Kiki-a-’Ola (Menehune Ditch)

The Legend of Kiki-a-’Ola:

Waimea River, Kaua'i at Kiki-a-'Ola

Waimea River, Kaua’i at Kiki-a-’Ola, Photo:(c) Sidnee Wheelwright 2013

Pi’s Watercourse (1)
Pi was an ordinary man living in Waimea, Kauai, who wanted to construct a ‘mano’, or dam, across the Waimea River and a watercourse there from 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.

(i) from: Thrum, Thomas G., Editor. Hawaiian Folk TalesA Collection of Native Legends. (1907). Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co. The online book of Hawaiian Folk Tales is available free as ebook #18450 at:

Kiki-a-'Ola, or Menehune Ditch, near Waimea, Kaua'i

Menehune Ditch at Kiki-a-’Ola. (c) Sidnee Wheelwright, 2013

Kīkī-a ‘Ola is a historic irrigation ditch (ʻauwai) located near Waimea on Kauai’s southeast shore. Also known as “Menehune Ditch” or “Peekauai Ditch,” it was added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 16, 1984. It is purported to have been built by the Menehune.

Hawaiians built many stone-lined ʻauwai to irrigate ponds for growing taro (kalo), but very rarely employed dressed stone to line ditches. The 120 finely cut basalt blocks that line about 200 feet of the outer wall of the Menehune Ditch make it not just exceptional, but “the acme of stone-faced ditches” in the words of archaeologist Wendell C. Bennett.

Kiki-a-’Ola is located about 1¼ miles (18 km) up Menehune Road from Waimea . This remarkable feat of engineering and stonework was built to bring water from the upper Waimea River to the lo‘i kalo (taro patches) in the valley.

As the name implies, Menehune Ditch is said to have been built by the legendary ancient race of people known as menehune . The Hawaiian name for the Menehune Ditch is Kīkī-a-Ola, which translates to “Container [acquired] by Ola. (Chief Ola ordered the Menehune to build a watercourse here; each brought a stone, and the ditch was finished in a single night.”

Such was the case with the Menehune Ditch of Waimea. It is explicitly recorded in ancient chants of Kaua’i as having been built at the behest of ‘Ola, high chief of Waimea, the same chief celebrated also for ordering the construction of the stone-paved road to Kalalau Valley, through or along the Alaka’i Swamp in the upper reaches of the canyon.”

Stonework detail of Kiki-a-'Ola (Menehune Ditch) near Waimea, Kaua'i

In W.C. Bennett’s 1931 archaeological survey of Kaua’i, he refers to the Menehune Ditch as “the acme of stone-faced ditches” and refers to the tradition of the Menehune, the little folk believed to inhabit mountain and forest, who worked only in the nighttime and were never (or seldom) seen. And yet, the first part of his statement is inexact, for most of the stoneworks of ancient Hawaii, including certain heiaus, dams, roads, causeways, and aqueducts, are also attributed  to the Menehune. These “records” from prehistoric times are often entirely specific in placing the event in the time of a given ali’i whose name and reign identified the story for later generations… (Handy and Handy, 1972, pp. 403-404)

The aqueduct originally spanned several miles and had walls that were an estimated 24 feet (7.3 m) high, with a footpath along the top of the wall. The small remaining section of Menehune Ditch is about 50 feet (15 m) long by 2 feet (.6 m) wide.

The stones of the Menehune Ditch are flanged and fitted so that the smooth, flattened surfaces fit closely together. This type of cut and dressed stonework is not found anywhere else in the Hawaiian Islands.

The origins and methods used in the construction of the Menehune Ditch remain a mystery. Some researchers theorize that the Menehune Ditch was built by the early Marquesan settlers, who arrived in the Hawaiian Islands about A.D. 200 to 800, and are thus considered the first “native Hawaiians.”


Protestant Church in Waimea, Kaua’i. Photo (c) Sidnee Wheelwright 2013

It is possible that these first settlers of the Hawaiian Islands were responsible for the unique method of stonework used on the Menehune Ditch. This type of craftsmanship is not seen in the projects of later Tahitian settlers, who began arriving in the Hawaiian Islands around A.D. 1.000.

The destruction of Menehune Ditch was caused by the creation of Menehune Road as well as the use of the ditch’s rocks for building projects, including Waimea’s Protestant church.


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