The Menehune Tale
Posted On July 30, 2011
The giant warriors landed in their canoes and stood on the beach. Ke’eali’i hid behind the hala tree watching in awe. One warrior would have been enough to give him nightmares for the rest of his life, but what he saw went way beyond nightmares.
Dozens of the warriors worked together to pull their massive outrigger canoes high above the waterline while equally giant women began to disembark with baskets loaded with chickens, rats, dogs, and plants. He watched in awe as six giant men pulled a tiki from the center of the canoe and planted it in the sand. When they shifted it to face the cliffs that circled high above, the sunlight seemed to bring it to life. The tiki was even more terrifying than the men who held it and Ke’eali’i felt his breath stop as all of the assembled giants set their baskets around their god and then lay face down on the sands around it.
As much as he wanted to see what would happen next, he knew that this was perhaps his only chance to slip away into the jungle without the warriors seeing his movement. Once he was far enough away that he thought they would no longer hear him he broke into a run. He needed to get back to his village. He needed to warn his family. He needed to let his people know. The Tahitians had come to Hawai’i.
Although Ke’eali’i had never seen Tahitians before, he and everyone in his village knew what they were. His people had fled the Marquessan islands three hundred years before and followed migrating birds over three thousand miles across the vast blue ocean to escaped overcrowding, famine, and nearly constant warfare from marauding Tahitians. They were the Menehune and while they had hoped that their enemies would never come this far and disrupt the new lives they had built for themselves on the most isolated islands on the planet, they had kept alive the stories that told why they had come.
Marquessan society had been a brutal existence before the arrival of the Tahitians. It had become much worse after. Ke’eali’i and his people knew what to expect now that the giant warriors had landed on the sands of Kahana Bay.
The tallest of the Menehune stood no more than five feet tall while the smallest of the Tahitians stood over six and a half feet. The largest of the Tahitians were over seven feet tall and it was why in their distant homeland, the Tahitians had begun to call them the Menehune, or the little people. Soon after initial contact Tahitians had begun to enslave the Menehune and force them to use their long honed stone building skills to construct temples and fishponds. Many had died.
Faced with superior numbers, decreased land for agriculture, and constant warfare Ke’eali’i’s most revered ancestors had decided that they would take their small tribe and set off to find a new home. Golden winged birds came to the Marquessas each winter and each spring flew north to an unknown nesting ground. It was these birds they followed into the uncharted and unknown.
Carrying calabashes filled with fresh water and seeds; and bringing yams and taro, the Marquessans had spent months living upon fish and rainwater while they continued towards the stars to which the golden winged birds had flown. After much hardship and the loss of many lives, a sharp eyed woman had seen the pale hint of green reflecting onto the stationary white clouds that filled the horizon.
Of the nearly one thousand that had set out on this voyage of desperation, less than two hundred had lived to see the abundant reefs and bird filled jungles of this land that they had built a new civilization upon. A chain of islands that filled their every need and that no human foot had ever trod upon. This gift from the Gods was the reward for all they had suffered and over the next three centuries they began anew to create a society that honored those Gods and utilized the heavenly resources that had been bestowed upon them.
They had multiplied and now numbered in the thousands, though they were spread out on the eight largest islands. It was a loosely knit culture composed of a dozen lush valleys occupied by a dozen peaceful tribes. Each tribe existing in isolation from the others throughout the year except for the ten days of longest daylight during which members of all tribes gathered here in the Kahana Valley to celebrate the coming of their ancestors to this place of peace.
As Ke’eali’i ran to his village, he knew that their time of peace had come to an end. The last celebration had ended three cycles of the moon ago and if the legends were true, it would be the last time that the Menehune gathered openly with one another and feasted in peace and plenty. The Tahitians, their enemies, had arrived.
At the time of the arrival of the Menehune, the sharp eyed woman who had first spotted land was honored with the title of high chief. It was a custom that was new in a land that was new. In their old lands it had been the men-warriors who had ruled. Here it was the women-growers that determined what was necessary for the good of the people. The new female chiefs had placed their focus upon the Gods of growing, the Gods of birth, and the Gods of life magic. This change created an entirely new society from the one they had left behind which was ruled by the Gods of hunting, the Gods of death, and the Gods of killing magic.
As a result, the Tahitians did not find spear and club armed warriors waiting for them when they marched back into the valleys of the Menehune. Instead they found abandoned villages with houses that were too small for them to comfortably use, they found hastily harvested gardens, and they found massive temples dedicated to life and fertility and constructed solely for the purpose of gratitude. They did not see any of the Menehune and they were not met with violence. The still smoldering cooking fires were populated only by birds that scavenged the edges of the villages, looking for morsels that had been left behind in the orderly departure of an entire culture.
For a superstitious people who gloried in the violence of warfare and who looked to their Gods to bring death to their enemies, these abandoned places raised great fear. Rumors circulated among the warriors that they had come to the land of ghosts. Those warriors who wandered into the woods alone sometimes did not return and those who did told of hearing strange sounds as they walked through empty bamboo thickets.
Each time the Tahitians found a fertile valley they also found abandoned temples and villages and each time they would raze them in the hope that their Gods were stronger than those of the people who had so mysteriously vanished. As more Tahitians came and more Tahitian villages were founded the stories of the little people who lived in the little houses became more complex. Rather than destroying the fishponds and temples of the Menehune, the Tahitians began to use them and stories emerged that those who could best the Menehune in games of wit were able to pay for the construction of the massive stone works left behind for the price of a single shrimp.
With the villages burned and the evidence of the actual size of the Menehune no longer evident, the legends made them even smaller than their actual size. The deep valleys and high mountain swamps became places that no Tahitian would dare to go and for a time the Menehune were able to continue their existence in the high and dark places without fear of interference from the people below who were in the process of evolving from Tahitians into Hawaiians.
Ke’eali’i, hadn’t known what the reaction would be when he brought word to the village that their ancient enemies had landed. A part of him had hoped that they would fight. He, like all young men of the Menehune, had grown up having mock battles where the Tahitians landed and they, brave warriors that they saw themselves to be, would fight to the death to preserve their new homeland. As he came into the village he looked lovingly on the grass huts, fish drying racks, and carefully tended gardens. Several of his friends tried to stop him to ask why he was in such a hurry but he ignored them and instead ran directly to the hut of the high chief, his grandmother.
High Chief Puka Pohaku had never known the Tahitians. Her grandmother had been one of the original refugees from the sea. She had heard tales of the murder, rape, and destruction of their people when they came into contact with the Tahitians. She had, with the high chiefs of other valleys long considered the possibility that they might someday be faced with these menacing giants again. While it was easy to forget that the old stories were true, such was not the life of a high chief. She, and the others like her, had a plan. They were not going to watch history repeat itself here. Things would not happen the same way in this place.
Ke’eali’i came into her hut, out of breath and she knew before he began to speak that the time had come. The life of ease they had become accustomed to was about to end.
“Honored Grandmother,” the boy said, breathing in gasps. “On the beach, I saw, I saw…”
“I know what you have seen for the stars have foretold that this time would come. You have done well Grandson, to come to me with haste. Now we must prepare…”
“Should I gather the men and get weapons…” the boy was flush with fear and excitement.
“No!” She spoke sternly, perhaps too sternly, judging by the instant deflation of the boy in front of her. “This is not the way that we have prepared for these times. You will go to each hut and tell them to come to me. Have the young people do the same as you and tell all of the adults to gather. Waste no time Grandson for time is something that we no longer can take for granted. Send youths to the high gardens and out to the fishponds and tell everyone that the worst thing they can do is to be seen by the invaders. They must not see us or all will be lost.”
The boy bowed and left to do as she told him. She had a moment of concern that he might be tempted to engage with the warriors but it was only a moment. He was a good, sensible boy and like all of her people, respected her wisdom. He had done good to come to her before telling anyone else.
In a short time, the adults in the village had gathered around her. More would be coming from the high gardens and the fishponds but she could not wait for them. They would learn of what was happening as they arrived.
“My people”, she said to the gathered mass around her, “Today, our ancient enemies have landed on the beaches to the east of us.”
Instantly there were exclamations of grief and rage. She silenced them with a wave of her hand. Most of them anyway.
“We will fight and kill them before they can get reinforcements.” This came from Lokahi, the leader of the men. She had expected it.
“We will not.” Her voice stood firm and solid above the excited murmurs of the crowd and stopped Lokahi where he had turned to begin rallying the men. “We do not have time to waste and every hand and body is needed if we are to survive. Do not forget that in our ancient homeland we had many more warriors than we have here. Still our people were forced to flee. We will not be condemned to making the mistakes of the past.”
Lokahi was stopped but not convinced. “Would you have us wait for them to enslave us?” His concern was real and he was not alone in it. She could see in the faces of all who had gathered that there was fear, confusion, and in some cases anger.
“Do not worry my people. Long have we known that this day would come. I and the high chiefs before me have considered how we might best survive and we are certain that the Gods would not have brought us to this land only to let it be taken from us. This is the time when we are tested by fire. Do we stand with the Gods of Life or do we fall back to the Gods of Death. I can tell you that the Tahitians are in favor with the Gods of Death and if we call on them to help us, all is lost. Trust in the wisdom of your leaders. Trust in the love of your Gods.”
Lokahi was still speaking for the fears of the people. “What would you have us do? You certainly can’t expect us to sit and wait for destruction.”
She forced a calm and melodious laugh. It spread over the fear of her people like a cool trade wind dissipating the angry smoke of a volcano. “Do not fear, my people. Fear is for those who have come to disrupt our way of life. Fear is the friend that we send to do our bidding. Laughter is the magic that will save us and send our enemies from the lands we will live in.”
“We will survive and we will prosper, but for now, we must leave this place. Gather our preserved foods and medicines. Bring your tools. Take what you can carry for now we will leave this place of ease and comfort and move to the high wet places. We do not have much time. Do not lament over what we leave behind but only laugh to know that what we leave behind will inspire fear in our enemies and create protection for us without the loss of a single life. Now, move and make haste for our time in this place is at an end. As the people come from the fishponds and high gardens, tell them what has happened. Do not carry fear, trust in our Gods.”
She turned her back on them and began to put the many herbs and medicines that were drying near her hut into hala baskets and calabash gourds. She moved with quiet deliberation and ignored the few questions that came her way. Most of her people followed her example and moved to similar tasks, but not Lokahi.
“High Chief, respectfully I choose to tell you that I think we should fight. By giving them this land with no blood, we encourage them to take more and more. This land was our gift from the Gods.”
Straightening up from where she was wrapping dried kamani bark into tea leaves, the old woman looked at this strong and angry man in front of her.
“Do you trust our Gods so little that you think they would allow this to be taken from us with no blood Lokahi? The Tahitians will spill their own blood. The fear that our Gods put in them will cause them to slaughter their own people. Trust in the Gods Lokahi, trust in your Chiefs, look inside yourself and you will know that what I say is true.”
Ke’eali’i did as he was told. He took his duty seriously and young people were soon enroute to the distant gardens and fishponds. Ke’eali’i ran up the slick trails to the high gardens with the ease of youth and the concentration of a warrior. The high gardens were located up the sides of the narrow valley and thus cooler and wetter than the lands below, capturing the rain and mist from storms as the Gods held clouds over the mountains to bring the water of life to the Menehune below. As he ran into the banana patches he caught site of his father stripping banana leaves from a plant that had already born its fruit.
His father, seeing the boy coming towards him smiled briefly before noticing the firm set of his son’s usually smiling mouth. He stood from where he had been working, straightening his back and standing to his full height of nearly five feet. He was a tall man among the Menehune, but as he stood, Ke’eali’i noted how small and vulnerable he looked in comparison to the giant tattooed warriors he had so recently seen on the beaches of Kahana.
“Father,” he huffed, “The Tahitians have landed and the high chief is calling for everyone to return to the village at once.” With the message delivered the boy let some of his fear seep out of his being, “They are so big Father. I saw them on the beach, their God is terrible to look at, I’m afr…”
Kalihi stopped his son’s words by putting his hand on the boy’s head. It was a rare gesture of affection from the usually severe man who demanded that the boy learn all of the skills necessary for life among the Menehune faster than any of his peers. The boy stopped mid-word.
“Go and tell the other men and women. Did she tell you what she means to do?” This was asked in a way that told Kalihi that he did not expect his son to have any more information.
The boy shook his head no, then thought that perhaps he should tell his father what he knew. “She said that we will not attack them. I don’t know what she plans…”
His father smiled. “We are lucky to have her. She is wise. Don’t worry my son, the Gods have prepared us for this day. Our chiefs have long known it would come. Today is just another day for you to learn the ways of our people and our Gods. Now hurry.”
With that, Kalihi turned his back on Ke’eali’i and began to roll the banana leaves he had already stripped. The boy watched in amazement.
“Father, aren’t you going to go there now?”
His father laughed. “Do you think we will need these less now that the Tahitians have arrived? Remember my son, that work interrupted does not mean that one should abandon work already done. Trust in the Gods, do as the High Chief has told you, and I will see you in the village soon.”
The boy moved away to do as he was told but his father stopped him once more.
“I know that she is your grandmother and that she has been gentle with you and that sometimes you think that I have been harsh, but I want you to know one thing, my mother is as strong as the strongest koa tree and as wise as the stars that she studies so carefully. When I was a boy, she was twice as hard on me as I am on you. Sometimes so harsh that I considered leaving to another valley, but I have learned as the cycles of the moon pass that each lesson she insisted on prepared me for what was to come next. Do not worry my son, the fiercest God of the Tahitians is no match for our High Chief. She knows what she is doing.”
And so it was that the new exodus began. Before night had fallen, all of the people of the village had done as they were told. Leaving their fires burning and the bulk of their tools and ornaments behind, they followed High Chief Puka Pohaku as she led them deep into the valley and up the jagged walls of the mighty Ko’olau Mountains. Much of their food, medicine, and possessions came with them, wrapped in the banana leaves that Kalihi and the other gardeners had thought to bring back with them from the high gardens that now lay below them. Runners had been dispatched to the other tribes of the Menehune on Oahu and the swiftest paddlers were on their way to neighbor islands so that all of the Menehune would know that the Tahitians had arrived.