Ancient Hawaii

Menehune's -- Myth or Fact?

Menehune, a red-haired race of master masons who occupied the islands long before the arrival of the Polynesians.

In Hawaiian legends, the menehune are stonemasons and other craftsman, each menehune specializing in a distinct handicraft. The legends claim that the menehune built temples, fishponds, and even highways. The legends also say that when the ancestors of today's native Hawaiians first arrived on the islands, they found dams, temples and other structures built by the menehune.

The Menehune

The menehune ( ka poe menehume ) are a mythical race of Hawai'i, a mischievous and clever little people who frequent the tales of old and
live deep in the forests and valleys of the islands. The menehune are associated with the pre-setting days of Hawai'i, roaming the islands
1500 years or more before Polynesian settlers arrived, but they tend to appear in even the most modern of tales.

The menehune were rumored to be extremely adept with their hands, industrious builders and craftsmen, who could construct expert temples,
roads, canoes, fishponds, and houses in no time at all. Although they are said to have roamed all islands, the island of Kaua'i is the most
common scenes involving them.

These 2-foot tall island inhabitants are believed by many to be the master architects credited with building the Aleloko fishpond and dam,
Kauai's largest aquaculture reservoir. A story surrounding the construction of this pond says that two royal onlookers, ignoring
warnings of the menehune, were turned to stone after spying on the little people during this building activities.

Today, it is said that the two stone pillars can still be seen near the pond. Structures like hand-built walls and carefully carved petroglyphs
are considered by many to be evidence that Kaua'i was once ( and perhaps still is ) a favorite playground of the menehune.

As many as 60 ancient fish ponds dotted the shallow southern coast of Molokia.
Most of these ponds are thought to date back to the 13th Century. They are a tribute to sophisticated aquaculture.
The semi-circular walls of the ponds were made from lava boulders and coral which
would keep the fish inside while allowing the sea water to ebb in and out.

Stories of the Menehunes

The Menehunes are credited with the construction of numerous heiaus (ancient temples) in various parts of the islands.

The heiau of Mookini, near Honoipu, Kohala, is pointed out as an instance of their marvelous work. The place selected for the site of the temple was on a grassy plain. The stones in the nearest neighborhood were for some reason not deemed suitable for the work, so those of Pololu Valley, distant some twelve miles, were selected. Tradition says the Menehunes were placed in a line covering the entire distance from Pololu to Honoipu, whereby the stones were passed from hand to hand for the entire work. Work was begun at the quiet of night, and at cock-crow [117]in the morning it was finished. Thus in one night the heiau of Mookini was built.

Another temple of their erection was at Pepeekeo, Hilo, the peculiarity of the work being that the stones had been brought together by the residents of that part of the district, by direction of the chief, but that in one night, the Menehunes gathered together and built it. The chief and his people were surprised on coming the next morning to resume their labors, to find the heiau completed.

There stands on the pali of Waikolu, near Kalaupapa, Molokai, a heiau that Hawaiians believe to have been constructed by no one else than the Menehunes. It is on the top of a ledge in the face of a perpendicular cliff, with a continuous inaccessible cliff behind it reaching hundreds of feet above. No one has ever been able to reach it either from above or from below; and the marvel is how the material, which appears to be seashore stones, was put in place.

Were there menehune in Hawaii?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The widely accepted belief that two sets of migrations occurred in Hawaii sometimes leads me to think about the legend of the menehune.

In most translations, menehune are understood to be little people who were the original settlers of the islands. One version I've read states that the menehune weren't physically smaller than the later settlers, but that they were smaller in stature politically. They didn't have the power to stop their adversaries, and thus departed from one island to the next until stopping on Kauai, the last bastion of a livable environment.

It is true that there are many tales of the menehune on Kauai, including the giant inland fishpond outside Lihue that was built by them. (Menehune were said to have been prolific fishpond builders across the islands, able to build them overnight at the command of alii, or chiefs.) I've been there and I tend to believe that it was a working, thriving fishpond that, indeed, fed the populace of the island at one time. Even the nickname of the high school on the island's west side, Waimea, is Menehune.

An old friend, Manny Henriques, drove me up and down the island when I was there a couple of years ago on a work assignment. We went out to Kekaha, and I got to see many interesting spots along the way, including several of the rural post offices. Then we headed up the mountain to see Waimea Canyon, and beyond that, Kalalau Valley. The valley is on the north side of the island, so the drive was quite a voyage. The place is unspoiled and mostly uninhabited — Manny says some hippies live off the land there. It was the site of Jurrasic Park, a wide, lush valley that Manny said was once home to the "Lost Tribe."

Even as a Hawaii resident, I'd never heard of this. Manny explained that even as recently as 150 years ago, there was a large contingent of people in the valley, perhaps 200 strong. Were they descendants of menehune? No one knows for sure today, but King David Kalakaua actually wrote a book called The Legends and Myths of Hawaii. He supposedly writes that the menehune were real, and that the Lost Tribe consisted of 65 individuals according to a census.

Manny says that the Lost Tribe eventually integrated themselves into society. I just wish someone had documented information about the Lost Tribe. It's a theme that replicates itself in similar ways across the Pacific, even around the world. Some theories make a lot of sense. Other theories are fascinating, but require a lot of imagination. More on those theories later.

Perhaps one of the best sources of information comes from Tales of Molokai: The Voice of Harriet Ne, which can be found online in a review by Big Island resident June Gutmanis.

As with many Hawaiians of an older generation, Ne thought of the Menehune not as mystical, night-working, little people given to disappearing before sunrise, but as a people of small stature who had come to Hawai‘i before the Hawaiians and who were often friends with local families. According to her, once, while visiting on Kaua‘i, she went to a cave where the Menehune were said to live. After waiting for a time, she met a group of Menehunes returning to their home. She described them as being short and quite fair. Both men and women wore long hair made into pugs with sticks through them.

On another occasion, while visiting a Mrs. Johnson in Puna, Hawai‘i, Ne met two Menehunes who came to visit her friend. As a favor, they caught a special kind of fish for their hostess. Ne relates that when the Menehune were talking together, they spoke in a strange language that she had heard before.

I'll post more info about menehune as I find it.

Posted by 'Pupule' Paul Honda

Menehune, a red-haired race of master masons who occupied the islands long before the arrival of the Polynesians.