ʻAlekoko: The Wondrous Work of the Menehune


Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

Photo: Kalani Akana

ʻAlekoko was the name of a chief of Puna, Kauaʻi. Kalālālehua (also “Hāhalua”) was his royal sister. They lived in Niumalu on the banks of Hulāʻia (also “Hulēʻia”) River.

Due to their desire for a fishpond, they commanded the Menehune people to construct and assemble a fishpond at the mouth of Hulāʻia. Their chief agreed to build the pond if the two aristocrats would adhere to the taboos of the Menehune – namely that they could not observe their work. The chiefs promised. Therefore, the Menehune would labor all night to complete the job.

Photo: ʻAlekoko Fishpond
An archival photo of ʻAlekoko Fishpond from the webpage of “Hoʻokuleana” – Photo: Peter Young

The Menehune people are renown throughout Kauaʻi for their engineering. A famous chief of this people was Ola. Famous to this day are their wondrous works: Kīkī-a-Ola irrigation canal of Waimea; the koa forest and home of Hālau-a-Ola; the walkway through Alakaʻi, Kīpapa-a-Ola; and, this wondrous work, ʻAlekoko Fishpond, also called the “Menehune Fishpond.”

According to Katherine Luomala (1951), the Menehune were a different race of people who arrived in Kauaʻi before the people from Tahiti and the Marquesas. The were short, stout, dark-skinned people highly skilled in construction. In the Faraway Homeland, their ancestral origins, they were called “Manahune” and were servants of diminished socio-political power. Their mistreatment and abuse by the ruling class was a possible reason for them leaving Kahiki.

ʻAlekoko is not only named for the chief. According to famed Kauaʻi storyteller, Fred Wichman, the inability of ʻAlekoko and Kalālālehua to abide by the Menehune taboo was the main cause for its naming.

The story goes like this. Because of the loud banging and clacking of stones from being stacked and fitted, the two aliʻi sneaked a peek and looked at the Menehune. As soon as ʻAlekoko and Kalalālehua looked, the work ceased.

The chief Menehune, Ola perhaps, commanded them to stop working, wash their bloodied hands in the ripples (ʻale) of the water, and return home. Their hands were bloodied (koko) because the rocks from Wahiawa (before Hanapēpe) were not smooth, but jagged and rough. Menehune stood shoulder to shoulder from Wahiawa to Niumalu, about twenty miles, handing stones by hand one to another in the deep dark of night. At Niumalu, the stones were hewn so that they could be stacked and tightly fitted. This work is impressive in all of Hawaiʻi.

They had only one request – to observe their kapu. If those in charge cannot observe the laws then it is right for the laborer to leave the work aside.

The amazing works of this race of people, the Menhune, still exist until now. One moral of this story – keep your promises! Take care of the big person, the little person; those with much power and those with little power. Take care of ʻAlekoko.

Kalani Akana, Ph.D., is the culture specialist at OHA. He is a kumu of hula, oli and ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi. He has authored numerous articles on Indigenous ways of knowing and doing.