Today's guest article comes from the foremost expert on Pacific Island folklore, J. Arthur Rath III. A recovering corporate professional, Rath took up residence in his home state of Hawaii after an exciting career on the east coast. Always privileged to encounters with the whimsical, he put himself to study the ancient traditions and characters that were once pervasive throughout the Pacific. He owns the website menehuneRATH, and is a true resource on Pacific Island lore. Take it away Arthur!
“Can’t find my car keys,” you say with surprise. “They were right here!”
“A menehune took them,” responds the person standing next to you at your welcome to the neighborhood party arranged for your recent arrival to the islands. Others smile nicely, nod wisely.
A kama’aina (native-born person) standing behind you explains. “Menehune are Hawaii’s version of the western world's pixies. Menehune are a fairy known for a cheerful nature and playful mischievousness. A menehune probably wanted to play with your keys, and then momentarily clouded your mind and snitched them. He’ll put them down when he's tired of jingling them," your new neighbor continues. "You’ll just have to discover where he was having fun.”
Much obliged you thank your hosts and shortly after find the keys where the menehune dropped them: under a cushion on the pune’e (a moveable couch) on the lanai (outside porch).
Menehune are included in islanders’ light-hearted conversation. They are attributed much playfulness and mischief, but their hard work can also be seen.
Menehune were a beautiful race about the size of a modern-day pre-schooler. Large humans later came from Tahiti and became known as “Hawaiians.” Most menehune left for New Zealand and other parts of the Pacific where their tales continue being told. (The most mischievous ones stayed in Hawaii.) As did Ireland’s fairies, Hawaii’s menehune left tangible evidence of their presence:
A heiau (stone temple) built by menehune over 1000 years ago can be visited by appointment at the Manoa Heritage Center on Oahu.
Upwards of a million menehune once left evidence of being on Kauai: The Menehune Fish Pond (built in a single night), Hanalei Diving Stone, Waniha Stone, Ninini Rocks, the Causeway-of-the-Menhunes. And, once, a menehune working when the sun rose was turned into the stone on a Kauai mountainside.
More modernly, the October 27, 2004 issue of National Geographic featured the discovery of the remains of a menehune ancestor in a cave in Flores, an island east of Java. National Geographic, utilizing the term hobbit, said these beings, did extraordinary things 13,000 years ago, using sophisticated stone tools.
Pacific ocean folklore also includes pygmies that were in China during the 23rd Century B.C., Japanese dwarfs in the Kurile Islands, and Japan’s hairy Ainu, a caucasian-like, under-sized race who occupied Japan for 7,000 years. Negritos in the pacific may have arrived when land mass was connected.
Pacific and Atlantic Ocean folklore have similar foundations: smaller people escaped larger persons coming on the scene.
Physical evidence, as in Hawaii, is seen at Ireland’s ancient monument the Hill of Tara where a screeching stone indicated whether a candidate for king was right or not. Throughout Ireland, raths, where fairy kings and queens dwelt, are marked as historical sites.
Humans everywhere have been accustomed to blaming scapegoats when things go askew: England’s brownies, Ireland’s leprechauns, Europe’s imps, and Hawaii’s menehune. Pacific Ocean supernatural beings may be responsible for happenings there, including lost items of all sorts, but especially keys.
Rath describes life among menehune in his book Being Menehune: My Journal and explains how they came to Hawaii from Java and other environs.