanying sign
represents perhaps a feather cloak, worn by high chief and celestial
beings. The crescent features a bulge, as if it were "pregnant".
This night is followed in Thomson's and Metraux's lists by a night
absent from Englert's list: Hotu. "Hotu" means "to bear fruit" in
Tahitian, and is very probably the extra night inserted before the
full moon whenever needed.
- 12. Thomson, Englert, Metraux: Maure. The appendage is perhaps
phonetic. It its a credible representation of an animal's penis
(a dolphin's for instance). Phonetically, "Maure" is "ma = with, ure
- 13. Thomson, Englert, Metraux: Ina-ira.
- 14.. Thomson, Englert, Metraux: Rakau. The night immediately before the
full moon. The crescent here is filled in.
- 15. Thomson, Englert: Omotohi, Metraux: Motohi. The full moon. The sign
is a picture of the "Cook-in-the-Moon", common to Polynesian and
most Melanesian mythologies. The three "stones" are the cooking
stones of the Polynesian earth oven (umu). The homonculus sitting in
profile is the cook.
- 16-20. A sequence of five bare crescents. This is the second series of
unnamed nights, Kokore tahi, Kokore rua, ... Kokore rima, which
immediately follows the full moon in Thomson's, Englert's, and
- 21. Thomson, Englert, Metraux: Tapume.
- 22. Thomson, Englert, Metraux: Matua.
- 23. Thomson, Englert: Orongo, Metraux: Rongo. The last quarter. Note the
accompanying string with barbs. Routledge mentions that ceremonies
were also held at the last quarter of the moon, where strings of
white feathers were used.
- 24. Thomson, Englert: Orongo taane, Metraux: Rongo tane. The crescent is
accompanied by a picture of a frigate bird, called "taha". The first
syllable is perhaps used here phonetically for "ta[ne]"
- 25. Thomson, Englert, Metraux: Mauri nui.
- 26. Thomson, Metraux: Mauri kero, Englert: Mauri karo.
- 27. Thomson, Englert: Omutu, Metraux: Mutu.
- 28. Thomson: Tueo, Englert, Metraux: Tireo. "Tueo" is a typographic
mistake for "Tireo"
- 29 and 30. These are probably the two additional nights, Hotu and Hiro,
to be added when necessary to the fixed 28 nights above. According
to both Thomson and Metraux, Hotu was inserted between nights 11 and
12 (Atua and Maure). According to Englert, Hiro was inserted
immediately after night 1 (the new moon); according to Metraux,
immediately before it.
Glyphs Groups Type B (in Green). Their meaning is also unknown.
However, all the groups before the full moon, when the moon is waxing,
contain a fish head up. All those after, when the moon is waning, have
the same fish head down. Hence they probably mean something like
"waxing" and "waning".
Glyphs Type C (in Red). Meaning unknown. The first one, which looks like
a turtle ("honu") is perhaps a phonetic approximation for "Hotu". The
second, two people back to back, is perhaps a phonetic approximation for
"Hiro": "he rua = two". But this is pure speculation without a sound
- -Jacques Guy
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