What Is A Hawaiian Menehune: The History & Mythology

Hawaii is a beautiful state that’s rich in culture and history, not to mention a wealth of marine creatures. During a visit to the islands, you could encounter everything from green sea turtles to flocks of feral chickens and up to 40 species of sharks.

You could even encounter some of the ponds, roads, and houses said to have been built by the mythological Menehune people.

Who Are the Hawaiian Menehune?

According to legend, the Menehune people were a race of small native Hawaiians who inhabited the islands before the first settlers arrived from Polynesia. It is said that they were anywhere from 6 inches to 2 feet tall and were both mischievous and creative, spending the nights constructing amazing projects before disappearing into the hidden forests and valleys.

Famous Projects Attributed to the Menehune

Although the Menehune are rarely seen by human eyes, evidence of their amazing skills can be seen throughout the Hawaiian Islands.

The best example is the Menehune Fishpond.

The Menehune Fishpond is located on the island of Kauai and is also known as the Alakoko Fishpond.

The Legend of the Menehune Fishpond

The pond was built for a pair of royal siblings and was constructed in a single night. The Menehune wanted to work alone and without being watched, and they spent the night passing, shaping, and placing stones. But the siblings were curious and so they found a hiding place and spied on the Menehune, watching the thousands of creative creatures at work.

By sunrise, the brother and sister had fallen asleep and were spotted by the Menehune. As punishment, the Menehune turned the pair to stone, and those stone pillars can still be seen on the mountains overlooking the pond.

Although the craftsmen had nearly finished their work, the interruption meant that a couple of stones were missing and these were eventually replaced centuries later by Chinese settlers.

The Science Around the Menehune Fishpond

The Menehune fishpond could be anywhere from 600 to 1,000 years old. Unfortunately, the reason it was built has been lost to time. Early settlers didn’t have a written language and weren’t very diligent when it came to recording their histories, so we don’t have a lot of information on them.

The Menehune Ditch and Other Menehune Projects

Kikiaola or “the Menehune ditch” is another project often attributed to these creative natives.

Also located on the island of Kauai, it features 120 finely cut basalt blocks and spans over 200 feet.

According to Hawaiian legend, the ditch was commissioned by the son of Chief Kualunuipaukumokumoku, who paid the Menehune one shrimp each to build it in a single night.

This historic irrigation ditch is not only beautiful and intricately crafted, but it also features stones that were moved from a quarry seven miles away.

As with the fishpond, we don’t really know who built this ditch, but it wasn’t the only irrigation ditch that they built. These ditches were used to irrigate ponds for the purpose of growing taro and feeding the populace. In other words, it had a purpose, and as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.

Were the Menehume Real?

The Menehune clearly play a big role in Hawaiian mythology, and their legends have been told for centuries. But the same could be said for the fairies in Iceland, the elves in Ireland, the Cyclopes in Greece, or even the Bigfoot in North America.

Hawaii is a land rich in culture and stories, and these stories have helped the Hawaiian people to make sense of their history and the world around them. We don’t really need to “disprove” the existence of these little creatures, as few modern Hawaiians actually believe in them, but for the sake of argument, let’s take a look.

Firstly, history is littered with stories of “little humans” and they can be found in the mythologies of many countries. What’s interesting is that we know of some smaller humanoid species that did exist, and it’s possible that this is where the stories come from. Those creatures existed long before the mythologies were formed, but it’s possible that our ancestors found bones and then jumped to conclusions.

Take the cyclops as an example. Many experts believe that these myths were born from discoveries of ancient elephant bones. The deinotherium was a prehistoric elephant species whose skull featured a large hole in the middle, not dissimilar from an eye socket (it was actually for the trunk), and these fossils have been found across Greece and Cyprus, where the myth of the cyclops was born.

The idea is that our ancestors found these skulls, assumed them to be from giant one-eyed human-like creatures, and then molded myths around them.

Something similar could have happened with the Menehune in Hawaii.

It’s also possible that the Hawaiians just saw these amazing structures and rather than accepting the skill of their ancestors, they created stories as to how they might have been built.

We do something similar to this day. If you’ve watched the History Channel in the last few years, you will have seen stories of “Ancient Aliens”, where so-called experts discredit all of the hard work of the Egyptians and Greeks and pin it all on aliens.

“Expert ancient builders can’t possibly have built the pyramids because smart human beings didn’t exist back then. It must have been aliens”.

The truth is our ancestors were incredibly gifted builders. They might not have had modern techniques and tools, but they had centuries of knowledge to draw upon and were also driven by necessity and a desire to please the gods that built their world.

Take the 5,000 year-old Stonehenge as an example. The rocks used in those epic structures were transported over 100 miles just to reach that spot. We don’t know why, and we can’t even answer the “who”, but we can infer that our ancestors were pretty resourceful.

Early Hawaiian settlers were skilled sailors. They built the boats that brought them to the islands and they constructed houses and settlements when they arrived. Not only could they have built all of those structures, but they almost certainly did. In many ways, they are the Menehune, although they probably didn’t build everything overnight.

FAQs About Menehune on the Hawaiian Islands

If you still have a few questions about Menehune and their place in Hawaiian legends, check out the following FAQs:

How Tall Is A Menehune?

The Menehune are said to have been anywhere from 6 inches to 2 feet tall. The smallest could fit in the palm of your hand, just like the Borrowers.

Were Menehune Magical?

Like so many myths, the stories of the Menehune differ from region to region. In Kauai, they were often seen as magical, supernatural creatures. In Oahu, however, Menehune stories have a much more human feel to them and these creatures are often depicted as being really smart (and really small) humans.

What Happened To The Menehune?

The Menehune are still said to live in the forests and valleys of the Hawaiian Islands.

Was There a Real Race of Menehune?

It’s possible that there was a real race of people that somehow bled into the Menehune legend.

Some experts believe that several waves of settlers arrived on the islands many hundreds of years ago, and that one or more of these peoples were chased into the mountains by the others.

According to this theory, when the Tahitian settlers chased the other cultures away, they became the dominant culture and referred to the others as “manahune”, which means “commoner” in Tahitian. In support of this theory, many advocates quote an 1820 census that lists 65 people as Menehune.

It’s possible, and if such an incident did occur, then it’s likely that this is where the Menehune myth evolved. However, going from “Polynesians living in the mountains” to “forest-dwelling races of magical dwarf craftsmen” is quite a leap, and it definitely doesn’t confirm the myth.

How Do You Pronounce “Menehune”?

You pronounce Menehune as follows: “Meh-neh-HOO-neh”.