Hawaii is the ultimate melting pot, if you'll permit use of that archaic, late 19th Century term in place of the more modern and politically correct counterpart, 'diversity'. Although Hawaii today embraces a wealth of ethnicity and racial origins, an occasional streak of racist bias still raises its ugly head now and then. This story isn't concerned with that less well-known aspect of the islands; instead, it celebrates the racial admixture of the Hawaiian population in a whimsical context. Keep in mind, as you read this, that the Irish, those irrepressible carpetbaggers of the literary world are to be found in Hawaiian woodpiles everywhere!
Maile and the Little Green Menehune
There is a 'new' ancient story being passed down in mele on the island of Molokai, as the Irish in Hawaii prepare to honor their revered patron saint, Naomh Pádraig. It is the story of Maile and the little green menehune. This is a true story and one I know is true because my great grand-tutu told me this when I was still a child, when she was known across the island and beyond, as one of the most skillful women story-tellers to be found anywhere among the people of Hawaii.
In a land where there was never a written language, and therefore no means of passing down a recorded event from generation to generation, the task of collecting and transmitting histories of the people fell to Hawaiians who were gifted with the ability to remember tales and stories told to them and retell them to others. Over time, these individuals became highly regarded masters of the spoken word in their communities, and were accorded revered status as Kahunas of the oral history of their people. To this day, ‘talking story’ remains one of the most ancient customs kept alive through individual contact among the people of the islands, a land where skillful speaking is still very greatly respected.
Our story takes place on the island of Molokai nui a Hina, or ‘Molokai blessed to Hina’, for that is what it translates to in the language of the Haoles (whites). The time is very, very long ago, in a past dimly remembered only in the stories of aunties and great-aunties that are told to beloved children who have been well behaved and who deserve to hear them.
Thus it was that Maile, a young and comely maiden of 16, lived with her family on the great bay at the far end of Molokai’s manae (east end) that is known as Halawa. Maile was a shy and gentle girl as a child who usually obeyed her father’s and mother’s wishes without question. She was always, however, somewhat lonely, for there were few other girls among the families who shared that area near the Halawa taro fields. Her usual companions were local boys from that small community and especially her two brothers, who begrudgingly assumed responsibility for watching out for her and keeping her safe from harm (so they thought!).
After years of playing with the boys and enjoying their rough and tumble activities, beautiful Maile became bolder and more assertive herself. Her confidence grew especially from riding the waves (he’e na’lu) on the long board with which she learned to glide so gracefully across the wave-tops. When not on the water, she excelled in climbing the coconut palms with the best of the boys and was exceptionally light and nimble, showing much grace evident in her slender frame as she quickly scrambled up the trunk to reach the biggest, yellow-green nuts at the top of the palms.
Maile’s mother was frequently concerned for her, since despite the fact that Maile was always offered as much taro, fruit, and fish at meals as she could eat, she remained unusually thin for a Hawaiian girl, where the norm was more often to be big boned and full bodied. But thin and agile she remained, with beautiful, rich dark skin, and flashing brown eyes that would unconsciously blink with surprise at the slightest unexpected commotion near her. Of her youthful beauty, it was said that the quick flash of her white teeth when she smiled could instantly melt the sternest man’s heart and make him soften his fatherly admonishments, whenever she was being more willful than the adults thought she should be.
Maile had received her name from that uniquely pretty and fragrant, wandering and entwining forest vine that is found higher up on the rain-saturated slopes of the mighty volcano Kamakou (the highest point on the island, at 4428 feet). Known as the sacred vine of Laka (Pele's sister), the ancient Hawaiian Goddess of the Hula, the Maile vine with its shiny, sweet-smelling leaves was highly prized for its use in making beautiful leis.
Like the sweet scented and twining vine that was her namesake, Maile was also fond of wandering and roaming about by herself, taking great enjoyment in going off by herself to explore Halawa Valley, much to her parents’ consternation, who wanted her to stay and tend the taro patches. Sometimes she would even take her papa he’e na’lu (surfboard) out into the cold, deep waters that well up off Halawa’s beach and wait just beyond the big, crashing breakers that constantly swept in from the sea. There she would wait on her board, looking out away from shore and seemingly lost in wonder at how vast the open ocean seemed. But soon her keen eyes would spot a particularly large wave rolling towards her and she would swim skillfully ahead of it before its swelling bulk caught her up. Catching the wave just before it crested, she would ride it to shore with an effortless style born from years of practice and smiling unconsciously with the pure joy that filled her at such moments.
Bare breasts glistening with sea water and wearing just her long, dark hair gathered together and thrown over her shoulders, she would reach the beach laughing with delight and clearly as comfortable with the ocean as any creature that lived in or under it. Maile was, at such moments, at perfect peace with her world, a world of ocean waves and currents that rolled in to Halawa's waiting sands in unending rows. Despite her slenderness, her supple feminine strength was more evident in how easily she lifted the heavy longboard out of the water than in the presence of any discernable muscle she carried on her frame.
The other women of the community who might have been nearby at such times would glance over at her and unconsciously feel sorry for what they regarded as her unhealthy slimness at such times, for by their standards, she was far too slender for a young woman of her age.
“That Maile!” they would say, clucking their tongues as she ran up the beach ahead of the waves. “She will waste away into nothing if she doesn't eat! How ill she must feel!” Maile, for her part, was completely unmindful of these well-intended criticisms, for she was content just as things were.
And so the days and weeks passed slowly and peacefully at Halawa Valley, as they always do in the islands. Before long, the rough winter weather had disappeared and the Kahunas announced spring’s arrival, with its fair seas and more gentle climate. As the weather improved, Maile’s mother and father found themselves thinking about their only daughter and the fact that she was now a very grown-up young woman, ready for a husband and a family of her own. Maile, of course, had little thought for such things, since she too much enjoyed the simple beauty and languid pleasures of the seacoast around her and had almost no awareness of her own maturing female form.
Thus it was, late on one spring day, that she was wandering on the slopes just above the valley and out of view of the village, when she came upon a most unusual sight. There was a swift motion in the grass just ahead of her near some large volcanic rocks and she started involuntarily, the quick flash of her eyes betraying her surprise as they always did. Standing very still, she gazed intently at the bushes and rocks nearby, from where sounds of movement had issued forth.
After several long minutes, the strangest little green hands parted the bushes and a small head looked out at her with big yellow eyes! The little man (for that is what he was) was entirely green-hued and wearing only a garment of leaves and vines wrapped around his middle. A wispy white beard wreathed his face and his features were soft and sun-darkened, with an upturned nose and thin lips. They stood there, Maile and this little green man, each eying the other with an intensely quizzical stare until finally the little man smiled and motioned to her, indicating with both his small hands that she should not be anxious.
“You must be Maile,” he said to her great surprise! With a deep voice for such a perfectly miniature person, he grinned as he said her name, and crawled out from behind the bushes to sit on the top of a nearby rock.
“I have watched you often as you have walked about this area. You are the daughter of a family from that community of Kanaka Nu’i (big people) who live down there, near the taro fields, are you not?" So saying, he motioned down towards the flat verge of the bay at the end of the valley. His manner was almost familiar in its unmistakable tones of casual friendliness.
Maile, who had by this time somewhat recovered her wits and tongue, now looked keenly at the little man, fascinated by the fact that she estimated his size to be less than half of her own.
“Yes, that is true . I am Maile and I live down there, as you have observed, but who…or what…are you? Is your skin really green, or have you rubbed something from the forest upon it? And you are so small!”
“Oh yes,” he replied, “I am actually…as you say…green like leaves of the Ironwood and Koa trees. My people have lived in the highest parts of this island for a long, long time, and have been very successful in not letting ourselves be seen or known, except perhaps in your children’s stories and tall tales.”
Here he paused to smile, as if thinking it all very amusing. “We are called the Menehune and we have lived here long before your forefathers landed on this bay in their great ocean-going wa’a ia-ko (outrigger canoes).”
Maile had heard the ancient fables that told of small people many times as a child, of course: small roundly shaped little people living secretly and far removed from the community, high up the volcanic slopes, but she had always regarded them as any child would…as the mythical subjects of delightful stories told by aging aunties in the gathering dusk of evening, after dinner.
“Keiki wahine (woman-child), I am probably older than any of the oldest, most ancient aunties in your little community down there,” the little green man continued with a smile, as if reading her thoughts. “Since you have discovered me, I have something to share with you that may surprise you, if you will but listen carefully to me for a few minutes.”
“You have grown to womanhood almost unmindful of this fact, but shortly you will cross over into another part of your young life. Your skill on the papa he’e nalu (surfboard) is great and all the creatures of the ocean deeps regard you as one of their own, such is your skill in the water. You will find soon enough, however, that there is even more to life than these delights…more to fascinate you than the playful waves you love so much."
“Go now, back down the hill and contemplate the ancient wisdom of the manoakua (shark spirit) that guards you and your family from harm as you he’e nalu (ride the waves). Shortly, that new life shall come to you by way of the very ocean you daily glide upon. Now go! And remember my words in the days to come!”
Maile glanced briefly at the sun’s slanting rays, as he finished saying these words and when she glanced back at him, there was nothing to suggest she had ever been other than alone and by herself, for the little green man with the white beard had vanished as if into the air itself.
“Such a strange thing!” she thought to herself before turning and walking bemusedly back down the hillside to the valley.
Several weeks then came and went, each one bringing warmer days and smoother seas. Before long, she had forgotten her encounter the little man almost entirely, almost willing herself to believe she had imagined the whole thing. After sharing the secret only with one especially trusted auntie, her Tutu had simply smiled wonderingly at her and shaken her head, as if to say “What an imagination this child has!”
It was early in the morning, not long afterwards, that she had taken up the large board and headed back to the waters of Halawa, eager to swim and ride the ocean swells. As she reached the coursing surf's spent surge she made to throw her board in, but something at the edge of her vision caught her eye. Looking full at the object, she was startled to see that it appeared to be a man.
But this man, who had two arms, legs, a head, and hands like any other man, was as white as the underside of a shark! That is, his skin was not dark like hers, but pale and ashen. His hair was not black, either, but red! And yet, there could be no mistaking his being a man, for he lay on his back on the sand, unclothed and seeming to be asleep. The sea lapped at his feet and she then realised that he had been cast ashore from the ocean, perhaps fallen from a canoe or boat that had passed by the bay.
Dropping the board on the sand, she slowly walked over to him and knelt beside him. He was breathing she noted, and was still wet from the ocean, with bits of kelp on his back and legs. Looking with fascination at his strange red hair, she found herself remembering the encounter with the little green man and then also remembered his strange words. First a little green man and now a big red-haired man with pale white skin! This was certainly strange, she reflected, as she caught herself looking at his exposed U’le, which was large and very thick. Yes, all of this was very strange!
Maile then went to get the others of her village and soon the strange white man was brought back to a hut, where he shortly awakened. He spoke a few words after opening his eyes, or at least she imagined they were words since they had no meaning to her or any of the others. He did not speak her language at any rate; that much was clear to everyone.
Her father and mother kindly took care of this stranger over the following weeks and soon he was strong enough to get up and walk around. Not surprisingly, he seemed confused and uncertain of himself for some time, as any stranger in a strange land would, but did not take long to realise that wherever he had originally come from, all ties to that origin were now cut as completely as the piko (umbilical cord) is cut from an infant after birth.
As the months went by, Maile found herself increasingly fascinated by this great white-skinned man who at first spoke gibberish (at least she felt it so) in such an oddly musical manner. He, in turn, became quite devoted to her as well, for she had become truly a lovely young woman with all the fresh charms that maidenly beauty inspires in a woman.
For his part, he came to learn some of Maile’s language with her help, and she then learned in turn that he came from a country far beyond the ocean’s end that he called E’ire. He had by then remembered that he had fallen from a big boat he was sailing on, after being caught by surprise when the sail he was reefing filled with wind and threw him into the sea. Although the ship had sailed on, unaware of his plight, he had seen the island in the distance and had tried to swim to it. Only his good luck (he called it ‘the luck o' E’ire’) had saved him by casting him up on the beach, where he had been found by Maile.
Over time, this strange red-haired man who called himself ‘Pádraig’ fell deeply in love with beautiful Maile and they were pleased to discover that they both loved each other intensely, and with equal passion. Maile, who had soon been brought into the full bloom of womanhood by Padraig’s loving caresses, found herself to be bearing a child a short time later, and in due course that child…a boy…was born on the island of Molokai, in the valley they call Halawa.
The child ultimately grew to manhood under the loving care and attention of his beautiful dark-skinned mother and his handsome, white-skinned, red-haired father, and rose to prominence in the community, where his intelligence and gentle strength came to be appreciated and admired by all who came to know him. The Kahunas regarded him favorably as an exceptional person, possessed of much mana (spirit), since his father had been delivered by the ocean. And so he was and had been.
This boy in time also found a maiden whom he loved among the Halawa people, and thus began the Molokai tradition of the merging and intermelding of many races whose offspring have become the new Kanaka Maoli (locals) of modern Molokai.
It may amuse you to know also, that from this event a most unusual and uniquely Hawaiian Saint Patrick’s Day story came into being on Molokai that is still repeated, both by the old tutus, when they regale the children with their many wonderful stories of the old traditional customs and history found on the island of Molokai nui a Hina, and by the locals when they raise a glass to old Naomh Pádraig every 17th of March on the haole calendar…
Or so I have been told by my own ancient tutu who says it is all as true and certain as the endless waves that sweep our island shores!
Want to review or comment on this
Click here to login!
Need a FREE Membership?
Click here to Join!
|Reviewed by Lisa Adams
|I adore your stories, K. This one is wonderful. You teach the language in bits and pieces and the words are as lovely as the prose. My mother would love some of these, too, so I will send a few her way. I know she misses the islands and probably dreams of them often.