Legend of the Menehunes no small part of Hawaii
By Arthur Ribbel for the San Diego Union Tribune 1986
The Colorful myths, legends and folklore of Hawaii are part of the rich charm and fascination of the beautiful islands.
In a song, stories and traditions, the ancient Hawaiians unfolded their beliefs in the supernatural and in god's invested with magical powers. No complete story of ancient Hawaii and the superstitions and legends of the people can be told without the Brownie-like Menehunes. The Hawaiian Visitors Bureau describes them as "A race of pixie-like peoples, two to three feet tall with supernatural powers, who work only at night." They build some of Kauai's early massive stone walls, bridges and dams in a single night.
Near the airport is Nawili-wili Harbor; Kauai's principal port. The Menehune Fishpond near the Harbor and the Menehune Ditch at the Waimea are ancient stoneworks credited to the legendary Menehunes.
There are many legends associated with the Menehunes or Little People; one says that they were no taller than a man's knee. But another version believes they were normal-sized people who seemed dwarfed along side the giant Polynesian warriors who came later to the islands.
These TALL Polynesians travels the sea in large outrigger-canoes, carrying their women, children and their goods over many miles of water to conquer new lands.
The Menehune are said to have retreated to Maui to make their last stand against the formidable invaders from Tahiti, the Pacific homeland of the Polynesians. Kauai people have been able to trace their ancestry directly to the nobility of Tahiti. Kauai women were said to have been sought as wives for the rulers of other island kingdoms. The ancient Kauai nobility were able to maintain their pure bloodlines.
Lihue, the county seat of Kauai Island, has been described as "The center of Menehune Land" by chroniclers of Hawaii. The Little men built the ancient fish pond in the Huleia stream at Niumulu, which is about a mile from Lihue Island. It is an argument against those doubters who scoff at the Menehune legend.
Waimea, where the Menehune Ditch is located, is the historic Kauai town lying at the mouth of the Waimea Canyon on the Waimea River. This was one of the ancient homes of the Menehunes. It was believed the ditch, or watercourse was built also by the Menehunes with carefully cut and fitted lava rock to irrigate King Ola's taro patches.
The Menehunes had no rock or earth movers except themselves. It is believed they mined hard rock in the mountains and then passed the rocks one to another in a human chain to the site of the fish pond where other Menhunes put them in place.
It must be remembered that according to legends, the Menehunes felt they had to complete a project in one night. They had to disappear before the first rays of the sun came to Earth lest they be turned into stone themselves.
The story of the pond had a tragic turn. As the queen and her brother tarried on the mountainside to look back at the pond, they were overtaken by the sun and turned to stone at Alakoki.
Present Hawaiians are well aware of the Menehune legend. One visitor browsing a pottery shop on Kauai some years ago heard a rustling at the bottom of a huge gourd.
"I wonder what that noise is," he asked the shopkeeper, a large Hawaiian woman in a voluminous muumuu. "It may be a Menehune," she replied, smiling.
The Menehune story continues after the invasion by the giant Polynesians in their great outrigger canoes. One belief is that the Little People were led from Kauai in a great migration beyond the sea to seek a new home on other Pacific Islands.
Some of the Menehunes, so the story went, were declined to leave, having their roots set deep in Kauai. So they hid from their king and their descendants who lived in hollow logs and caves on the beautiful island with its many secret places.
To some visitors, Hawaiians seem to take their myths and legends with impressive seriousness. It is known that some developers and other businessmen on the islands will not erect a building without first having the site blessed by a Hawaiian Kahuna, a priest and teacher.
J. Halley Cox of the University of Hawaii's art department has written about the Little People. One of his articles on carved images was headed, "Are these the Menehunes?"
Many of the objects of ancient Hawaiians, such as food bowls, gameboards, drums, spear racks and poles were decorated with carvings depicting Little People.
As analyzed by the author, the little figures "seem eternally committed to hard labor, they carry their burdens lightly with a spirit of cooperation and play, "Just like the Menehunes." The carvings were of beings with low foreheads, receding strongly from the brow and small noses. They seem never at rest but are forever tumbling, doing handstands, juggling and forming themselves in circles and pyramids.
"They are dumpy little show-offs with little regard for dignity," Cox wrote.
Could they have been replicas of the hard-working, hard playing, night working little Menehunes of Hawaii's folklore?
At one Hawaiian souvenir shop featuring figures in lava rock there was a small replica of what was supposed to be a Menehune. It showed a dwarf reclining and smiling with his hands behind his head. No doubt a renegade misrepresentation of the Menehunes, who enjoyed little rest. A card attached to the tiny bit of lava sculpture contained this note: "The Menehunes were Hawaii's mythical Little People."
"Legends of their exploits help fill our islands with beauty and romance with that whimsical atmosphere that makes a true paradise.
"Each task undertaken by the industrious folk, whether fish pond, road or temple had to be completed between sundown and sunup. They never returned a second time lest they be discovered. "No evil can be associated with these fun-loving rascals whose origin is purported to be the misty floating island called Kuaihelani."
"Hawaii Profile," an official publication of the Hawaii Visitors Bureau says this of Kauai, the homeland of all the Menehunes: "Kauai: The Garden Isle, a land of legend and incredible beauty."
Geographically and historically, Kauai is the oldest of the Hawaiian chain. It is a gem of an island with brilliant highlights of scenic splendor...and uniquely its own. It canyons and valleys are dramatically serrated. Its foliage lush and its beaches jewel-like. Many claim its is Hawaii's most beautiful island.
"Kauai was the first of the Hawaiian Islands visited by Capt. James Cook, the discoverer of the islands and it was here that legendary race of Little People...the Menehunes... flourished.
There is no island richer in folklore, no islanders prouder of their heritage and history."
One cannot travel Kauai or read bout Kauai or talk to Kauai people without sensing the unseen presence or hearing the laughter in fancy of the hard working, fun loving, Little Menehunes.
Why, they have even named a helicopter firm after them.
A longtime San Diego Newspaperman, Art Ribbel; is retired in Carlsbad, California. 1986 - SD Union-Tribune Newspaper.
Source: From the files of long time investigator Peter Guttilla. 2010
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