Also known as Nawao.
Menehune are the 'little people' of Hawaii, similar to pixies or trolls.
Little Menehune by Lady Gryphon
The folklore of many cultures around the world include stories
of magical little people. Although most people easily recall the leprechauns of
Ireland, in Hawaii the mischievous Menehune roam the deep forests at night.
Hawaii's legendary mystical and shy forest dwellers are small in
size at about two feet high, although some are only six inches high and capable
of fitting in the palm of someone's hand. According to legend they are very
industrious master builders that use their great strength to accomplish mighty
feats of engineering and construction overnight.
Many Hawaiian sources in recent years had suggested that the
Menehune were indeed mythic creatures borne from the early period of the
evolution of Hawaiian society. One explanation that I had been given suggested
that Menehune were actually the first settlers of Hawai'i - descendants of the
Marquesas islanders who were believed to have first occupied the Hawaiian
Islands anywhere from 0 to 350 A.D. When the Tahitian invasion occurred about
1100 A.D., this theory goes, the first settlers were subdued by the physically
larger Tahitians. Remnants of these earlier inhabitants of Hawaii would
naturally then hide from the new invaders, occupying secret places in the
valleys during the day, but scourging for food during the dark of night. Thus
was born the legend of the little people of the Islands.
Historians believe that Menehune comes from the Tahitian
Manahune, or commoner, and refers to a race of people who were small in social
rather than physical stature.
Today, scholars speculate that the Menehune may not have been an
imaginary race at all, but rather the descendants of the first wave of settlers
who came to Hawaii from the Marquesas sometime around the sixth century. The
Menehune legends come from later settlers who reached Hawaii six or seven
hundred years later from the Islands of Tahiti. Scholars have concluded that
this second wave of immigrants may have defeated the descendants of the original
Marquesans, driving them north from the Big Island to Kauai, where they made
their last stand. Only later did they emerge in their elfin guise. Linguistic
support for the explanation comes from the Tahitian home islands where the word
Manahune derisively refer to a class of workers and slaves.
And yet others have theorized that they believe the Menehune
were tales made up by the ali'i to give explanation for the construction of
fishponds, temples and other structures so that they wouldn't have to give
credit to the real people who built these things - the maka'ainana - the common
While Hawaii's menehune legends are not limited to Kauai, the
island certainly has its share of stories about these leprechaun-like people.
Though generally considered to be creatures of myth, an 1820s census officially
counted 65 Menehune's living in Wainiha Valley.
According to legend, the mystical Menehune, were credited as
master builders capable of completing major projects in a single night. The
Alekoko Fishpond and the Menehune Ditch, a aqua duct that funnels water for
irrigation from the Waimea River, were both attributed to their over night
efforts. According to legend, the menehune worked at night so as not to be seen
by others, cutting, transporting, and fitting stones for their projects in a
fireman's bucket brigade. If they were discovered their work would have been
abandoned. Luckily for the Hawaiians, the menehune were exceptionally good at
A double row of Menehune extended 25 miles to distant Makaweli
on the west side. The workers passed stones hand-to-hand and built the fishpond
for a princess and her brother. The Menehune were promised no one would observe
them at work, which was carried on after dark. However, one night the royal pair
snuck up and watched the thousands of Menehune at work, only to fall asleep. At
sunrise the Menehune discovered them and turned them into twin stone pillars
that can be seen today in the mountains above the fishpond. Dismayed by the
interruption, the Menehune left two gaps in the fishpond wall. In the late 1800s
Chinese workers filled the gaps to raise mullet.
The menehune enjoy dancing, singing, and archery. They have been
known to use magic arrows to pierce the heart of angry people to ignite feelings
of love instead. Menehune also enjoy cliff diving, so if you hear splashes in
the night on the islands of Hawaii, it is highly possible a Menehune is diving
into the ocean.
Whatever their origins, the menehune have emerged from the past
as playful elves - pot-bellied, hairy, and muscular, with bushy eyebrows over
large eyes and a short nose with a trace of the mischievousness of their
Want to read a wonderful story about the Menehune?
Menehune of Ainahou
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