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X. Stories of the Menehunes
Hawaii the Original Home of the Brownies

Thos. G. Thrum

STUDENTS of Hawaiian folk-lore find much of coincident interest with traditional or more historic beliefs of other and older lands. The same applies, in a measure, to some of the ancient customs of the people. This is difficult to account for, more especially since the Hawaiians possessed no written language by which such knowledge could be preserved or transmitted. Fornander and others discovered in the legends of this people traces of the story of the Flood, the standing still of the sun, and other narratives of Bible history, which some savants accept as evidence of their Aryan origin. This claim we are not disposed to dispute, but desire to present another line of tradition that has been neglected hitherto, yet has promise of much interest.

It will doubtless interest some readers to learn that Hawaii is the real home of the Brownies, or was; and that this adventurous nomadic tribe were known to the Hawaiians long before Swift's satirical mind conceived his Lilliputians.

It would be unreasonable to expect so great a range of nationalities and peculiar characteristics among the pygmies of Hawaii as among the Brownies of story. Tradition naturally represents them as of one race, and all nimble workers; not a gentleman dude, or policeman in the whole lot. Unlike the inquisitive and mischievous athletes of present fame, the original and genuine Brownies, known as the Menehunes, are referred to as an industrious race. In fact, it was their alleged power to perform a marvellous amount of labor in a short space of time that has fixed them in the minds of Hawaiians, many of whom point to certain traces of their work in various parts of the islands to substantiate the traditional claim of their existence.

Meeting thus with occasional references to this active race, but mostly in a vague way, it has been a matter of interesting inquiry among Hawaiians, some of whom were noted kaao, or legend-bearers, for further knowledge on the subject. Very naturally their ideas differ respecting the Menehunes. Some treat the subject with gravity and respect, and express the belief that they were the original inhabitants of these islands, but gradually gave way to the heavier-bodied ancestors of the present race; others consider that the history of the race has been forgotten through the lapse of ages; while the more intelligent and better educated look upon the Menehunes as a mythical class of gnomes or dwarfs, and the account of their exploits as having been handed down by tradition for social entertainment, as other peoples relate fairy stories.

In the Hawaiian legend of Kumuhonua, Fornander states that the Polynesians were designated as "the people, descendants from Menehune, son of Lua Nuu, etc. It disappeared as a national name so long ago, however, that subsequent legends have changed it to a term of reproach, representing them at times as a separate race, and sometimes as a race of dwarfs, skilful laborers, but artful and cunning."

In the following account and selection of stories gathered from various native sources, as literal a rendition as possible has been observed by the translators for the better insight it gives of Hawaiian thought and character.

Moke Manu's Account

The Menehunes were supposed to have been a wonderful people, small of stature and of great activity. They were always united in doing any service required of them. It was their rule that any work undertaken must be completed in one night, otherwise it would be left unfinished, as they did not labor twice on the same work; hence the origin of the saying: "He po hookahi, a ao ua pau,"--in one night, and by dawn it is finished.

There is no reliable history of the Menehunes. No one knows whence they came, though tradition says they were the original people of the Hawaiian Islands. They are thought to have been supernatural beings, governed by some one higher in rank than themselves, whom they recognized as having power and authority over them, that assigned them to the mountains and hills where they lived permanently. They were said to be the only inhabitants of the islands up to the time of Papa and Wakea, and were invisible to every one but their own descendants, or those connected with them in some way. Many persons could hear the noise and hum of their voices, but the gift of seeing them with the naked eye was denied to those not akin to them. They were always willing to do the bidding of their descendants, and their supernatural powers enabled them to perform some wonderful works.

Pi's Watercourse

Pi was an ordinary man living in Waimea, Kauai, who wanted to construct a mano, or dam, across the Waimea River and a watercourse therefrom to a point near Kikiaola. Having settled upon the best locations for his proposed work, he went up to the mountains and ordered all the Menehunes that were living near Puukapele to prepare stones for the dam and watercourse. The Menehunes were portioned off for the work; some to gather stones, and others to cut them. All the material was ready in no time (manawa ole), and Pi settled upon the night when the work was to be done. When the time came he went to the point where the dam was to be built, and waited. At the dead of night he heard the noise and hum of the voices of the Menehunes on their way to Kikiaola, each of whom was carrying a stone. The dam was duly constructed, every stone fitting in its proper place, and the stone auwai, or watercourse, also laid around the bend of Kikiaola. Before the break of day the work was completed, and the water of the Waimea River was turned by the dam into the watercourse on the flat lands of Waimea.

When the work was finished Pi served out food for the Menehunes, which consisted of shrimps (opae), this being the only kind to be had in sufficient quantity to supply each with a fish to himself. They were well supplied and satisfied, and at dawn returned to the mountains of Puukapele rejoicing, and the hum of their voices gave rise to the saying, "Wawa ka Menehune i Puukapele, ma Kauai, puoho ka manu o ka loko o Kawainui ma Koolaupoko, Oahu"--the hum of the voices of the Menehunes at Puukapele, Kauai, startled the birds of the pond of Kawainui, at Koolaupoko, Oahu.

The auwai, or watercourse, of Pi is still to be seen at Kikiaola.

At one time Pi also told the Menehunes to wall in a fish-pond at the bend of the Huleia River. They commenced work toward midnight, but at dawn the walls of the pond were not sufficiently finished to meet, so it was left incomplete, and has remained so to this day.

Laka's Adventure

Wahieloa, a chief, lived at Kalaikoi, Kipahulu, Maui. He took to him a wife named Hinahawea. In due time a boy was born to them, whom Hinahowana, the mother of Hinahawea, brought up under her own care at Alaenui. She called him Laka-a-wahieloa. He was greatly petted by his parents. One day his father went to Hawaii in search of the Ala-Koiula a Kane for a toy for his son, landing at Punaluu, Kau, Hawaii, where he was killed in a cave called Keana-a-Kaualehu.

After a long absence Laka asked for his father, and his mother referred him to his grandmother, who, on being questioned, told him that his father went to Hawaii, and was supposed to be dead. Laka then asked for means by which he could search for his father.

His grandmother replied: "Go to the mountains and look for the tree that has leaves shaped like the moon on the night of Hilo, or Hoaka; such is the tree for a canoe."

Laka followed this advice, and went to the mountains to find the tree for his canoe. Finding a suitable one, he commenced to cut in the morning, and by sundown he had felled it to the ground. This accomplished, he went home. Returning the next day, to his surprise he could not find his fallen tree, so he cut down another, with the same result. Laka was thus tricked for several days, and in his perplexity consulted again with his grandmother, who sent him off with the same advice as before, to look for the crescent-shaped leaf.

He went to the mountains again and found the desired tree, but before cutting it he dug a big hole on the side where the Kalala-Kamahele would fall. Upon cutting the tree it fell right into the hole or trench, as designed; then he jumped into it and lay in waiting for the person or persons who were reerecting the trees he had cut down for his canoe.

While thus waiting, he heard some one talking about raising the tree and returning it to its former position, followed by some one chanting as follows:

E ka mano a ke Akua,
Ke kini o ke Akua,
Ka lehu a ke Akua,
Ka lalani Akua,
Ka pukui Akua!
E na Akua a ke kuahiwi nei,
I ka mauna,
I ke kualono,
I ka manowai la-e,
E-iho! 1

When this appeal ended there was a hum and noise, and in a short time (manawa ole) the place was filled with a band of people, who endeavored to lift the tree; but it would not move. Laka then jumped out from his place of hiding and caught hold of two of the men, Mokuhalii and Kapaaikee, and threatened to kill them for raising again the trees he had cut for his canoe. Mokuhalii then told Laka that if they were killed, nobody would be able to make a canoe for him, nor would anybody pull it to the beach, but if they were spared they would willingly do it for him, provided Laka would first build a big and long shed (halau) of sufficient size to hold the canoe, and prepare sufficient food for the men. Laka gladly consenting, released them and returned to his home and built a shed on the level ground of Puhikau. Then he went up to the woods and saw the canoe, ready and complete. The Menehunes told Laka that it would he brought to the halau that night. At the dead of night the hum of the voices of the Menehunes was heard; this was the commencement of the lifting of the canoe. It was not dragged, but held up by hand. The second hum of voices brought the canoe to Haloamekiei, at Pueo. And at the third hum the canoe was carefully laid down in the halau. Food and fish were there spread out for the workers, the ha of the taro for food, and the opae and oopu for fish. At dawn the Menehunes returned to their home. Kuahalau was the name of the halau, the remains of the foundation of which were to be seen a few years ago, but now it is ploughed over. The hole dug by Laka still exists.

Kekupua's Canoe

Kakae, a chief, lived at Wahiawa, Kukaniloko, Waialua, Oahu. One day his wife told him that she desired to go in search of her brother, Kahanaiakeakua, who was supposed to be living at Tahiti. Kakae thereupon ordered his man Kekupua to go into the woods and find a suitable tree and make a canoe for his wife for this foreign voyage. Kekupua, with a number of men under him, searched in the forest belt of Wahiawa, Helemano, and Waoala, as also through the woods of Koolau, without success. From Kahana they made a search through the mountains till they came to Kilohana, in Kalihi Valley, and from there to Waolani, in Nuuanu, where they slept in a cave. In the dead of night they heard the hum as of human voices, but were unable to discern any person, though the voices sounded close to them. At dawn silence reigned again, and when the sun arose, lo, and behold! there stood a large mound of stones, the setting of which resembled that of a heiau, or temple, the remains of which are said to be noticeable to this day.

Kekupua and his men returned to their chief and reported their unsuccessful search for a suitable koa (Acacia koa) tree for the desired canoe, and related also the incident at Waolani. Kakae, being a descendant of the Menehunes, knew immediately the authors of the strange occurrence. He therefore instructed Kekupua to proceed to Makaho and Kamakela and to stay there till the night of Kane, then go up to Puunui and wait till hearing the hum and noise of the Menehunes, which would be the signal of their finishing the canoe. And thus it was; the Menehunes, having finished the canoe, were ready to pull it to the sea. He directed them to look sharp, and two men would be noticed holding the ropes at the pu (or head) of the canoe. One of them would leap from one side to the other; he was the director of the work and was called pale. There would be some men farther behind, holding the kawelewele, or guiding-ropes. They were the kahunas that superintended the construction of the canoe. He reminded them to remember these directions, and when they saw these men, to give them orders and show them the course to take in pulling the canoe to the sea.

Kekupua followed all these instructions faithfully. He waited at Puunui till dusk, when he heard a hum as of many voices, and proceeding farther up near the slope of Alewa he saw these wonderful people. They were like ordinary human beings but diminutive. He directed them to pull the canoe along the nae, or farther side of the Puunui stream. By this course the canoe was brought down as far as Kaalaa, near; Waikahalulu, where, when daylight came, they left their burden and returned to Waolani. The canoe was left in the ditch, where it remained for many generations, and was called Kawaa-a-Kekupua (Kekupua's canoe), in honor of the servant of the chief Kakae.

Thus, even with the help of the Menehunes, the wife of Kakae was not satisfied in her desire.

As Heiau Builders

The Menehunes are credited with the construction of numerous heiaus (ancient temples) in various parts of the islands.

The heiau of Mookini, near Honoipu, Kohala, is I pointed out as an instance of their marvellous work. The place selected for the site of the temple was on a grassy plain. The stones in the nearest neighborhood were for some reason not deemed suitable for the work, so those of Pololu Valley, distant some twelve miles, were selected. Tradition says the Menehunes were placed in a line covering the entire distance from Pololu to Honoipu, whereby the stones were passed from hand to hand for the entire work. Work was begun at the quiet of night, and at cock-crow in the morning it was finished. Thus in one night the heiau of Mookini was built.

Another temple of their erection was at Pepeekeo, Hilo, the peculiarity of the work being that the stones had been brought together by the residents of that part of the district, by direction of the chief, but that in one night, the Menehunes gathered together and built it. The chief and his people were surprised on coming the next morning to resume their labors, to find the heiau completed.

There stands on the pali of Waikolu, near Kalaupapa, Molokai, a heiau that Hawaiians believe to have been constructed by no one else than the Menehunes. It is on the top of a ledge in the face of a perpendicular cliff, with a continuous inaccessible cliff behind it reaching hundreds of feet above. No one has ever been able to reach it either from above or from below; and the marvel is how the material, which appears to be seashore stones, was put in place.


O the four thousand gods,
The forty thousand gods,
The four hundred thousand gods,
The file of gods,
The assembly of gods!

O gods of these woods,
Of the mountain,
And the knoll,
At the water-dam,
Oh, come!

IX. Kalelealuaka XI. Kahalaopuna, Princess of Manoa

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