Menehunes of Hawaii

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Pali Highway from My Files

Folklore around the world include little, mythical people, such as pixies, brownies, and leprechauns. Hawaii has menehunes. They are believed to be shy and live deep in the rain forests. They are industrious, have super strength, and construct wonders overnight. They have been attributed to the building of shrines, temples and even a pond for their queen and her brother. Legend is that daylight would turn the menehunes into stone, so their tasks had to be completed in the night. The queen and her brother admired their pond so much that they lingered and were caught the sun’s rays. Their stone forms can be seen looking over their pond in Alakoki.

Some scholars now believe that the menehunes are not mythical but instead the descendants of settlers from Marquesas sometime around the sixth century. Later, immigrants from Tahiti, who arrived 600 years later, may have defeated the descendants from the original settlers and pushed them on to Kauai, where most of the menehune legends stem from. The Tahitians used the word “menehune” for slaves and lower class workers.

I heard stories of the menehune and their pranks the whole time I lived in Hawaii. To this day, if something comes up missing, we blame it on the menehune.

My parents kept horses at the stables of Wheeler Air Force Base outside of Wahiawa. There was land around the base that was not developed and riders would enjoy long rides out with their horses. They were warned about one section of land that had small piles of stones built in random places. These were reported to be shrines the menehunes built. Riders were told to leave bits of food if they came across any of these shrines. It was a lesson quickly learned. If you didn’t leave food, you would be tossed off your horse.

We had a librarian on the Navy base that I lived on. Helen told me her menehune story. She would have to drive to and from work on the Pali Highway. Pali Highway and the Old Pali Road are the locations for many “chicken skin” stories, including a figure of white, men hanging from trees, or jumping off into the valley below.

Helen would carry food in her car and throw a bit of it out the window as she crossed over the highway. If she didn’t do this, her car would stall. She blamed this on the menehunes, but I am wondering now how often she carried pork to work, maybe in the form of a ham sandwich?

There is an old legend that pork attracts spirits and upsets the relationship between Pele, the fire goddess, and Kamapuaa, the pig god. Traveling over Pali Highway with a pork product is taboo. Anyone who ignores this legend and travels with pork may experience car troubles or even an accident. It is advised to throw the pork out the window if you encounter trouble. It is believed that since it is a form of the pig god, the car trouble may be Pele’s way of keeping Kamapuaa from traveling into her domain.

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