Menehune

Little People of Oceania.

Etymology: Hawaiian (Austronesian), "to get together to work and complete a task." The older Polynesian term Manahuna was used by Society Islanders and others to denote a specific class of people in their hierarchical system. The Manahuna were the lowest class, or common people.

Variant names: Manahuna, Nawao, People of Mu.

Physical description: Height, 2-3 feet. Nawao and Mu people are said to be taller. Hairy. Stout and muscular. Red or dark skin. Protruding forehead. Big eyes. Long eyebrows. Short, thick nose. Sharp ears. Small mouth. Broad shoulders. Round belly.

Behavior: Nocturnal. Has a deep voice. Normal language is telepathic, expressed with whispers or growls. Said to be able to learn English. Eats bananas, fish, shrimp, milk, squash, berries, sugarcane, and sweet potatoes. Lives in caves, lava tubes, hollow logs, or banana-leaf huts. Usually well dressed. Works at night to build fishponds, stoneworks, irrigation ditches, houses, and monuments. Carves petroglyphs. Enjoys playing games, music, dancing, singing, diving, and sports. Afraid of owls and dogs. Learned how to cook from humans.

Habitat: Mountain forests.

Distribution: Hawaiian Islands, especially on Kauai.

Significant sightings: In the late eighteenth century, a census of the island of Kauai by King Kaumualii counted sixty-five Menehune in the Wainiha Valley.

About forty-five elementary-school children and their school superintendent saw a group of Menehune jumping up and down among some trees on the Waimea Parish property in the 1940s. When they sensed they were being watched, the Menehune apparently disappeared into a secret tunnel near the parish house.

P^ossible explanation: A second wave of colonizing Polynesians around A.D. 1100-1300 found that those in the first wave, who had arrived in A.D. 500-800, were already established in Hawaii. These earlier individuals may have been treated as a common, or Manahuna, social class. Over time, as the two waves of colonists intermingled, the name may have become a reference to a mythical race of Little people somehow connected to ancient times.

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Sources: Thomas G. Thrum, Hawaiian Folk Tales (Chicago: A. C. McClurg, 1917), pp. 19-30, 107-117, 133-138; J. H. Kaiwi, "Story of the Race of Menehunes of Kauai," Thrum's Annual, 1921, pp. 114-118; Padraic Colum, At the Gateways of the Day (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1924), pp. 149-164; Martha Beckwith, Hawaiian Mythology (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1940); Betty Allen, "Didja Ever See a Menehune?" Honolulu Advertiser, July 27, 1941; Katharine Luomala, "The Menehune of Polynesia and Other Mythical Little People of Oceania," Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin, no. 203 (1951): 3-51; James T. Fitzpatrick, "The Leprechauns of the Pacific," Asian Adventure, August 1967, pp. 26-29; C. Alexander Stames, Hawaiian Folklore Tales (Hicksville, N.Y.: Exposition, 1975); Mary Kawena Pukui and Caroline Curtis, Tales of the Menehune (Honolulu, Hawaii: Kamehameha Schools, 1985); Frederick B. Wichman, Kauai Tales (Honolulu, Hawaii: Bamboo Ridge, 1985); Loren Coleman, "The Menehune: Little People of the Pacific," Fate 42 (July 1989): 78-89; John E. Roth, American Elves (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1997), pp. 132-137.

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