The Fighting of Stars: The Micronesian calendar and weather forecasting system

The traditional Micronesian calendar was divided into two seasons or "years": Lefung, the time of hunger, which is around winter; and Leraak, the time of plenty, which is around summer. Each season lasts six lunar cycles. To the old men, there are six, not twelve, moons in a single year.

Twelve stars name the twelve star months in the calendar. The month starts when the star is forty-five degrees from the horizon at dawn. According to the navigators, when you tilt your head and look at the star at this elevation, you can just feel the back of the neck forming a roll of skin. Knowledge of the star months was common before the advent of the Western calendar.

Another more important set of stars controls the weather. During each star month, certain stars hover just beneath the horizon at dawn or are setting into the sea at sunset. These are the storm stars and navigators believe they will cause inclement weather at that position. They are said to be fighting. The "fighting of stars" is an essential element of seamanship for the navigator. Basically inclement weather is dependent on the number of storm stars (one or two) and the phase of the moon. When the month has only one storm star, inclement weather will happen in the first five days of the moon's cycle. If there are two storm stars, inclement weather will happen in the last five days of the moon's cycle. Thus when the navigator sees the storm star rising (or disappearing under the horizon), he knows that the inclement weather is over.

Below is a simplified table adapted from The Last Navigator. Where possible, western star names are substituted for the Satawalese version . Note that the distinction between asterism and star is blurred in the culture. Stars can mean a group of stars located close together or just the familiar star in western astronomy.

Star Month Storm Star
Corvus (November)
Light easterly winds returning. Voyaging begins again.
Corona Borealis
Storms at waning moon. Marks beginning of lefung.

Antares
Storms at waxing moon.
Corona Borealis (December)
Sailing and fishing must complete. Canoes to Puluwat and the eastern islands must return because strong winds of lefung coming.
Vega
Storms at waxing moon.
Antares (January)
Winds are fierce. No rain, wells dry, people become skinny because no fish.
Altair
Storms at waxing moon. Signals beginning of strong northeasterly winds.
Vega (February)
Rain, clouds, windy but no fish. Gives back some of what Antares took away.
Delphinus
Storms at waning moon. Indicates rain.

Equuleus
Storms at waxing moon. Sweeps the beach clean for turtles to lat eggs.
Altair (March)
Strong northeasterly winds and rain.
Alpheratz
Storms at waxing moon. End of strong northeasterly winds and end of lefung. A clap of thunder marks the beginning of leraak.
Equuleus (April)
Southeasterly winds. Time for Saipan voyages.
Cu
Storms at waxing moon.

Alimatau
Storms at waning moon. Good winds for voyaging.
Alpheratz (May)
Voyaging begins. Turtle season.
Pleiades
Storms at waxing moon.
Cu (June)
Winds grow feeble
Aldebaran
Storms at waxing moon.

Orion's belt
Storms at waning moon. Storms are weak.
Aldebaran (July)
Month for turtles and fishing. Good winds from northeast and east. Wind getting lighter and lighter all the time.
Sirius
Storms at waxing moon. Strong winds from east, south, southwest and west that last half a day.
Orion's Belt (August)
Start of the West Wind, lasts from setting of Southern Cross to end of storms of Arcturus. Wind strength fluctuates with storm stars and moon phase. Diminishing winds in second and third quarter moon.
Gamma Cancer
Storms at waxing moon. Small storms.

Southern Cross
Storms when star sets in evening and at waning moon.
Sirius (September)
West Wind. No fish.
Leo
Storms at waxing moon.

Spica
Storms when setting and at waning moon.
Gamma Cancer (October)
Some fish.
Arcturus
Storms when star sets in evening and at waxing moon. End of fighting indicates end of West Wind and end of leraak.


Notes
1. Equuleus here does not refer to the whole constellation. The Satawalese name Ceuta refers to a star group inside the constellation of Equuleus.
2. Cu is Satawalese constellation of a dolphin. Cassiopeia forms the tail, Alpheratz the dorsal fin, Mirach and Upsilon Andromeda the vernal fins and the faint stars in Andromeda form the body.
3. Leo here refers to only the stars Adhafera, Algieba, Nu Leo and Regulus.



References:
Thomas, Stephen D. (1987). The Last Navigator.