When picturing the islands of Hawaii, the first image one may have is of a tropical island paradise, perfect for a getaway from the stresses of daily life, where people can enjoy the beaches, azure waters, impressive volcanic splendor, magnificent scenery, and warm tropical weather. This is certainly the image of Hawaii that most people undoubtedly have. Yet this is a land where mystery runs deep. Here we have folklore, legend, and tales of creatures roaming the jungles that are just as strange as any other mysterious monster of the world. As weird as it may seem, the Hawaiian islands seemingly hold a plethora of bizarre cryptozoological mysteries that have continued to elude us, and which show that sometimes appearances are not what they seem. Although this volcanic archipelago, comprised of hundreds of islands scattered over 1,500 miles (2,400 km) is home to a wide variety of endemic wildlife, mostly birds, there seem to be things allegedly living on and around the islands which by all means should not be here, and which baffle those who have seen them. Out beyond the throngs of vacationing tourists, just out past the tree line and out over the horizon from these postcard perfect locales allegedly prowl enigmatic monsters which we can only try to begin to comprehend. Let us take a tour of the bizarre mystery monsters of Hawaii.
It is often said that Bigfoot has been sighted in every state except Hawaii. However, this is not exactly totally true, and as bizarre as it may seem, there are ample reports of at least two types of hairy hominids lurking about in the wilds of Hawaii as well. Perhaps the most oft discussed of these is an alleged race of hairy dwarves known to the islanders as the Menehune. These creatures are said to be around 2 to 3 feet tall, with stout, muscular frames covered in hair, broad shoulders, a pot belly, and faces possessing long eyebrows on a protruding brow, sharp ears, and large, intelligent eyes. The Menehune are said to be nocturnal, living in caves deep within the forest during the day, and to communicate via a series of grunts and growls. They are supposedly masters of mimicry, able to even copy the language of humans, although it is unclear if they grasp the meaning behind the words. In some folkloric traditions, they are even said to be able to communicate telepathically.
One common feature attributed to the Menehune is their skills as builders, and it is said that they were proficient in constructing a wide variety of structures around the Hawaiian islands, including homes, temples, bridges, and canals, and are credited with building the Alekoko Fishpond, on Lihue near the Nawiliwili Harbor, which is the largest aquaculture site in Hawaii, as well as the Kikiaola, or the Menehune Ditch, an irrigation ditch that funnels water from the Waimea River on Kauai. The Menehune legend is so entrenched within Hawaiian folklore that many modern-day Hawaiians actually claim to be descended from these creatures, and still identify themselves as such.
Although it seems as though the Menehune must be totally mythical constructs, there have been numerous alleged sightings of the diminutive beings that have continued right up to modern times. One of the most well known such sightings was made by a group of 40 schoolchildren and their teacher, a George London, in the 1940s near the Waimea Parish property. According to the report, the group spotted several of the creatures jumping around in some trees near the property, and when they realized they were being watched the enigmatic beings silently dispersed into the wilderness and into openings that led below the church’s foundations, although no sign of any such openings, tunnels, or caves could be found with later investigations of the area.
Another interesting report relayed by a caller during an appearance by cryptozoologist Loren Coleman on Coast to Coast AM in May of 2006 described an encounter the woman had had with the creatures when a group of 20 of them passed in front of her car as she was driving along a remote road. In this case, they were described as little hairy humans, 3 feet tall and each covered in slightly different colored hair. The woman claimed to have actually hit one of the creatures and later found that there was a dent in her car and reddish hair left behind, but that she no longer had the hair for analysis. In yet another report, a man known only as Arnold S. claimed that he had been relaxing on the beach with friends on a dark night at around 11PM when the bushes nearby began to shake violently. The group of friends then dashed towards their car and noticed that a group of “little wild people” were running across the road towards them before driving off in great haste.
Indeed there have been many sightings of these strange creatures over the years, and there has been some debate as to over what they might be. One theory is that they may represent an actual race of dwarves or pygmies, perhaps predating the arrival of the first known Polynesian settlers of the islands. Another popular theory is that these miniature humanoids could have some relation to the Flores “Hobbits,” (Homo Floresiensis), a small race of hominids whose remains have been found on the Indonesian island of Flores and which are thought to have still existed just 12,000 or 13,000 years ago, making them contemporaries of human ancestors and suggesting the possibility that they may still live in some remote areas of the Pacific. Indeed, there are several Pacific islands where there are long traditions of sighting miniature hairy wild men, so perhaps these early hominids had a larger range than has been thought.
In addition to the tiny, dwarfish Menehune, there have also been reports from Hawaii of something more similar to the hulking mainstream image of Bigfoot. In 1973, a 35-year-old Rob Carlson reported that he had had a curious and frightening encounter while out fishing for catfish with a friend in Whitmore Village, by the Wahiawa Mountains. According to the account, the two had just finished setting up some catfish traps and were preparing to go home for the night when they heard an otherworldly howl blast forth from the surrounding wilderness, which sounded like a “wild man.” At first they thought it was a joke being played on them by their friends, but as the wailing intensified they ran away in a panic. As the two friends ran down the hill along a trail they reached a curve in the path, and it was then that the source of the alien howling made itself known. According to Carlson, a huge, 7 to 8 foot-tall hairy female creature, naked except for a cloth around the waist, lumbered into view. Carlson would describe the escalating chaos thus:
I tell you, he was coming right for us! So we turned and ran back to the river. As he stumbled down the side of the embankment, a giant woman stepped out from behind a tree. She must have been at least seven feet tall!
The friends reportedly made their way home, where they were unable to sleep with all that had happened weighing heavily on their minds. When they awoke the next morning, they allegedly went back to where their encounter had taken place to go retrieve their catfish traps, and were able to find a series of massive tracks that measured around 20 inches long. It was then that they swore to never go fishing in the area ever again. The creature in this case was decidedly more in keeping with the traditional physical description of North America's Bigfoot, being a massive, hair covered wild man type of beast, rather than the smaller, dwarfish Menehune.
In a similarly strange account, a teacher from a school in the Makakilo area relayed a tale of an enormous hairy creature that was known by the locals as the Aikanaka. The creature was said to prowl the vicinity of an isolated rural, two-lane road that meandered through pineapple plantations from Wahiawa to Waialua. The giant, ape-like beast was said to be around 8 feet tall and covered with shaggy hair. It was reported as startling more than a few drivers along this lonely stretch of road, and the locals were reportedly in constant fear of it. One startled driver claimed that a large, man-like hairy beast had lurched from the underbrush to smash into their car and nearly send it tumbling end over end. Although such sightings have continued to this day, there is little in the geological history of the Hawaiian Islands that gives credence to such a monster, and it remains largely thought of as an imaginative myth.
Sharing the wilds of the Hawaiian islands is another mysterious creature said to prowl the forests here, and is another creature that would be very out of place here indeed. Since the 1980s, there have been the occasional reports from the island of Maui of a enigmatic big cat, with fawn colored hair and a long tail, described as being similar in appearance to a puma. In particular, December 2002 to June 2003 saw a series of 8 reports filed of the mystery cat lurking about in the Olinda district of Maui, leaving the authorities scratching their heads.
Although the thought of a big cat roaming the wilds of Hawaii seems absurd, authorities took it seriously enough, thinking perhaps an exotic pet had escaped and was running free. When the Hawaii Invasive Species Committee investigated one such sighting on June 9, 2003 a clump of unusual fur was found that was similar in color to what was being reported, and this was enough evidence for authorities, fearing for public safety, to attempt to capture whatever it was. A series of baited box traps were set up in the area, but these produced nothing. However, in the meantime more evidence of the mystery cat turned up right under their noses when tracks of what appeared to be a big cat, claws marks on a tree, and the partially eaten remains of some birds were found in the area where the traps had been set. Encouraged by this evidence, authorities set up more traps baited with chicken, but nothing was captured. Oddly, one of the traps was destroyed, although it is unclear if this was the doing of the enigmatic big cat.
The search for what is sometimes called the Maui Mystery Cat gained renewed interest when the remains of a mauled pet fawn were found. Worried about the potential impact on public safety, Hawaiian officials brought in an expert on big cats from Arizona by the name of Bill Van Pelt, who went about using an array of advanced methods to try and get to the bottom of the mystery, including using infrared cameras, recordings of wild cat calls blasted into the wilderness, and recordings meant to simulate those of various prey items in order to bring the cat closer. Although Van Pelt was unable to capture or film the mystery cat, more claw marks and tracks were found, which were enough to convince him that indeed some sort of big cat was likely stalking the area. More sightings came in and more tracks were found, culminating in the brutal mauling of a pet dog by some sort of wild animal. More mysterious hairs were also found and subjected to DNA analysis, but these proved to be frustratingly inconclusive. After 2003, sightings and other evidence of the mystery big cat started to fade in frequency, and it remains unclear of just what the Maui Mystery Cat was.
Even stranger and more firmly entrenched in the lore of the Hawaiian islands is the creature known as the the Mo’o or Moho, said to be giant lizards covered with glistening jet black scales and reaching lengths of up to 30 feet, which are said to inhabit caves, pools, and deep ponds across the islands. The creatures are very prevalent in Hawaiian mythology, often said to be guardian water spirits or deities, and this folklore has imbued them with a variety of supernatural powers, including the ability to shapeshift into a variety of forms including small geckos, huge dragons, or seductive women, as well as the power to control water and the weather. It was said a sure way to tell if a Mo’o inhabited a pond was to look for a telltale foam across the surface, or special stone markers erected to denote a Mo’o habitat, as well as a bitter taste to the fish caught there, and it was said that they could be drawn in to shore with fires lit upon altars.
Although mostly seen as benevolent water guardians which would ensure a healthy water supply, plentiful fish, and good harvests, the Mo’o were sometimes known to be violent when angered, washing away trespassers with giant waves or attacking with great ferocity. One story of malevolent Mo’o tells of a group of three of the creatures named Kilioe, Koe, and Milolii, who lived on the cliffs of Kauai’s northern coast and liked to push travelers off the edge to their doom or drown them in a river. It has long been said that before entering a pool for a swim it is a good idea to make an offering of a small flower or branch dropped into the water, just to be sure if there is a Mo’o there or not and what their demeanor is. If the flower or branch is swept away quickly, then the common wisdom is that there is a Mo’o there who does no wish to be disturbed and it is best to go elsewhere.
Another interesting bit of folklore concerning the Mo’o is that when slain their remains become a part of the landscape of the islands. The cinder cone Pu‘u Ola‘i and Molokini crater are said to be the remains of Mo’o, as is a rock formation on Kamalo Ridge on the island of Molokai, as well as the five small islands surrounding Laie Point of northeast Oahu, known as Kihewamoku, Moku’auia, Pulemoku, Kukuiho’olua, and Mokualai. There are various deep pools where the remains of dead Mo’o are said to be visible as well. For instance there is a pool in the the Puna district in which it is claimed one can see the head of a Mo’o resting at the bottom, and there is yet another such set of remains purportedly visible in a pool at nearby Kalapana. Yet another place where Mo’o bones are said to be visible scattered across the bottom is a pond in near La’ie point, which reportedly come from a Mo’o who liked to attack passerby and was subsequently killed by locals.
Although this may all sound like pure myth and legend, many Hawaiians maintain that these are in fact actual, real creatures, and there are many eyewitness accounts of large, dragon-like lizards lurking within the islands’ remote pools. One mass sighting was made in 1838, when a Mo’o named Mokuhinia appeared before thousands of awestruck witnesses. In more recent times, a Maggie Alu, who lives at Wailua in Maui, reported that when she was a child of 8 years old her mother showed her a Mo’o swimming about in a pond in the Wailua Valley, near Haleakala. There are also locals at Lipoa Street and Kihei Road, on Maui, who swear there is a pool there that dries up from time to time due to the Mo’o that lives there, which has been seen by many of the locals.
As seemingly fantastical as the presence of such enormous lizards in Hawaii may seem, and indeed no species of giant lizard has ever been known to be present here, there have nevertheless been many mythical creatures throughout history that have proven to be based on some grain of truth. This has created a good amount of speculation on what could be behind the tales of the Mo’o. One idea is that the ancient Polynesians that came to these islands brought with them stories of giant lizards or crocodiles from their homelands, where stories of such massive mythical lizards are commonplace. Another idea is that there may have been some sort of giant reptile, maybe some large species of monitor lizard, living on the islands when the first settlers arrived here, perhaps something similar to the Komodo dragon, and these frightening animals gave birth to the lore of the Mo'o. This is an interesting theory, but totally unsupported by any fossil evidence whatsoever. Yet another idea is that the ancient Polynesians who settled here perhaps brought with them actual exotic specimens of large lizards or other reptiles from other places such as the Galapagos, after which they bloomed into legend and myth. Whatever the origins of these stories, the Mo’o remains one of the most prominent cryptids of the Hawaiian islands.
Another very strange account of strange water dwellings beings in Hawaii was first mentioned in 1875 in a publication called The Islander, in which it was written of a mysterious, race of terrifying creatures called the Mū. They were described as being sort of a mix between a water imp and a vampire, with long, ratty hair, and immense toothless mouths with protruding lips that extended from ear to ear, which were described as “singularly repulsive.” These repugnant abominations were said to lurk within dark subterranean caves that opened up into water, from which they would slink forth at night to lurch up onto the banks to pull in victims, whose blood they were said to drink with relish. A particularly dramatic and gruesome description of this behavior was given by the annalist George G. Thrum, who wrote with horrific detail on the matter thus:
Having overpowered their prey by numbers, they drag it into the water and plunge with it down to their dismal den, where, without waiting for the extinction of life, the impish horde eagerly collect, and scores at a time applying their hideous lips to every part of the body, they greedily quaff long draughts of the sanguineous fluid; the horrid banquet only terminating with a complete desiccation of the subject.
It is unknown just what is going on with the reports of this spooky monster. It has been speculated that this is pure folklore or a tale to frighten children into behaving. It could also be a relic of the blood drinking rituals employed by other Pacific islands, in which some power or life force, strength, or good fortune are believed to be conferred by the consuming of blood. Although Hawaii has no such traditions of blood as particularly magical or significant, such beliefs can be found among the native peoples of New Zealand, Melanesia, and some other areas of the Pacific. Perhaps it was these gruesome tales from other Pacific island cultures that trickled in to Hawaii and spurred on stories of vicious vampire water demons. It is a curious and undoubtedly eerie tale no matter where the origin lies.
Considering that Hawaii is comprised of islands, it is perhaps no surprise that mystery creatures are said to lurk in the surrounding seas as well, with the most notable being some sort of giant octopus. In 1928, a sailor with the US Navy stationed off Pearl Harbor in Oahu named Robert Todd Aiken had numerous sightings of an octopus far larger than any known to exist. Within a one year period, he would have at least 6 sightings of enormous octopuses measuring around 40 feet from tentacle tip to tentacle tip. In 1935, Aiken returned to where he claimed to have seen the beasts, along with a crew to photograph one of the monsters, and indeed in the July 27, 1936 issue of the Honolulu Advertiser Aiken is seen photographed beside one of the massive creatures; a behemoth estimated to measure around 40 feet across. It is unclear if this was a real specimen of unknown giant octopus or a cleverly crafted fake.
In 1950, there would be another spectacular sighting of a giant octopus in these waters when a Madison Rigdon spotted an octopus with a body reportedly “the size of a car” being attacked by sharks off of Lahilahi Point, near Makaha, Oahu. The octopus was described as being about 30 feet in total diameter and grayish brown in color. The massive octopus was reported as fighting off the sharks with its tentacles, which were lined with suckers “the size of dinner plates,” before dashing off into the depths in a cloud of black ink. That very same year, a fisherman by the name of Val Ako sighted a gigantic octopus with a tentacle span of an estimated 75 feet while diving for turtles at a reef. A family advisor would later tell Ako that the giant octopus was well known in the area, and visited the reef for one month out of every year.
These are interesting accounts to be sure, but they far outdo the largest octopus known to man at present, the giant pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini), which can have a tentacle span of around 20 feet, with the largest recorded measurement being 23 feet, large but not nearly large enough to account for these reports. Are there even larger specimens of octopus out there, perhaps even a new colossal species, and do they inhabit the waters of Hawaii? Who knows? There are certainly mysteries of the oceans that continue to evade us, so maybe here in the Hawaiian islands we have yet another.
So far we’ve covered the land and seas of Hawaii, but what about the air? Well, this is the domain of yet another mystery monster that apparently inhabits the islands. In 1999, two soldiers on the island of Oahu spied something strange through wispy cloud cover in the night sky. They reported seeing a strange, bird-like flying creature illuminated by the full moon, which had a wingspan of around 20 feet, an elongated head on a short neck, and with angular wings and a tail that was about a quarter of the creature’s total length. The creature was reported as flying quite gracefully, and hovered and dived through the clouds for some time before wandering out of sight. One of the soldiers described the strange creature as looking like a “pterodactyl.”
This would not be the last sighting of such a strange flying creature on the islands. There have been numerous sightings of creatures that witnesses have described as being like a pterodactyl throughout the Hawaiian islands, including accounts that are quite recent indeed. In 2008, a woman and her nephew reported sighting a creature gliding over Kona International Airport at Keahole, which they described as having a 4-foot wingspan, a long sharp beak, sweeping featherless, bat-like wings, and a long tail with a diamond-shaped tip. Another sighting in 2013 describes an account given by a family driving along a darkened road at night near the Mauna Keya Visitor Center on the Big Island. It was purportedly a full moon and as the car’s headlights tipped forward on an incline they met with a creature that was described as being bird-like, with a 10-foot wingspan. The hulking flying beast was allegedly headed right for the car and struggling to gain altitude, gliding right over the car’s windshield in the process and barely missing it. All of those who saw it agreed that it looked just like a pterodactyl. Do such creatures inhabit the islands? It remains unknown. There is the possibility that this could be some sort of large, undiscovered species of bird native to the islands, but if it is there is no fossil evidence for it.
It seems that the Hawaiian Islands are more than just a place for fun in the sun, and that there are possibly creatures here that defy common knowledge of the natural history here. Here there are accounts and long traditions of mysterious things that swim, scamper, and fly through the wilderness beyond our prying eyes. Is there any place in Hawaii for real mystery animals that lie beyond our understanding? Can there be anything more to all of this than mere rumor, myth, legend and folklore? Or is this all just fantastic legends adding another layer to the already dreamlike quality of these beautiful, serene islands? While we may struggle to understand how these stories may have come about or what sorts of creatures may be behind such sightings, perhaps it is worth turning an eye to these quaint Pacific islands. Maybe if we keep an eye to these wilds we may uncover something that has eluded our understanding, and we just might be surprised at just how strange this world of ours can really be.