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Stories of the Menehunes

Hawaii the Original Home of the Brownies
By: Thos. G. Thrum

Students of Hawaiian folk-lore find much of coincident interest with traditional or more historic beliefs of other and older lands. The same applies, in a measure, to some of the ancient customs of the people. This is difficult to account for, more especially since the Hawaiians possessed no written language by which such knowledge could be preserved or transmitted. Fornander and others discovered in the legends of this people traces of the story of the Flood, the standing still of the sun, and other narratives of Bible history, which some savants accept as evidence of their Aryan origin. This claim we are not disposed to dispute, but desire to present another line of tradition that has been neglected hitherto, yet has promise of much interest.

It will doubtless interest some readers to learn that Hawaii is the real home of the Brownies, or was; and that this adventurous nomadic tribe were known to the Hawaiians long before Swift’s satirical mind conceived his Lilliputians.

It would be unreasonable to expect so great a range of nationalities and peculiar characteristics among the pygmies of Hawaii as among the Brownies of story. Tradition naturally represents them as of one race, and all nimble workers; not a gentleman dude, or policeman in the whole lot. Unlike the inquisitive and mischievous athletes of present fame, the original and genuine Brownies, known as the Menehunes, are referred to as an industrious race. In fact, it was their alleged power to perform a marvelous amount of labor in a short space of time that has fixed them in the minds of Hawaiians, many of whom point to certain traces of their work in various parts of the islands to substantiate the traditional claim of their existence.

Meeting thus with occasional references to this active race, but mostly in a vague way, it has been a matter of interesting inquiry among Hawaiians, some of whom were noted kaao, or legend-bearers, for further knowledge on the subject. Very naturally their ideas differ respecting the Menehunes. Some treat the subject with gravity and respect, and express the belief that they were the original inhabitants of these islands, but gradually gave way to the heavier-bodied ancestors of the present race; others consider that the history of the race has been forgotten through the lapse of ages; while the more intelligent and better educated look upon the Menehunes as a mythical class of gnomes or dwarfs, and the account of their exploits as having been handed down by tradition for social entertainment, as other peoples relate fairy stories.

In the Hawaiian legend of Kumuhonua, Fornander states that the Polynesians were designated as “the people, descendants from Menehune, son of Lua Nuu, etc. It disappeared as a national name so long ago, however, that subsequent legends have changed it to a term of reproach, representing them at times as a separate race, and sometimes as a race of dwarfs, skilful laborers, but artful and cunning.”

In the following account and selection of stories gathered from various native sources, as literal a rendition as possible has been observed by the translators for the better insight it gives of Hawaiian thought and character.

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