From menehune to big cats to underwater tunnels, the Aloha State has a long history of tricks and legends
March 31, 2010 | 04:30 PM
To be fooled is human, to fool is divine. Our earliest fables and parables prove our love of—and susceptibility to—trickery, and while such lore often looks to impart wisdom, the deceptive high jinks at its heart speak to our very nature. It makes sense, then, that such an imaginative and conniving species would designate a whole day upon which to celebrate the practical joke.
Recognized worldwide, the origins of April Fools' Day are as questionable as the shenanigans that ensue. The most popular hypotheses relate to the centuries-long calendar conundrum, culminating with Pope Gregory XIII's 1582 reformation of the Julian calendar—done largely to solve the issues of calculating Easter dates. But what the adoption of the Gregorian calendar also did was officially move what was once New Year merriment at the close of March—sometimes continuing to the onset of April—to January 1. Despite papal approval, it took centuries for the Gregorian calendar to become the international standard. Amidst all this timeline turmoil, it would have taken a while for rural residents to get the word. City folk in the know would poke fun at these "fools," and thus, it's believed, "All Fools' Day" was born (to the bumpkins' credit, the Julian calendar had reigned since 46 BC).
However, many European countries had already adopted a January 1 New Year decades before the Gregorian calendar's implementation. Plus, many earlier references exist in European literature and historical record, pointing toward distinctive April 1 antics in the Western world as far back as the 14th century.
These early manifestations can be traced to the Sizdah Be-dar, the 13th and final day of the Iranian New Year season called Nowruz. Norwuz celebrates not only the New Year, but—as it begins on the day of the vernal equinox—heralds spring, too. And Sizdah Be-dar is considered the oldest prank-playing tradition still in practice, with the United Nations recognizing its origins as a Persian spring festival ca. 500 BC.
Did you do the math? Yep. If it begins on the day of vernal equinox, the Iranian's long-running day of droll falls on what we'd call April 1 (or April 2 if it's a leap year). Coincidence? Unlikely.
Raucous roots run deep in Hawaii, too. Residents and visitors alike can readily conjure the image of happy menehune, the mythical little people famed for their nighttime craftsmanship skills (notably, Kauai's Alekoko Fishpond, which legend tells was constructed overnight).
Loren Coleman, cryptozoologist and co-author of The Field Guide of Bigfoot and Other Mystery Primates (1996) says his book includes his "investigations of the 1940s' Waimea sightings of Menehune by school superintendent George London and about 45 children from two middle elementary level classrooms." The children are purported to have "told of seeing the Menehune playing around the large trees on the lawn of the parish property, which stands directly across the street from Waimea High School today."
The late, celebrated folklorist, Dr. Katharine Luomala proposed her perspective of these Sandwich Isle sprites in a 1951 article for the Bishop Museum titled The Menehune of Polynesia and Other Mythical Little People of Oceania. Turns out there is no oral tradition of menehune pre-contact. Edward Joesting, in his book Kaua'i: The Separate Kingdom, writes, "[i]t seems likely [that] Menehune was the name given by the Tahitians to the early settlers of Hawai'i… There is a logical process in the evolution of the name… Manahune, a slight dialectical variation of Menehune… became a name for a commoner and a term of derision."
So when trying to explain that a person was of a lower stature, early explorers and missionaries mistook menehune as being akin to hobgoblins of Western lore, like Scotland and Northern England's "Brownie," also with nocturnal tendencies. Not so much lost in translation as left in translation, the natives seem to have found the confusion amusing and encouraged the miscommunication—birthing a whole new branch of lore and possibly the first modern Hawaiian hoax.
But trickery runs deeper still—our own island's legendary namesake is lyrically heralded as the "mischievous, marvelous, magical Maui" by the late Israel Kamakawio'ole. There are the tales of Maui's repeated journeying to the underworld to bring back flaming fingernails (as he'd extinguished the village's fire) as well as the famed fishing of land from the sea, with a hook made from the jawbone of his augur grandmother. Perhaps the most iconic image associated with this demigod is that of Maui cunningly wrestling the rays from the sun atop the slopes of Haleakala.
The slopes of Haleakala are home to a more modern tale—with a tail. The legendary "Big Cat," stirred up fear and excitement among Upcountrians beginning in December 2002, with purported sightings continuing until the search was officially called off in November 2003.
The Honolulu Advertiser reports that experts from the Arizona Fish & Game Department—brought in to assist Maui officials in trapping the elusive creature—searched for what they believed to be a dangerous jaguar or leopard in excess of 150 pounds (based on tracks found from the animal's rear paw). Yet, poised with helicopter, game traps and tranquilizer guns, they found no hide, just a little hair. And, though the DLNR still maintains a "Big Cat Page" Web site with information about the safe capture plan and how to report a sighting, the official search was suspended due to mounting costs, the growing lack of credible sightings and inconclusive DNA evidence from hair samples. Rumors of Upcountry's Big Cat are said to have been circulating since the late '80s, but it remains a mystery as unsolved as Loch Ness.
The Honlulu Star-Bulletin had some April Fools' fun in 1936, as noted at museumofhoaxes.com, with a report of the local discovery of a Viking vessel (perhaps playing off emerging evidence of Vikings' inhabiting the Americas centuries before Columbus, and the 1898 discovery of a rune stone in Minnesota, believed to be from the Knights Templar). Again in 1950, the Star-Bulletin ran a fake report that a UFO had crashed on the Big Island.
The last time April Fools' fell on MauiTime's Thursday publication-day was in 2004, and then-editor Anthony Pignataro wrote a feigned lede titled "The Sub Train," detailing a proposed underwater passenger train system between the islands. The gag was glorified with a sleek, red and yellow high-speed railcar that, through the magic of PhotoShop, appeared to be traveling within an underwater tunnel (none other than the acrylic tunnel of the Maui Ocean Center's open ocean exhibit).
Pignataro's imaginary developer, Jack Moffett, was the kind of man whose two ex-wives are "friendlier with each other than they are with him," and who "chuck[ed] many a cantaloupe at teachers' houses."
"Hey, I love the reef," Moffett "said." "It pains me to say that dredging for the tunnel will tear the merry hell out of [it]. Just blast it to Kingdom Come. If I could do this without ripping apart the reef I would, but I can't."
The tongue-in-cheek nature of Pignataro's piece was hopefully obvious to all who read it. (He even points out that a tunnel from Maui to Oahu would stretch 120 miles, "[n]ever mind that the longest tunnel in the world is little over 33 miles long.") But with the Superferry on the horizon, Pignataro's closing line was ominously prescient: "In just a few years, I think this will all be a very big deal."
Proving the truth is often said in jest—and that a good jest should speak some truth.
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