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Planning a visit to Kauai? We regularly add news and information about events, activities, and places to see on The Garden Isle.

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Sheila Heathcote has lived in Hawaii since 1986. She's a published author on the topic of Kauai and the owner of Hale O Nanakai Bed & Breakfast.

« Kauai's West Side - A Rich Historical & Cultural Tradition | Main | The Geologic History of Kauai »

Kauai's History: Part 1 Mythology, Pre-Contact & Meneheunes

Wākea and Hāloa

Polynesian legends describe how kalo (taro) existed even before the first humans. An ancient chant recounts how Wākea, the god of the sky, had to bury his first son because the child was born as a shapeless mass. The next day a taro plant grew up from the location and Wākea named the plant-child Hāloa-naka (“Long, trembling stem”).

Wākea’s second son was a boy that Wākea named Hāloa-naka-lau-kapalili (“Long-stalk-quaking-trembling-leaf stem”). Hāloa was considered to be the first human, thus the taro plant was considered the oldest ancestor of all humans.


The Menehune

The legend of the Menehune describes an ancient race of Kauaians who were very small, but very skilled, and with a supernatural strength. The Menehune were said to have built many structures, including roads, dams, ‘auwai (irrigation canals), and heiau (sacred places of worship)—and everything they built was constructed in a single night.

Each Menehune was a master of a certain craft and had one special function they accomplished with great precision and expertise. The Menehune would set out at dark to build something, and if they failed to complete the project in one night it would be abandoned.

There remains some mystery surrounding the exact origin of the stories about Menehune. Some speculate the word Menehune comes from the word “manahune,” or “common people” (common laborers), referring to the early Marquesan[i] settlers of Hawai‘i who were later dominated by Tahitian settlers, and made to perform the hardest work, including stonework.

The term “Menehune” may have been a reference not to the Marquesan settlers’ small size but instead to their lower status in the social system, leading to a myth about a small race of people. This is just one possible explanation of the still very mysterious story of the Menehune.

Alekoko (Menehune) Fishpond

The ‘Alekoko Fishpond, commonly called Menehune Fishpond, is located along a bend in the Hulē‘ia Stream just above Nāwiliwili Harbor. Constructed of earth and faced with stone, the 900-foot levee was built for the purpose of trapping and raising fish.

Building the massive ‘Alekoko Fishpond was a remarkable engineering feat that is attributed to the legendary ancient race of Menehune. The huge aquaculture facility is said to have been built in a single moonlit night by a 25-mile-long, double row of Menehune who passed rocks to each other all the way from the Makaweli Quarry in Waimea.

According to legend, the chief ‘Alekoko requested that two ponds be constructed—one for him and one for his sister Hāhālua. The Menehune agreed to build the ponds but told ‘Alekoko that no one must look while the work was being completed.

When ‘Alekoko could not resist the urge to look out during the night, the Menehune immediately stopped their work and washed their bloody hands in the river, giving the fishpond the name ‘Alekoko, which means “Bloody ripples.”[xviii]

The walls of ‘Alekoko Fishpond are about four feet thick and five feet high. In the 1800’s, two of the three gaps in the levee were filled in by rice farmers. Makaweli means “Fearful features.”[xix]


Stay tuned for the next installment. Part Two of Kauai Hisotry will cover Hula and Heiau