Though the history of the menehune is enshrouded in mystery, the folklore and mysticism of Hawaii would be incomplete without them. According to Hawaiian legend, the menehune were small people ranging from 6 inches to 3 feet in height. They had muscular, stocky bodies able to handle hard labor, and worked with great agility and skill. They were said to have large eyes, low humming voices and would only come out at night. Similar to the leprechauns of Ireland, the menehune were mischievous, often playing tricks on people and sometimes even turning presumptuous spies into stone.
Depending on the source, some say that they were an impish people, tormenting others and playing pranks; while other legends tell of the menehune’ s ability to turn a normal person’s fury into joy. The playful people lived in the deepest parts of the forests and loved to sing, dance and cliff-dive. They enjoyed eating bananas and freshly-caught fish.
According to one ancient saying, the menehune were once so numerous on Kauai that their shouting could be heard on the neighboring island of Oahu. One legendary adventure occurred when the wily and lively menehune were said to have happened upon a sleeping giant. They threw stones at the figure, trying to wake him. The stones they threw filled up his mouth, which caused him indigestion and the giant has been eternally sleeping ever since. He still lays in the form of a mountainside, now referred to as the Sleeping Giant, which one can still see today.
The menehune were said to be powerful builders known for having supernatural strength. They were rarely seen by people and were known to work tirelessly through the night to build astounding monuments. By standing in a long line passing stones to each other, they would build dams or walls in a fish pond. They were also believed to have built countless heiaus (temples), roads and houses and complete their building within a single night.
The island of Kauai was believed to be the primary place where the menehune lived and is home to numerous works attributed to the people. One of the most impressive sites supposedly credited to the menehune is the Alekoko Fishpond, estimated to be nearly 1,000 years old and is a historic place celebrating ancient Hawaiian aquaculture. It was said to have been built by the menehune handing stones person to person over 25 miles in order to complete the task. Kauai is also home to KIkiaola, the irrigation ditch said to be built by the menehune located on the western side of the island. The artistry behind this ditch is notable, as the stones were cut with flattened surfaces allowing them to fit tightly together. This kind of hewn stone does not appear on any other part of the island, giving rise to the legend that the menehune were the creators of this ditch.
The menehune are celebrated in Hawaii through small wooden or stone carvings of the troll-like little people. Often statues, carvings and tributes to the menehune are visible in culture centers, restaurants, gift shops and even hotels. One such hotel is the magical Aulani Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina where small menehune carvings peek out behind plants or rocks, just the way the mythical people would supposedly have done.
No skeleton of a menehune has ever been found in the Hawaiian Islands. However, this does not prevent some from believing that they once existed, and whenever strange and seemingly inexplicable things happen to people in Hawaii, some believe the menehune are still playing away at their pranks!