Hawaiian mythology is rich with tales of supernatural beings and deities, making the island nation an unforgettable bucket list destination to visit.
One of the legends of Kauai (a Hawaiian island) revolves around the Alekoko Menehune fish pond, which is believed to be built by the Menehune, mysterious beings with supernatural abilities and a knack for construction and engineering.
When you visit Hawaii, you might hear locals speak about the Menehune as though they existed. But are they real or just a myth? This article explores that very question while revealing some theories about this mysterious ancient civilization of little people.
While archaeological findings reveal dwarf-like humans existed thousands of years ago, there isn’t conclusive proof that the Menehune fall into that category. Moreover, most locals state they had supernatural abilities, including the know-how to complete complex engineering projects overnight. As such, the Menehune can merely be considered a Hawaiian myth.
About the Menehune
The Menehune trace their origins to Hawaiian mythology. It’s believed they were an ancient race that inhabited the island nation before Polynesian settlers arrived in Hawaii.
Menehune legends describe the settlers’ shock at finding temples, roads, dams, and other structures believed to have been constructed by the Menehune. Some of the structures exist to this day, and the superior craftsmanship and attention to detail are evident in their design.
Menehune stories describe dwarf-like beings that occupied the Hawaiian forests and valleys. Most locals state the Menehune were roughly two feet tall, making the feats of engineering attributed to them all the more impressive. Additionally, the Menehune supposedly possessed superhuman strength, as it’s claimed they finished mega construction projects overnight.
Perhaps because of the harsh treatment, they’re believed to have received from the Polynesian settlers, these mysterious beings are said to have avoided human contact. As such, it’s claimed they conducted their construction work at night to avoid discovery and would abandon projects and flee if spotted.
It’s believed the Menehune enjoyed song and dance. Additionally, they’re said to enjoy jumping off cliffs, and it’s rumored that if you hear splashes in the dead of night, it may be a Menehune leaping into the Pacific ocean.
One of the more fanciful beliefs about the Menehune is their magical archery skills. These beings were believed to be unrivaled sharpshooters, possessing arrows with magical properties.
Much like the arrows shot by Cupid of classical mythological fame, the Menehune arrows created feelings of love in anyone they hit, and it’s believed the Menehune preferred using them on angry people.
If you were inclined to believe in the Menehune’s engineering prowess and superhuman strength, it’d be hard to defend supernatural arrows capable of converting anger into love. Consequently, this is one of the attributes that put the Menehune in the realm of fantasy.
Scholarly Interpretations of the Menehune Myth
There are several theories about the Menehune. One of the more popular ones by folklorist Katharine Luomala states the Menehune were descendants of the Marquesas Islanders, a community believed to have occupied Hawaii between 0 and 350 AD.
Her theory goes that the original settlers of Hawaii were subdued when the Tahitians invaded in 1100 AD. The invaders called them “manahune”, meaning “lowly people”. Although it’d seem as though “Manahune” is where the name “Menehune” originates, the settlers only came to be called the latter name after fleeing from their invaders and residing in the mountains.
Some believers of Mrs. Luomala’s theory point to an 1820 census listing 65 people as Menehune. However, it still doesn’t prove the fantastical aspects attributed to these ancient people.
Alternatively, some believe the Ali’l, ancient Hawaiian royalty, invented the Menehune. Proponents of this theory champion it to explain how the construction of the temples, aqueducts, and other engineering marvels came to be.
According to these theorists, the Ali’l made up the story of Menehune to avoid giving credit to the maka’ainana (i.e., the common people), who are believed to be responsible for the construction work.
Archeologists have yet to discover remains that can be linked to a dwarf-like human species in Hawaii. Admittedly, that fact doesn’t provide conclusive evidence that the Menehune never existed, but archaeological findings of remains would lend credence to accounts of their existence.
Tales of supernatural abilities aside, there’s a scientific basis for dwarven humans that fit the Menehunes’ description. The 2003 discovery of Homo floresiensis in Flores, Indonesia, proves bipedal humans who only stood 3 feet once walked the Earth some 13,000 to 95,000 years ago.
Although Homo floresiensis isn’t believed to have possessed engineering prowess like the Menehune, archaeologists believe this human species could use stone tools and fire. In other words, Homo floresiensis possessed reasonable intelligence akin to Homo sapiens and are believed to have evolved from Homo sapiens.
Even if you can relegate the Menehune to nothing more than tall tales and legends, the engineering marvels attributed to them still baffle to this day. The Kīkīaola Ditch and Necker Island ceremonial sites are two of many mysterious heritage sites whose engineers are yet to be identified.
Still, modern-day Hawaiians may point to the Alekoko Fish Pond and the Menehune Ditch when discussing construction projects the Menehune built.
As mentioned above, some Hawaiians believe the Menehune are alive and well, refraining from human contact in their characteristic way. However, you’re more likely to encounter Menehune-themed products like Menehune Madness Chips or see a sign that reads “Menehune at Work” at the airport.
The Menehune remain a mysterious and fascinating part of Hawaiian mythology. As mentioned, the world was once inhabited by races of little people, which gives the dwarf-like description attributed to the Menehune more weight.
However, until remains linked to these ancient beings get excavated, we can only speculate whether they existed.