Menehune: Hawaii’s Most Elusive People

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Legendary creatures called Menehune (pronounced meh-neh-HOO-neh) weave a charming spell throughout the Hawaiian Islands. These dwarf-like expert builders may have built some of Hawaii’s largest temples and strongest fishponds. Many say they still work through the night, maintaining their elusiveness as they march through forests and roads. 

The History of Menehune

The origin stories of Menehune are vast and varied. Some lore say they crossed the ocean from their mysterious homeland, settled on Kauai, built large structures, and then left. Other stories say they are the followers of Pāʻao, a Samoan Chief, or the entourage of Hawaiiloa, a Polynesian navigator. 

Less mystical stories say they arrived with Kauai’s first settlers from the Marquesas Islands. From there, they may have been driven out of the islands or simply absorbed by intermarrying. The Tahitian word manahune is the name for a caste of commoners.

Small in status, time has rewritten their legacy. Today, the outcasts of old are credited for magically building temples, fishponds, and houses. If you travel to Hawaii, you can experience these fascinating structures for yourself. 

Many residents claim to hear the Menehune at night, perhaps continuing their work or marching from their forested hiding places. 

Their Stories and Labor

In the book Hawaiian Legends, William Hyde Rice describes the Menehune as “…a race of pygmies who were squat, tremendously strong, powerfully built and very ugly of the face…they would work only one night on a construction and if unable to complete the work, it was left undone.”

Stretching for miles in a single line, the Menehune handed rocks from one to the other in the dark. They built walls that channeled water into taro fields and fishponds—an early form of fish farming—to store and grow fish. 

Where to See the Work of Menehune

Menehune’s feats of creation are still around today. Four sites on the National Register of Historic Places are credited to the Menehune.

On Hawaii Island, there are numerous structures in Kahaluu Bay. Pa o ka Menehune is a breakwater that, at one time, may have enclosed the entire bay. Additionally, ten royal temples and two fishponds are on this site.

Necker Island, a small island that is part of the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, houses 33 stone shrines and artifacts. This is the last known home of the Menehune.

On Kauai, the Kikiaola Ditch in Waimea contains 200 feet of 120 finely cut basalt blocks that, according to archaeologist Wendell C. Bennett, is “The acme of stone-faced ditches.”

The Menehune Fishpond is also on Kauai, about a half-mile inland from Nawiliwili Harbor. Whispered legends have the Menehune in a 25-mile-long line building a 900-foot-long stonewall that runs parallel to the Huleia River.

Little People, Big Stories

Whether Menehune were human migrants or otherworldly beings, one thing is true: their hold in Hawaii remains strong. Ask a local about Menehune, and they likely have some kind of story – probably a haunted tale formed in the dark island nights. 

Now that you know about these little people of Hawaii, you’ll be looking for them too, deciding how they piece into the rich culture and history of the islands.