Hawaiian Myths You Should Know Before You Visit Big Island

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The Hawaiian islands have a rich and unique culture, and there are several ancient legends that you’ll want to be aware of, and respectful of, when you visit.

The Menehune

According to myth, the Menehune were people who lived on the Hawaiian islands before the Polynesians. They are tiny people (described as being anywhere from 6 inches to 2 feet tall) who, some say, can still be spotted in the forests and valleys.

Menehune are spoken of as master builders or architects who created the remarkable ponds used by the ancient Hawaiians to catch and keep fish for the ali’i or ruling classes. They are called Menehune ponds and are built along the shorelines. They are designed to take advantage of the tides — when the tides sweep in, they bring fish with them and fill the ponds which remain filled with both water and fish when the tides ebb.

Historically, Menehune were thought to be responsible for structures or other landscape features springing up inexplicably. Today, probably because of the blending of Western and Hawaiian mythology, Menehune are also thought of by some as tricksters who, when they are feeling rascally, can take things and hide them (or remove them) — so when something inexplicable happens you can just shrug and say “Menehune?”

The Night Marchers

If you do beach strolls or take a night hike, you may hear the mythological “night marchers” roaming the islands. They are said to be ancient Hawaiian warriors, visiting old battle sites. If you come across them, you must not make eye contact, or you will be forced to march with them for all eternity. However, if you happen to have an ancestor who is a night marcher, you cannot be harmed.

‘Ohia and Lehua

The Lehua blossom is one of the few indigenous flowers that bees can make honey from, and that honey is unbelievably delicious. The ‘Ohia tree is also the only tree we can think of where the blossom on the tree has a different name than the tree itself — so the beautiful flowers that burst out on ‘Ohia trees, usually in the spring, are not called ‘Ohia blossoms — they are called Lehua blossoms.

There are several versions of a myth that explains this, and this is our favorite version. Pele, the fiery goddess of the volcano, saw a handsome warrior named ‘Ohia and was instantly smitten. Unfortunately, ‘Ohia only had eyes for the beautiful maiden Lehua (a word which means “flower” in Hawaiian), and spurned Pele’s advances.

As we all know, Pele has something of a temper, and in a fit of pique, she transformed ‘Ohia into a tree, and Lehua into the blossoms on that tree. Another version of the same myth says that it was the other Hawaiian gods who, seeing Lehua devastated by the loss of her love, transformed her into the blossoms. It is said that if you pick a Lehua blossom off an ‘Ohia tree, it will rain — the rain being the tears Lehua is shedding because she’s been separated from her love.

Pele’s Curse

Legend has it that if you remove lava rock or anything that can be considered a part of the ‘Aina  (that is, the land) from Hawaii, you will suffer from bad luck until the bit of land is returned to the islands. At Paradise Meadows Orchard & Bee Farm, we have experience with this legend first-hand. Last year we had an anonymous tourist send us an envelope of green sand that they had removed from the beach, along with a $20 bill and a note that explained how they’d had the worst luck since removing the sand from the beach, and begging us to return it to its rightful place. Removing coral that has washed up on the beach is ok since it’s not, technically, part of the ‘Aina, but we would advise caution — when in doubt, leave it here.

A related myth which has spawned a really nice tradition here has it that if you take a piece of lava rock that seems special to you and you consciously place it in a location on the island that speaks to you, you will be certain to return. Although Pele can be vengeful, she can also be welcoming when treated with respect, so instead of taking a piece of the ‘Aina off-island, place it somewhere special instead and thank Pele for her hospitality.

The Hawaiian islands have a history rich with legends and folklore. When you visit, we ask that you respect this history and the myths that add to the islands’ beauty. Don’t forget to visit Paradise Meadows Orchard & Bee Farm, for a tour of our diversified family farm and samples of all the delicious treats we make here at Hawaii’s Local Buzz.

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