Last night on The History Channel H2, we had a particularly good episode of America Unearthed, entitled, ′Lost Tribe of Menehune′. Forensic geologist Scott Wolter, and his family, investigate the legends of the Menehune, a tribe, or race, of ′little people′, while vacationing in Hawaii. Or, as the natives say, Hawi′i. So are the myths of these 2 to 3 foot tall elves who built stone structures at night true? Could the Menehune be descendents of an extinct race of proto-humans from Indonesia, known as Homo Floresiens, whose 12,000 year old skeletal remains were discovered in 2003? Did these 3.5 foot tall Indonesian ′hobbits′ make the 6,000 mile journey to Hawaii? Or does Menehune just refer to ′little people′ as a social class of workers, serving the Polynesian aristocracy? Let us find out…
Our story begins on the island of Aulani where Scott Wolter has taken his lovely wife, Janet, and their two near-adult children on vacation at the Disney resort there. Scott notices small statues about and inquires about them. The Disney spa PR manager, Todd Ado, tells Wolter all about the Menehune. According to the legends, the Menehune were elves about 2 to 3 feet tall who were masters of stone work. They were often commissioned by the Polynesian aristocracy, who arrived in the Hawaiian islands around 1200 A.D., to build irrigation and aqua-farming projects. The Menehune only worked at night and part of their deal was that nobody could watch them work. Scott is intrigued by the myth, but even more so when Todd tells him that he has seen an actual ′hobbit′, himself!
Ditching the family, Scott drives over to the University of Hawaii campus on Aulani and meets with Dr. Michael Pietrusewsky, an anthropologist. The professor shows Scott the skull of an Indonesian hobbit, known as Homo Floresiens. This species of proto-humans lived about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. From the evidence gathered, they were about 3.5 feet tall and did indeed have large feet, just as Tolkien′s hobbits did. They were presumably wiped out, along with other dwarf species such as a dwarf elephant, about 10,000 years ago, most likely due to a massive volcanic event. On the way back to the resort, Scott talks with his wife, whom has been doing her own research. Janet tells her husband that there are many structures believed to be made by the Menehune still in existence on the island of Kaua′i, including a large, ancient waterway known as the Menehune Ditch. Scott tells his wife to pack their bags!
Arriving on Kaua′i, the Wolter family meets with Sidnee Wheelwright, a local expert on the Menehune. She takes them to the Menehune Ditch. First seen by whites in the late 18th Century when Captain Cook visited, the structure then was some 24 feet tall. Today, only the top of the wall is exposed. According to legend, the Menehune built the wall, known as Kikiaola, in a single night for the then tribal chief, Ola, carrying the stones by hand from their quarry some 7 miles away. Scott finds this hard to believe, especially after studying the stones and the local geology. The rocks could have just as easily been gathered locally as they show the same visecles, air bubbles caused from lava flow. Wolter is still having difficulty wrapping his mind around the idea of Hawaiian elves until Sidnee tells him that some scholars believe that Menehune, meaning ′little people′, is a name not referring to their stature, but to their status, socially. The Menehune were more probably just lower class workers. It always comes down to class warfare, doesn′t it?
Sidnee also tells Scott about other Menehune structures on the island along the Na Pali coast, so he heads there, next. Wolter meets with two locals, Sabra Kauka and Keao Nesmith who take Scott to Nu′Alonni Ki, a sacred site. They tell Scott that there is plenty of Mana, spirit energy, there. During the boat ride to the site, Scott is amazed as he sees a giant ′X′ carved unto the side of a mountain. According to legend, Pele, the goddess of volcanoes, marked the ′X′ herself. Once on shore, his hosts take Wolter to a site where there is a large stone structure made up of many types of rocks, each signifying a different god. The wall is about 700 years old and according to legend, the Menehune were on the islands before the Polynesians, the Kanaka, arrived. They tell Scott about another archeological ′hot spot′ on the island of Kaho′olawe, his next destination.
During WW2 and for some 50 years after, the island of Kaho′olawe was being used by the U.S. military as a bombing range. So access is restricted due to unexploded ordinance. Scott has to swim ashore and meets with Kalei Nu′uhiwa who gives Wolter a tour. In the 1990s, the island began an extensive reclamation program, which is when many archeological sites began to be found. She takes Scott to one site known to have been used by native navigators as it has a clear view of many of the surrounding islands. Some sites also involve archeo-astronomy alignments with the Sun, Moon and stars. Kalei tells Scott that legend has it that the gods sent the Menehune to Hawi′i to keep watch and serve their children.
So, after all of his investigating, Scott Wolter of America Unearthed believes that there may be something to the legend of the lost tribe of Menehune of Hawi′i. If the name translates to little people based on height, then possibly the Menehune might be descendents of the Indonesian hobbit race of Homo Floresiens. Otherwise, they were a people of a lower social class who did stone work for the Polynesians who arrived in the Hawaiian Islands around 1200 A.D.. One thing is certain, that next year, Scott Wolter′s wife, Janet, will probably pick another vacation spot where her husband won′t run off on some wild goose chase!