The Mystery of the Menehune

What’s a Menehune? Most people answer that they are Leprechauns or that cute guy on the water bottle. Wrong! People are missing out. Menehune are much more interesting than what one finds on water bottles or names of sports teams, as I am sure that Leprechauns are more interesting than the information found on cereal boxes. Tales of little people in Hawaii are as rich as those on that other island (i.e., Ireland). But old written sources for Menehune are not as prolific as those of Leprechauns.
Before the arrival of foreigners, Hawaii had no bibliographic system. History, customs, legends (moolelo), and myths were past down and disseminated orally. So what is written down about Menehune is picked up at the time of the introduction of writing by foreigners. The earliest written reference to the Menehune is dated 1885 and it is stored at the Bishop Museum according to Katherine Luomala. She did not identify them as written by foreigner or Hawaiian.
Who exactly are the Menehune? They are a pygmy people who lived or as some say, currently live in Hawaii. They are the stuff of legends, myth, and censuses (I will tell you more later). Most of the Menehune lived on Kauai. They are described in written sources as 2-4 feet tall and very strong. They are described as having a face with large eyes and an unpleasant look that may inspire fear.
I’m going to tell you a Menehune tale. I’ve rehashed, added embellishments, and abbreviated it a bit (i.e., I regurgitated it) as what might happen when things are disseminated orally. A mother probably told this tale to her child whom she thought needed a lesson on laziness.
This is the Menehune tale “Lazy Boy,” about a really lazy boy. Once upon a long Hawaiian time ago, the hot sun cast its rays straight down on a sleeping Hawaiian boy named Moemoe (Mo-ee-mo-ee). It was lunch, but not even hunger could wake him from his lazy sleep. “Get up lazy boy,” his worried mother called. “Do you want to sleep all day too?” she said. Unlike his son, Moemoe’s father was a hard worker. Father had built the family house and was now out fishing for their dinner. Mother told lazy boy, “Soon it will be your father’s birthday and we must prepare a feast for him.” His mouth watered thinking of that purplish gooey pudding winding around his fingers. “These taro roots that your father dug up early this morning will not be ready by tomorrow night if I leave the poi pounding to you.” Moemoe yawned and replied, “I took a break because I was tired. Pounding taro into poi is a lot of work.” “Yes Moemoe,” his mother explained, “but the result is our nourishing poi, and you took your break only after a few hits of the poi pounder.”
Moemoe’s mother handed Moemoe a basket and said, “Since your father’s feast is at night, go to the forest and fill this basket with kukui (koo-koo-ee) nuts.” Moemoe looked forward to stringing up the kukui nuts and lighting them like candles. It would turn the darkness of night into a festival of lights and merrymaking. But first he would have to gather the kukui nuts.
Moemoe was happy to do work in the forest. As he walked it got cooler. He thought of the soft green ferns and the canopy of trees, which shielded him from the sun. It was just the right place to take a nap. Moemoe crossed a gurgling stream and reached the edge of a kukui tree forest. He climbed the spreading branches of the kukui trees and began picking the walnut sized nuts. He thought of how wonderful it would be to see night turn into day when all the kukui nuts blazed as bright as the people who happily feasted. But, thinking of night made Moemoe want to take a nap.
Moemoe lay himself down on the soft ground. Then he began to dream of fishing knee deep with his dad. While he lay sleeping a heavy rain made the gurgling stream rise over his feet. The water rose until only his head was above the water.
Mother and father worried about their son in the forest. He should have been back. “What a silly boy to stay out in the rain,” mother said to her husband. Her husband replied, “He’s probably fallen asleep again. I’d better go get him.” Father set out to find his son. He looked up in the branches and down under the ferns but could not find him. He thought of his son, “What can I do to turn his lazy ways around. Soon he will be as tall as I. He must help us with our work.”
As father thought with concern about his son, he suddenly remembered the industrious and strong little men of Hawaii. He remembered the tales of the Menehune who created marvelous feats at night while working under a full moon. He decided to climb to the steepest parts of the mountain.
Moemoe’s father had Menehune blood flowing in his veins; therefore he could summon their help. It was early afternoon and there was still time to find the Menehune Chief. Moemoe’s father had visited the Menehune Chief as a little boy. The trail was steep, like climbing the Stairway to Heaven. When the trail was level, it became bordered by bush and stones. It led to the entrance of a cave fitted with a small stone door.
Moemoe’s father knocked three times. The stone door slowly rolled open. Small lights of fire lighted the interior. The Menehune Chief stepped out of the glow of the cave, his long white beard and long white robe, that was knotted on his left shoulder, were illuminated by the sun.
I’m so happy to see you again;” the chief said. “Me too!” said Moemoe’s father. The chief waved him into his dwelling. “com, come, it’s startin to drizzle again.”
I need your help chief. It’s about my boy.” The chief said, “Oh, so he has trouble working?” “Yes, yes, you know,” replied the father. “I’ve seen him sleeping,” said the chief. Moemoe’s father explained, “I must have him work at least an honest work-day. Soon I must repair our house, which is growing old with a sagging roof. Moemoe fell asleep while holding the roofing material for me.” The Menehune Chief and Moemoe’s father discussed the situation. The Menehune Chief had the solution. Moemoe’s father was so happy that the chief would help his son see that his lazy ways was no good at all. The chief said, “Just pay my Menehune with food.”
The evening rays of the sun retreated over the silhouette of the mountain range for darkness advanced. The full moon reflected off the rainwater making the moon’s rays even brighter in the kukui forest. Moemoe was finally awakened from his watery slumber by a humming sound that grew louder than the stream. The humming evolved into chanting:

Ho! Ho! Ho! We’ll show Moemoe
How to work, so he’ll enjoy
The fruits of his labor and poi.


Moemoe turned his head in the direction of the chanting and was amazed to see a line of little people marching down the trail. “They must be the Menehune my father talks about!” Moemoe thought as he watched the Menehune in his prone position. They marched right up to a clearing on a small hill. Each Menehune carried some tool or piece of wood. The Menehune worked feverishly all through the night. The Menehune were merrily whistling and singing while they worked. First there was a frame, then the walls went up. It was a house being built. Moemoe was fixated at their work and watched them all night.
The rays of the sun began to change night into that morning blue and the birds started to sing their morning songs. The Menehune only work at night so as the sun’s rays made Moemoe’s eyes adjust to its brightness, the Menehune scrambled away.
“Wow!” said Moemoe wide-awake as he rose and walked towards the house. The house was finished except the roof. “I have to finish it!” Moemoe ran to the piles of palm leaf strips his father had collected and dried for the repair of their old sagging roof. “I’ll show them!” Moemoe was surprised at how happy he was working to complete the roof of the house that the Menehune made. His Menehune blood awakened.
On the night of the feast, friends and family came from all around to celebrate Moemoe’s father’s birthday and praise the new house. Moemoe was awake till dawn.
THE END.
There are elements within the “Lazy Boy” story that are found to be common elements in many other Menehune tales. For example, there is a wise old Menehune Chief that lives in a cave. Knocking three times is the summon of a Menehune friend. The Menehune are hard workers who work at night, preferably under a full moon. They love their work as one can tell by their excellent stone work. They have built watercourses, 34 heiaus, fishponds (e.g., Alakoko Fishpond on Kauai), causeways, and forest roads. They are happy to be paid in food, such as shrimp.
In the Menehune tale “Lazy Boy,” Moemoe, who was the really lazy boy, had a father who was part Menehune; therefore Moemoe’s father could summon help from the Menehune. In more than one tale, only Hawaiians with Menehune blood can communicate with Menehune. For example, in the Menehune Ditch tale “Kauai’s Magic Ditch”, King Ola of Kauai sent Pi (Pee), who appears in other Menehune tales, to plea to the Menehune Chief to help end a faminous water shortage. Pi had Menehune blood.
How did some Hawaiians get mixed with Menehune blood? Intermarriage. The Menehune population at one time consisted of twice as many males as females. So they started to marry Hawaiians. The Menehune King disapproved of intermarriage because it thinned out Menehune blood. When intermarriage got out of hand the Menehune king decided to gather all the Menehune population and leave the Hawaiian Islands. The Menehune men were not allowed to take their Hawaiian wives. Some of the Menehune disobeyed their king and stayed, as one might expect.
A census was taken of the population of Wainiha Valley on the island of Kauai. The king’s agent for the last independent ruler of Kauai, King Kaumualii, counted 2,000 people in the valley of which 65 were Menehune. Are these the Menehune who decided to stay with their Hawaiian families? I wonder if a new category should be added to the U.S. Census so that 2-4 feet people in Hawaii could count themselves as Menehune.
So are they real? The question should really be, “Were they real?” My answer is, “It is absolutely possible.” What might prove the existence of Menehune would be the discovery their skeletal remains. I don’t know of any that has been discovered although there may be thousands of skeletal remains that still wait to be studied at the Bishop Museum.
What might have happened is that a people of shorter stature than the Hawaiians inhabited the islands. In fact, I’ve seen a few myself. Their numbers somehow became so few and thus they were seldom seen that their race evolved into legend and myth. It’s a mystery.
It is with mysterious tales such as “Lazy Boy” that can inspire our own little ones (i.e., our children). Don’t be lazy or the Menehune will come and teach you a lesson.

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