Generations of Hawai‘i’s residents have been raised on stories about the Menehune as magical and mischievous little people, living primarily in the mists of Island forests, in the history of our oldest places, and at the very edge of our vision.

But Menehune are far more than a fairy tale, and there is ample evidence that the tradition has changed dramatically over time. Across 30 years of research, journalist and historian Jan TenBruggencate has tracked down the Menehune tale’s many tendrils. Today’s Menehune stories are drawn from separate traditions—the Menehune of O‘ahu, the Melehuna of Kaua‘i, and tales from other Pacific islands. The Menehune of the earliest stories in the earliest traditions are very different from those we recognize today.

Menehune Mystery is a retelling of favorite narratives: The ‘Alekoko fishpond, the Kīkī-a-Ola aqueduct, Laka’s canoe, the wizard Kahano-a-newa and Kū-leo-nui, and Kamapua‘a’s house, among others. It is also a forensic analysis of the myth’s trajectory. Were Menehune the ancestors of Hawai‘i’s people? Did the famous Wainiha Menehune census actually take place? Which storytellers carried the stories forward faithfully? Who were the narrators who twisted the tale to suit their own objectives? And what evidence exists that little people might once have existed in Polynesia?