The Menehune

The Menehune are a little people said to have lived in Hawaii. There is some question as to whether the Menehune are an authentic part of Hawaiian mythology or simply a Western interpretation of local history and legend.

The Legend of the Menehune

According to the legends, the Menehune lived in the Hawaiian islands many centuries before the islands were discovered by the Western world. They were a diminutive race being only about two feet tall and are hence referred to as the Hawaiian little people. Some stories refer to even smaller Menehune, some only a few inches in height.

Other names used include Hawaiian Elf or Imp.

The Menehune lived in caves and forests over the whole of Hawaii, although some people say that they were especially numerous on Kaua'i (Kauai) Island. They were supposed to be great craftspeople who built impressive temples. They also seem to have had an affinity for water and are credited with building the Alekoko fishpond.

Although the Menehune were basically a peaceful people, they understandably reacted badly to foreign invaders. Early settlers were warned against venturing into the forests because the little people would shoot tiny arrows at them. (It's possible that the "arrows" are a reference to some form of local flora or fauna).

What Were the Menehune?

The orgin of the Menehune legends is uncertain. Some people believe that they were an actual race of small natives who used to live on the islands. Others treat them as supernatural figures.

One possibility is that the Menehune legends are based on the true story of the first settlers who arrived on the shores of Hawaii in the sixth century. Later immigrants could have overrun these original settlers, driving them back eventually to a last stand on Kaua'i. This theory is supported by the use in early records of the word Manahune to refer to commoners and low grade workers.

An extension of this theory says that the Menehune legen was created by the Europeans. The European settlers would have had their own stories of little people such as leprechauns and brownies. Perhaps a variety of local tales led the newcomers to presume the existence of a similar Hawaiian little people. Over time this idea became conflated with stories of the first wave of settlers to produce the relatively modern Menehune mythology we know today.

Whatever the reality, the legend is popular with tourists and you can buy a variety of Menehune stuff including dolls.