The folklore of many nations around the world includes stories of magical little people. In Hawai`i the mythology of the Menehune is as old as the beginnings of Polynesian history. When the first Polynesians arrived in Hawai`i they found dams, fish-ponds, and even heiau (temples), all presumably built by the Menehune who were already there, living in the forests and caves.
Working only at night these mischievous little people performed legendary engineering feats. They reputedly built the largest aquaculture reservoir, the Alekoko Fishpond located near Nawiliwili Harbour outside Lihue, Kauai. Built nearly 1,000 years ago, it has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973. Ingenious ponds like this were built to catch fish, and this fishpond is one of the finest examples of this type of ancient Hawaiian aquaculture.
While archaeologists have never found remains of a distinctively small race of ancient people in Hawai`i, many think the Menehune legend may well have a basis in fact. In 2003, a species of dwarf human was discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores. Homo floresiensis was only about 1 meter in height and fully bipedal. The skull has human-like teeth with a receding forehead and no chin.
Fossils have been discovered from 38,000 to 18,000 years ago, though archeological evidence suggests it lived on Flores between at least 95,000 and 13,000 years ago. It used stone tools and fire, and hunted pygmy elephants, Komodo dragons, and the giant rats found on Flores. Its discoverers believe that h. floresiensis is a dwarf form of Homo erectus. It is not uncommon for dwarf forms of large mammals to evolve on islands. Modern humans arrived on Flores between 55,000 and 35,000 years ago, and presumably interacted with h. floresiensis.
Indonesian folklore tells of small, inarticulate creatures called Ebu Gogo which sounds remarkably suggestive of h. floresiensis, but could easily be coincidence. If h. floresiensis had been found in Ireland, we’d possibly be wondering if they were Leprechauns.
Everyone that lives in Hawaii knows the Menehune had magical powers and created great deeds.
~ The Three Menehune of Ainahou (Maui) by ‘Uncle Charlie’ Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr.