Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Were there menehune in Hawaii?

The widely accepted belief that two sets of migrations occurred in Hawaii sometimes leads me to think about the legend of the menehune.

In most translations, menehune are understood to be little people who were the original settlers of the islands. One version I've read states that the menehune weren't physically smaller than the later settlers, but that they were smaller in stature politically. They didn't have the power to stop their adversaries, and thus departed from one island to the next until stopping on Kauai, the last bastion of a liveable environment.

It is true that there are many tales of the menehune on Kauai, including the giant inland fishpond outside Lihue that was built by them. (Menehune were said to have been prolific fishpond builders across the islands, able to build them overnight at the command of alii, or chiefs.) I've been there and I tend to believe that it was a working, thriving fishpond that, indeed, fed the populace of the island at one time. Even the nickname of the high school on the island's west side, Waimea, is Menehune.

An old friend, Manny Henriques, drove me up and down the island when I was there a couple of years ago on a work assignment. We went out to Kekaha, and I got to see many interesting spots along the way, including several of the rural post offices. Then we headed up the mountain to see Waimea Canyon, and beyond that, Kalalau Valley. The valley is on the north side of the island, so the drive was quite a voyage. The place is unspoiled and mostly uninhabited — Manny says some hippies live off the land there. It was the site of Jurrasic Park, a wide, lush valley that Manny said was once home to the "Lost Tribe."

Even as a Hawaii resident, I'd never heard of this. Manny explained that even as recently as 150 years ago, there was a large contingent of people in the valley, perhaps 200 strong. Were they descendants of menehune? No one knows for sure today, but King David Kalakaua actually wrote a book called The Legends and Myths of Hawaii. He supposedly writes that the menehune were real, and that the Lost Tribe consisted of 65 individuals according to a census.

Manny says that the Lost Tribe eventually integrated themselves into society. I just wish someone had documented information about the Lost Tribe. It's a theme that replicates itself in similar ways across the Pacific, even around the world. Some theories make a lot of sense. Other theories are fascinating, but require a lot of imagination. More on those theories later.

Perhaps one of the best sources of information comes from Tales of Molokai: The Voice of Harriet Ne, which can be found online in a review by Big Island resident June Gutmanis.

As with many Hawaiians of an older generation, Ne thought of the Menehune not as mystical, night-working, little people given to disappearing before sunrise, but as a people of small stature who had come to Hawai‘i before the Hawaiians and who were often friends with local families. According to her, once, while visiting on Kaua‘i, she went to a cave where the Menehune were said to live. After waiting for a time, she met a group of Menehunes returning to their home. She described
them as being short and quite fair. Both men and women wore long hair made into pugs with sticks through them.

On another occasion, while visiting a Mrs. Johnson in Puna, Hawai‘i, Ne met two Menehunes who came to visit her friend. As a favor, they caught a special kind of fish for their hostess. Ne relates that when the Menehune were talking together, they spoke in a strange language that she had heard before.

I'll post more info about menehune as I find it.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Destination: Hawaii

There are a zillion places around the world that fascinate me. Actually, it's the people and their cultures that trip me out. And more so, what happens when those people and cultures overlap.

But I'll start with my home, Hawaii. There are different estimations, but generally, historians place the first arrival of humans as early as 600 or 700 AD. From the Marquesas Islands, they arrived and prospered. The first landing is widely believed to have been at South Point, Ka‘u on the Big Island.

The second wave came at about 1100 AD from the Society Islands. First of all, the fact that Polynesians could get around the South Pacific, as well as Melanesia and Micronesia, is a feat that's on a level with any other pre-Industrial era technology. How do you nagivate 2,000 miles to find a tiny dot out there in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? It's almost unfathomable without modern technology. Even the Hokulea today navigates through Polynesia and Micronesia, but not without nearby help and technology. It's just so risky, even with modern anemities.

Second, there are different theories as to why islanders left Marquesas and the Society Islands. Famine? Warfare? I think both were elements, but I do believe the primary reason was overpopulation. Though war was a part of life in Polynesia, there simply isn't enough land to sustain a growing society. And overpopulation, or condensation of people in a small place, is usually a bad idea, even today. Especially today.

I just wonder, more than anything, how the first Hawaiians knew of the islands. Was it pure luck? Was it divine inspiration?

Some things, we'll never know.

It was, according to one thesis I read online, that religion arrived in Hawaii around the time of the second wave when a Tongan priest was requested. The first heiau was established, and the rest of Hawaiian religion developed. The migration of religion, and its evolution as it migrates, has also fascinated me. After all, we all came from somewhere, and as man traveled outward from his origin of birth, the myths and beliefs stayed the same, and yet changed.

Every culture has a creation myth. But that's for another post.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

We Are ....

We are all the descendants of migrants. Whether our ancestors migrated a year ago, a century ago, or a millenia ago, we all came from somewhere else.

Whether it's Hawaii, the Pacific at large, South America, North America, Asia and Europe, there is never enough information to satisfy my thirst.

Sometimes, there are theories where solid fact should exist. I'm willing to explore all angles in the quest. If you share my interest in all things migratory, join in. The more, the merrier!