Abstract: The Menehune (men-ay-hoo-nay) are a group of Hawaiian dwarf people that cause mischief in Hawaii, but especially in the woods at night. They were kicked off of their land and are now seeking revenge on those that inhabit it. They are mischievous ghosts that are responsible for causing things like sleep paralysis and are blamed for things that happen at night in Hawaii. They used to be real and were the first people to populate the Hawaiian islands until they were forced into extinction by settlers from Tahiti.
Background: DM is a 20 year-old Hawaiian American going to college in California. She grew up her entire life in Hawaii and is very accustomed to the folklore there. She can not trace back the origin of the folklore or when she learned it because it has surrounded her for her entire life. The Menehune are pretty ingrained with the Hawaiian culture. At a work retreat, we were talking as a large group about sleep paralysis. DM intervened talking about how ghosts are responsible in Hawaii for this feeling. I immediately identified this piece of folklore and asked to speak to her at a later time about it.
DM: The Menehune are like little dwarves that haunt Hawaii in the woods and at night. They were killed off by settlers, but archaeologists have discovered bones and stuff and they were actually very small. But anyways, if anything happens at night, it’s them. Basically, a lot of people have sleep paralysis where like they can’t breathe or move. So they say, like mostly people that were camping, say that it’s because the Menehune are sitting on their chest.
S: Do people claim to see it or is it just spiritual? Like what else do they do besides cause sleep paralysis?
DM: It’s really just spiritual, but they were real people at some point. And really, since Hawaii is so rural, they can be blamed for like anything. Sound in the woods? Menehune. Tree falls over? Menehune.
Interpretation: There are a couple lessons that can be taken from the Menehune. The first being to respect the land and people of other countries/regions. The Menehune are only haunting Hawaii because they were kicked off of their own indigenous land and killed off. So, when this story is told to younger children (as it is done to build culture into young lives), there is an untold lesson to not be disrespectful or take something from someone that is rightfully theirs, or there might be some consequences. This kind of story is modeled in other cultures as well, such as the haunting of old Native American lands by chiefs and warriors.
The second lesson that can be taken away is to stay away from the woods at night. In attempts to keep their children from doing anything too risky, parents might tell the stories of the Menehune haunting and harming people in the woods so that their kids stay safe.