How this project got started…

Over a decade ago, I spent the summer working for NaPali Eco Adventures, an eco-tour company in on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. This popular organization was affiliated with the Pacific Whale Foundation on Maui, but was based in Hanalei, on Kauai’s north coast. NaPali Eco Adventures took Kauai visitors on trips down the rugged north end of the island, the NaPali Coast.

This roadless part of Kauai has high cliffs, sea caves, waterfalls, and the remains of ancient Hawaiian villages. The turn-around point was Nu’alolo Kai, an ancient fishing village with an offshore reef alive with tropical fish.

On the way down the coast, the crew entertained guests with legends and myths about the Na Pali Coast. Fact blended easily with fiction, much of it clearly invented by crew members ‘on the fly’. My job was to set their stories straight, and develop a crew manual for their reference on tours.

I researched the myths and legends of Kauai, and created a guide to the flora, fauna—and reef creatures of Kauai. There were times, however, that my research, and the old stories and legends, just didn’t mesh with archaeological evidence left by the first peoples of Hawaii.

One ‘myth’ connected to archaeological evidence was the story of the Menehune, “the little people” of Kauai, who supposedly hid in the forests during the day, coming out only at night to build amazing structures that clearly took great time, strength, and considerable skill and effort, to build. I say ‘clearly’ because some of the structures they built still exist, such as Menehune Fish Pond (Alekoko Pond), near the town of Lihue, Kauai, and the Menehune Ditch (Kiki-a-’Ola), near the south shore town of Waimea, Kaua’i).

Kaua’i is thought by many to be the last place the people called Menehune were known to have lived in all of Polynesia. A researcher who came with Capt. James Cooke when he visited Kauai in 1778, saw and wrote about these structures, noting that the Kauaians said Menehune people had built them. No one had ever seen the Menehune, however, since they worked only at night. All these years later, there is no archeological evidence that very small adults ever lived on Kaua’i, or anywhere else in the Hawaiian Islands. More likely,  historical fact has been blended with handed-down stories, which have been re-interpreted by others to coincide with their own cultural context. It is clear that when the Europeans came, they blended their own beliefs in fairies, brownies and other little people from their mythical past with the myths, legends and stories told by the Hawaiians.

Retellings of the Menehune story continue to appear to this day. Some can be found posted online–and many are charming and highly imaginative. Discovering the ‘true’ story of the Menehune has become one of my life projects. My research, and the research of others, regarding the Menehune people of Hawaii, will be posted to this website, which is dedicated to all people whose true story is yet to be told.

[1] Andrade, Carlos. Ha’ena – Through the Eyes of the Ancestors. 2008. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

[2] Joesting, Edward. Kauai: The Separate Kingdom. (1984). Honolulu: Univ. of Hawaii Press. p. 21.


{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment