Menehune Fish Pond | Hawaiian History

The ancient Hawaiians were really ahead of their time. They had the utmost respect for the natural order of their environment. Practicing sustainability long before modern man realized that the resources of this planet could not be exploited indefinitely without negative repercussions. For me, this an important historical reminder when I visit the Alekoko Fish Pond, more commonly known as the Menehune Fish Pond.

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Alekoko Fishpond

The ancient peoples of this island practiced the values of pono, living righteously, with honor, morality, justice, virtue, and goodness. This translated to every aspect of their life and their relationship with the environment, and it can be seen in the construction of the Akekoko Fishpond.

How The Menehune Fish Pond Was Constructed

The early Hawaiians took advantage of a bend in the Hule’ia river to divert water into a low lying area adjacent to the river. They did not attempt to alter the natural order of the river recognizing that the shape of the river was formed by much greater forces than they could muster.

Using lava rock or loko kuapa found in the area, they built a wall 900 yards in length and 5 feet wide from the shore to create an almost enclosed area that would enable seawater and fish like mullet to enter. The area was used to cultivate algae much like a rancher uses land to graze animals. This allowed the Hawaiians to farm fish, providing a stable source of protein for the village. Building wooden gates from o’hia, an endemic local hard wood, provided good water flow into and out of the pond. The narrow openings in the three gates allowed juvenile mullet to escape when the tide was receding, insuring continuation of the species.

Legend of the Menehune Fishpond

The Menehune were a mythical Leprechuan-like people that one thousand years ago were tasked with building a fishpond for the then local chief. Their one condition was that the chief could not see the project until it was completed. However, the chief did look at the uncompleted project, thus breaking his agreement, and the Menehune never finished the task. The Menehune were known for their super human strength and courage and they completed 75% of the work in just one night.

The work was grueling and the name of the fish pond, Alekoko in Hawaiian means ‘bloody ripples’, which most likely signifies the wounds brought on by handling the sharp lava rock.

The Future of the Alekoko Fishpond

The pond has been on the National Register of Historic Places since the early 1970′s, and also listed as one of the most endangered historical sites in the Hawaiian islands. Encroachment of invasive tree species, such as mangrove has covered the lava rock wall and their roots threaten to collapse the barrier.

Since the site is private property it will take a great deal of diplomacy to convince the land owners that the best decision for the site is to preserve it. In fact, the Kauai Public Land Trust would like to acquire the site. As always funds to purchase the property are limited and there are equally deserving projects around the island that warrant protection too. Not easy task to decide which historical site takes priority.

You can find the scenic overlook to the Menehune fishpond off Hulemalu road in Lihue. Be cautious pulling off to the side of this winding rural road for better viewing at the scenic overlook. It’s one of the best things to do on Kauai.

About Joe Sylvester

Aloha! I have lived on Kauai for 33 years where I have worked as an Agronomist for 17 years, owned an art gallery for 11 years and own a vacation rental for 17 years in the town of Poipu. I am a former Peace Corps volunteer and have been married since 1985.
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