The Menehune of Hawaii is a very unique type of creature. They cannot rightly be called cryptids, as they are rumored to be a race of people, and yet they cannot really be called a civilization, as their current settlements cannot be found and documented. They are said to live right under the noses of modern Hawaiians, playing tricks, stealing knickknacks, and building wondrous structures in secret. In some aspects, they are very like gremlins or brownies from the European cultures. But there are several things that mark these little people as different.
The lore surrounding these people is quite rich, and there are many modern experts in mythology who have weighed in with their thoughts on the origin of the Menehune. To begin, the Menehune are believed to predate even the Polynesian settlers who first came to inhabit the islands. Structures accredited to them stand strong and tall to this day, which would make them almost 2,000 years old. When the Tahitians invaded, it is believed that they referred to the native people as the “manahune”, or “people of lower stature”, treating them as something barely above dirt in the grand scheme of things. The little people then fled to the mountains, surviving only in hidden valleys and on secluded mountain peaks. Some believe that they were simply wiped out, but modern Hawaiians will still tell you that the Menehune are very much alive.
Because of the fantastic abilities the Menehune are said to have, it has led many scholars to debate whether or not they existed at all. A few think that the stories of the Menehune only appeared after Europeans began to move in on the area, which would explain why they are so similar to creatures like brownies and elves. But this is difficult to prove, as the Hawaiian natives kept their histories in the form of oral storytelling, and there are many, many old stories of the Menehune. Just how old they are, though, remains a mystery.
Some believe that the Menehune are not even small or short like the legends would have you believe. Translation errors are said to be the cause of this perception of these ancient people, as “manahune” can be said to mean “insignificant people”, which might have been misconstrued as “small people” in order to simplify things later on down the way. It is definitely a theory that makes sense, but it must be noted that some Hawaiians have reported seeing tiny men that could be held in the palm of one’s hand. So where would that come from? Overactive imaginations? Perhaps a bid for tourism? Or is it really a European influence, like some sort of fairy story that became something more to the native peoples?
The stories are too intertwined with native lore to be sure. One such myth surrounding these little tricksters is their ability to build marvelous structures overnight. Two structures credited to the Menehune are the Alekoko Fishpond and Kikiaola, an ancient and legendary irrigation ditch that would later be used by other settlers.
There are a few requirements that these little workaholics have whenever they set their minds to a task. The work must be finished in a single night, or else it is abandoned, nobody but them may be present, and whatever they are working on must be of the finest make. Legend says that they built the Alekoko Fishpond to honor the young prince and princess of one of the islands. The pair of mischievous children disobeyed the Menehune’s request to be left alone and spied on them as they toiled through the night, setting stones at an incredible pace. Unfortunately, the pair grew weary and fell asleep, as they were out incredibly late. As dawn broke the horizon, the Menehune discovered their hiding place and became very upset. They transformed the unruly children into a pair of pillars and left their work unfinished, vanishing without a trace.
In later years, Chinese workers filled in the holes in the pond left by the Menehune. The work those settlers did was said to degrade rather swiftly in comparison to the Menehune’s legendary work, which only strengthened the belief that the beings were possessed of some sort of magical abilities in the more recent millennia. In a way, this sort of work is strikingly similar to the pyramids, although a little less grand. Their structures are definitely not as impressive to look at, and at half the age of the pyramids, the lasting capabilities of their work is slightly less remarkable.
Menehune have definitely taken on a more spiritual presence in recent times, as opposed to the physical one they seemed to have hundreds of years ago. They appear only to those who are “marked”, or people they like and feel a connection with. Sometimes they are linked with balls of spiritual light that will grant wishes, but mostly they only show themselves to the children who grow up in the shadows of the mountains. One school teacher from one of the islands has said that she has met several students who come to her with reports of small people playing by the stream or wandering through the woods. She told interviewers that it was rare that her students would be frightened by them, although she stated that one girl, who saw them particularly regularly, was treated to a cold stare from one of them when she opted to stay inside during recess instead of going out for a walk like she normally did.
One spiritual leader remarked that it was rather funny how the children could see such things, and then when they told adults about the sightings they would be rushed to him or some other spiritual guide. He believes that they show themselves to children because the children have not learned to fear, and are more likely to believe and trust what they see as opposed to questioning everything like an adult would. For some the ability to see them fades away, but for others they are visited throughout their entire lives by little men dressed in traditional Hawaiian garb, often playing ancient games or simply frolicking out and about in nature.
In spite of modernization in Hawaii and a heavily tourism-influenced culture, one might catch the inhabitants of the islands leaving out small offerings of bananas and fish in the hopes of preventing the little men from playing pranks on them. Of course, they will laugh with you and joke around if you bring up the Menehune. “Just a fairy story”, some will say, and yet they will always take precautions. Perhaps, deep down, all Hawaiians who saw the Menehune as kids remember those instances for the rest of their lives. Perhaps the little people are manifestations of a past long forgotten, spirits created by the departed souls of a lost civilization. Or maybe they were always there, creatures of magic and mischief, ready to play tricks on whoever should settle nearby.
It is worth mentioning that Menehune sightings nowadays are usually located around schools with younger children. One man who grew up in a small village can recall a time when classes came to a screeching halt and the students were all herded into the cafeteria, where they got to watch with wide-eyed wonder as concerned teachers and police officers searched for something outside. They would later be told that someone thought they saw a Menehune roaming school grounds. Why the police were called, who knows? Whoever had seen the little spirit must have been terribly startled.
So if you find yourself in Hawaii, particularly the mountainous regions, keep an open mind. Try not to be afraid. Perhaps you, too, will catch sight of one of the infamous Menehune lazing about in the trees. Just keep a banana at the ready; they’re known to love them!