More Menehune

This article was sent to me by a family member in Hawaii.  The team from Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot series is planning to do a special two-hour program on the legendary little folk of the islands.

From the article:  “The crew and cast have long wanted to film in Hawaii, but couldn’t come up with a good excuse, since everyone knows there are no Bigfoot here.”  Sounds about right!  I’ll look forward to hearing more about this program, in any event.

The search for menehune; Animal Planet filming documentary on Big Island about legendary ancestors

For more on the Menehune, see Aloha, Menehune! Mysterious “little people” of Hawaii


More Little People

You know about the menehune, the fabled little people of the Hawaiian islands.  Well, recently I was reading Mysteries and Legends of Montana by Ed Lawrence, and was surprised to see that our Northern Rockies region is home to stories of similar dwarf-like people.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the Crow Indians inhabited the plains of Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota.  The Crow have a traditional tale of the Nirumbee or Awwakkule, dwarves who inhabit the Pryor Mountains region of south-central Montana.  The dwarves are generally harmless (aside from the occasional prank) to the Crow people, who provide them with gifts to keep their good favor; however, enemy tribes were badly frightened of the Nirumbee, who were said to kill horses, pull out the hearts with their bare hands, and eat them.  Whoa.  Fear totally justified, there.

Much like tales of Bigfoot, little-people traditional stories exist in Native American tribes throughout North America.  Even Lewis and Clark recorded such legends during their westward exploration.  Sometimes the little people are portrayed as benevolent forest spirits, such as the Woods Elves of Sioux legend.  Some are just plain evil, like the child-eating dwarves of the Apache.  And some are truly weird:  The “Tailed Ones” of Alaska’s Ahtna Indians are human-like, except for their small stature and monkey-like tails.  They live in the trees and are enemies of the people.  (Visit for more on these legends.)

Mysterious mummified remains of a “little person” were found in a Wyoming cave in the 1930s. The perfectly preserved tiny human was about 14 inches tall.  It was found seated cross-legged on a cave ledge in what is assumed to be a ceremonial burial.  In true American fashion, “In the early 1940s the mummy ended up in the possession of Ivan Goodman, who paid a great deal of money for it and displayed it in a jar at his used-car dealership,” writes Earl Murray in his book, Ghosts of the Old West.

But Goodman was not purely motivated by profit, allowing scientists from all over the country to study his canned mummy.  According to Lawrence, the remains were determined by Harvard anthropologists to be those of a 65-year-old man.  Was it a Nirumbee?  During later examinations, other scientists decided that the remains were not of an old man, but those of an infant suffering from genetic abnormalities. But why its apparently exonerated status, with its cave burial?  Both Murray and Lawrence allege that other little-people remains have been found from time to time, so Goodman’s mummy may not be unique.  But what are they — deformed children or miniature, human-like adults?  We may never know, but in either case, it certainly does seem that the little-people legends are rooted in reality.

Aloha, Menehune! Mysterious “little people” of Hawaii

A while back, I was talking to a relative in Hawaii. We were talking about Bigfoot (what else?), and the fact that there had been no reported Bigfoot encounters in that state.

“No,” he said, “but we do have Menehune.”

Menhune are legendary “little people” that are said to populate – or once have populated – the Hawaiian islands. Two to three feet tall, Menehune enjoy playing games and performing feats of strength by day. But at night, they work tirelessly to build structures such as irrigation ditches, heiau (temples), and retaining ponds. They are said to be exceptionally strong and smart, and expert craftspeople.

The merry Menehune are sometimes used as advertising figures in Hawaii, like this little guy for Menehune Water Company

The merry Menehune are sometimes used as advertising figures in Hawaii, like this little guy for Menehune Water Company

Folklore has it that Menehune were the original residents of the islands, populating Hawaii long before Polynesian settlement. As Martha Beckwith writes in her book, Hawaiian Mythology, “Hawaiian families count the Menehune as their ancestral spirits and helpers, and these little people play the part of benevolent godparents to their descendants.” Within that role, they may occasionally perform favors for, or act as protectors to, their earthly family members.

The Menehune are credited with building various structures in the islands. One I have had the good fortune to visit is Mo’okini Heiau, on the island of Hawaii.  This heiau, a sacred site where human sacrifice was once performed, was built of stones culled from an area 12 miles away. Hawaiian lore says the industrious little laborers formed a line and passed individual stones, man-to-man, from their quarry to the temple site until it was completed.


Mo’okini Heiau, temple walls

If the Menehune existed in antiquity, what became of them? My relatives have a Hawaiian friend who asserts that the unfortunate little people caused offense to King Kamehameha the Great, and the king’s henchmen rounded them all up, forcing them to leap to their deaths from a towering cliff. Folklorist Beckwith reports various tales which allege the Menehune eventually migrated to the mysterious “floating land of the gods.” But even now, people in Hawaii sometimes report encounters with the little people of legend.  If you like, you can read about some of them at the following links:

Menehune tales may be dismissed as folklore, but as with many legends, they have basis in reality. One theory is that the meaning of the word has been garbled in translation. The Tahitian word “manahune” translates as a lowly person, someone of small social stature. Perhaps, through the years after Tahitian people settled in the Hawaiian islands, “manahune” became corrupted as “menehune” and the word was identified literally with people of small physical stature.

homo f

Artist’s rendering of Homo floresiensis

But real evidence of “little people” populations has been found in the Pacific – albeit not in Hawaii (yet). In the Philippines in 2003, researchers discovered Homo floresiensis, a three-to-four-foot-tall human relative who lived perhaps as recently as 12,000 years ago. And in 2008, researchers found remains in Palau, Micronesia, of what are thought to be extremely small Homo sapiens who lived about 1,000-3,000 years ago. As this article states, “It is well established that populations living on isolated islands often consist of individuals of smaller stature than their mainland cousins — a phenomenon known as island dwarfism.” Could the Polynesians who eventually settled in the Hawaiian islands have encountered these “little people” on their Pacific journeys, originating the Menehune legend? Or could similar little people have actually lived in the Hawaiian islands at one time?

As with so many other legendary creatures, the tales of the Menehune have stood the test of time. Whatever you believe with regard to the stories’ origins, you at least have to admit they’re first-rate folklore.

Beckwith, Martha. Hawaiian Mythology. Universty of Hawaii Press.


Small-Bodied Humans from Palau, Micronesia

Stories of the Menehunes

Homo floresiensis