Tag Archives: historic sites

MENEHUNE: Real or Myth?

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.


ALALOA – The Long Road:


Maui is the only island on which alaloa – long road, completely circled the coastline.  Only two sections of the original road remain, the Pi`ilani Trail near Hana and the Hoapili Trail near Makena.  The original trail was paved with smooth rounded lava stones, many of which are still in place today.

In the 15th century Pi`ilani, one of the most powerful chiefs in Hawaiian history, set out from Hana to conquer the central plains in Wailuku, then marched to Lahaina and united Maui.  The visible islands along the route — Kaho`olawe, Moloka`i, and Lana`i — completed  Pi`ilani’s vast dominion. His reign ushered in a long period of peace, stability, prosperity, and a recognition of Maui Nui as a model Kingdom. Under his reign Maui experienced the development of roads, fishponds, and irrigation systems. To improve transportation, Pi`ilani initiated construction of the far-reaching alaloa, long road.   Four to six feet wide and stretching 138 miles, this rockpaved thoroughfare, also known as the King’s Highway, connected villages and heiau – sacred spots, facilitated both peace and war, and simplified travel and communication throughout the extended realm. It became the only ancient highway to circle any of the Hawaiian islands.


The present Honoapiilani Highway, built in 1927 using convict labor, traces the ghost of the alaloa. Today nearly half of Maui’s highways still bear Pi`ilani’s name.  The recently completed junction of Mokulele and Pi`ilani Highways was the final phase of the six-year, $87 million Mokulele Highway road-widening project.

Maui remains the only island with a complete coastal road.


Kaho’olawe was inhabited as early as 400-1000 A.D. initially in small fishing villages along the island’s coast.

 Archeological evidence paints a picture of Kaho‘olawe as a navigational center for voyaging, the site of an adze quarry, an agricultural center, and a site for religious and cultural ceremonies. By the mid-1600’s, the largest population was at Hakioawa on the island’s eastern coast.

Smallest of the 8 main volcanic islands in the Hawaiian chain (28,800 acres)

29 miles of shore

Highest point Pu ‘ u ‘O Moa ‘Ula Nui (1,483 feet)

No permanent residents

By 1805 the inhabitants had declined to a reported 160, attributed to inter-island warfare, disease from western contact, and general emigration from the island.

Through the Missionary Period (1825-1853), Early Ranch Period (1853-1910), Forest Reserve Period (1910-1918), and Later Ranch Period (1918-1941), the island continued an environmental decline.  For a brief time it was used as a penal colony but mostly for sheep and cattle ranching. By 1941 it had become almost worthless, primarily at the hand of longterm over-grazing, erosion and loss of soil. It was eventually transferred to the U.S. Navy for use as a bombing range.

With the attack on Pearl Harbor and the declaration of martial law the history of Kaho’olawe became one of military use. During WWII, the island played a major role as a Navy training site. In 1946 it was reported that 800 ships ranging from destroyer escorts to battle wagons rehearsed for the day they would fire in support of marine landings. The rehearsals prepared Marines for the landings at Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and other sites throughout the southwest Pacific.

Community efforts from the Military Period (1941-1978) through the active years of the Protect Kaho’olawe ‘Ohana lawsuit, brought cleanup and formal conveyance back to local control.

The thread of Native Hawaiian culture binds the contemporary with the ancient, defining Kaho’olawe’s importance as a special place, a wahi pana, and as a sanctuary, a pu’uhonua. It remains a place where traditional ceremonies and practices are perpetuated in a continuum of culture.

The history of the Hawaiian people is preserved in these wahi pana, legendary sites. They provide a sense of place, a feeling of well-being, of stability and belonging — to the past, the present, and the future. 

For further information http://kahoolawe.hawaii.gov/history.shtml