We are going to Hawaii!! The surf, the sun, the shopping, the lights and sounds of Waikiki were all awaiting me. And yet, there was more. There was a side of Hawaii that held some history, hard work, sadness and triumph.
This was the story of life on a sugar cane plantation. The life of immigrants, children, a life of hard work, hope, fear and of a future in a new land. We visited the site of the Koloa sugar plantation in the outskirts of Honolulu.
All that remained of the old mill was the smoke stack of the processing plant, surrounded by a YMCA building. A few blocks away, dedicated historians, in an effort to preserve the history of the sugar cane plantations, had recreated a village where an original sugar plantation once stood. The buildings were taken from several demolished plantations and moved to this spot.
When our tour began, we sampled fruits grown by the people at the plantation. We found macadamia nuts lying on the ground, cracked them open and ate the crunchy nut. We then toured through the 21 houses where the immigrants lived from the early 1900s through the late 1930s.
We saw the homes of the Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Puerto Ricans, Okinawans, Koreans and Filipinos. We saw a home prepared for a baptismal party, a home for Japanese bachelors, an oven to bake bread, tofu molds, an infirmary, an impromptu dentist office, the camp manager’s office, a Japanese bath house and a general store. We saw very simple homes from the early plantation days to homes with advances such as electricity.
The immigrants came to Hawaii to seek a better life, some for political and religious resaons, others with the promise of a better future. Life on the plantation was hard. The workers had a house to live in, some food, some medical care and a wage of $9 a month for men and $6 a month for women.
Work began at 6:00 A.M. and ended at 4:30 P.M. Lights out was at 8:00 P.M.. In the few hours the workers had to themselves, they had to cook, tend to their crops, care for their children, sew, and clean.
The most important thing I came to understand about life on the plantations was about the undying spirit of the people. The immigrants shared their culture, food, religious ideas, crafts, games and lives with each other. They accepted the ways of each group and adopted each other’s ways.
This is what makes Hawaii what it is today. Hawaiians are from French Polynesia, yet I will never forget that they are also children of the immigrants, of the people who came to the islands to start a new life and to give their children a better future, those people who worked hard and will live on in the traditions of Hawaiian life.
I still will remember Hawaii as a beautiful sunset, sandy beaches, waves, but I will also remember the people, the traditions and the hard working people that made the islands’ cultural heritage.
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