The Menehune Men – Hawaiian Folklore

Main Piece:

Subject: In Oahu there’s the Pali Road- or the Pali lookout- and I don’t know the specifics. But when King Kamehameha was unifying all the islands of Hawaii, one of the battles took place on this Pali lookout. So it’s known for this gruesome rich history. Along that road- I’m not sure what the relation is- but there’s folklore of “menehune” which are little tiki men. It’s been popularized and like… put everywhere… so they’re kind of ridiculous when you see photos of them. But… it’s like the lore of little menehune. If you’re driving to Pali lookout and you’re taking the drive on Pali Road… If you have red meat in the car, you have to throw it out of the car as an offering to the menehune or else your car is going to break down. And there was never any follow up to what the menehune would do to you but it was terrifying as a kid if we had red meat.

Interviewer: Who told you that?

Subject: My dad. So the menehune men, you always have to look out for on Pali Road or they’d stop your car.

Context: The subject is a Sophomore at studying Law, History, and Culture at USC. She is of Japanese and Ashkenazi descent, and a third generation resident of Hawaii.  She is a very close friend of mine, and is currently quarantined at her home in Irvine due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The following conversation happened over a facetime call when I asked her to tell me some traditional folklore connected to her heritage. 

Interpretation: I have seen how commercialized and popularized the tiki man has become, so it was interesting to hear the culture significance of the symbol. Upon more research, I found that Menehune men reside in the depths of the forest in Hawaii. They are said to be excellent builders, and Hawaiian myth suggests that they were responsible for building the Alekeko Fishpond in one night more than a thousand years ago. This legend was also interesting to me because it had the modern element of the car breaking down in. It makes sense this particular legend was so scary to the subject, because there is something specifically terrifying about beings hidden in a forests, lurking and waiting.