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The Little People






Category: IN THE PACIFIC

Source: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

Hawaiians believe in "little people" that live in deep woods and peep
and snicker at travellers who pass. This belief is thought to go back
to the earliest times, and to hint at the smallness of the original
Hawaiians, for one may take with a grain of salt these tales of the
giant size of their kings and fighters. The first "little people" were
grandchildren of Nuu, or Noah, and the big people who came after were
Samoans. While anybody may hear these fairies running and laughing,
only a native can see them. They are usually kind and helpful, and
it is their law that any work they undertake must be finished before
sunrise; for they dislike to be watched, and scuttle off to the woods
at dawn.

Pi, a Kauai farmer, wanted a ditch to carry water from the Waimea River
for the refreshment of his land near Kikiloa, and, having marked the
route, he ordered the menehune, as they call the little people, to do
the work. It would have been polite to ask rather than to command;
still, they did what was required of them, each oaf lugging a stone
to the river for the dam, which may be seen to this day. The hum and
bustle of the work were heard all night, and so pleased was the farmer,
when morning came and the ditch was built, that he set a feast for the
menehune on the next night, and it was gone at daybreak. There were
no tramps in Hawaii, so the menehune must have eaten it. Conceiving
that he had acquired what our ward statesmen call a "pull" with
these helpers, he planned an elaborate fish-pond and put them at
work again. He had staked off such an immense area that the little
people could not possibly finish it by morning. As light streaked
the east and the cocks crew they scampered away to the mountains,
dripping with sweat and angered at the man who had so abused their
willingness. And they could never be induced to work for him again.

Although of supernatural power themselves, the little people are
religious, and have built several houses to the gods. On the face of
the mountain wall, two thousand feet high, back of the leper settlement
at Molokai, is a ledge that can be reached neither from above nor
below, and on it stands a temple of their construction. In Pepeeko,
Hilo, the natives labored for a month in quarrying and dressing stone,
but when it was ready the elves built their temple in a night. So at
Kohala they formed a chain twelve miles long between the quarry and
the site, and, passing the blocks from hand to hand, finished the
great enclosure before sunrise.

Yet these fairies had a taste for mischief, and could be as active
in it as so many boys. When a child on Maui, Laka was so loved by
his father that he would travel many miles to buy a toy for him, and
hearing of a strange new plaything in Hawaii, the father sailed to
that island to get it. He never returned, for the natives killed him
and hid his skeleton in a cave. When Laka had come to man's estate he
began preparations for a voyage to that island, that he might either
find his father or know his fate, for of his death he did not learn
until long after. In these preparations he was oddly thwarted. Every
time he hewed down a tree for a canoe it was gone in the morning. Out
of patience, he resolved to catch the thieves. In order to make their
task especially hard, he dug a hole into which the tree fell, when he
had chopped it, so that his enemies would have to lift it out before
they could carry it away. Then, in the shadow, he waited. At midnight
a small humming and giggling were heard in the bushes and a company
of menehune stole out into the shine of the moon. They began to tug
at the fallen tree. Laka sprang upon them and captured two, the others
running away with shrill screams. Laka threatened to kill his prisoners
for the trouble they had made, but he did not really intend to hurt
them. Their tears and cries and the rapid beating of their hearts,
that he could feel as he held them under his arms, stirred his pity,
and he agreed to let them go if they would promise to assemble their
tribe, drag the tree to his canoe shed on the shore and fashion it
into a boat. This they promised so eagerly that he put them back on
the earth and laughed as they scampered into the thicket. True to
their promise, they dragged the tree to the ocean that very night,
and carved and hollowed it into the finest vessel to be seen on the
island; so, friendly relations being thus established, Laka set a
feast for them, which they ate in thankfulness and never troubled
him more. Whether he succeeded in the search for the parental bones,
or left his own to whiten on the same soil, is not recorded, but you
can see for yourself the hollow he dug for the tree, and his canoe
shed was standing after white men reached the group.





Next: The Hawaiian Iliad

Previous: The First Fire



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