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Summary on Plantation Camps and Images of Old Hawaiʻi

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Summary on Plantation Camps and Images of Old Hawaiʻi
Plantation Camps
“I want (my children) to remember that the parents, grandparents were part of that
company, the sugar company. The parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, you
know, down the line, the older generation.”
“I want (my children) to think about the older generation, what they gone through for make
you possible, as a young generation coming up, eh? That the sugar made you a family, too.”
(John Mendes, former Hāmākua Sugar Company worker; UH Center for Oral History)
A century after Captain James Cook’s arrival in Hawaiʻi, sugar plantations started to
dominate the Hawaiian landscape. A shortage of laborers to work in the growing (in size
and number) sugar plantations became a challenge. The only answer was imported labor.
Starting in the 1850s, labor shortages were eased by bringing in contract workers from
Asia, Europe and North America. There were three big waves of workforce immigration:
Chinese 1852; Japanese 1885 and Filipinos 1905.
Several smaller, but substantial, migrations also occurred: Portuguese 1877; Norwegians
1880; Germans 1881; Puerto Ricans 1900; Koreans 1902 and Spanish 1907.
The dierent languages and unusual names created problems; because of this, sugar
plantation owners devised an identication system to keep workers sorted out. Upon each
laborer’s arrival, a plantation ocial gave them a metal tag called a bango.
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2/28/2019 Plantation Camps | Images of Old Hawaiʻi 2/9
The bango was made of brass or aluminum and had a number printed on one side. It was
usually worn on a chain around their neck. Bangos came in dierent shapes. The shape
you wore was determined by your race. Every plantation used bangos. (Lassalle) “They
never call a man by his name. Always by his bango, 7209 or 6508 in that manner.” (Takaki)
Plantation camps, developed to house workers and their families, were once scattered
among the cane elds. The plantation camps were segregated by ethnicity as well as by
occupational rank. Most had the “Japanese camp,” “the Puerto Rican camp,” “the Filipino
camp.” (Merry) “There was one called ‘Alabama Camp.’ “Alabama?” “Yeah; we used to have
Negroes working on the plantation.” (Takaki)
Supervisors, called lunas, were generally haole (white,) native Hawaiian or Portuguese until
the early twentieth century, or Japanese by midcentury. They lived in special parts of the
plantation housing, divided from those of other backgrounds by roads and by rules not to
play with the children across the street.
The plantation manager typically lived in the “big house” across the street, and although his
children might sneak out to play with the workers, his social life revolved around visits with
other haole manager families. (Merry)
After cane railroads came into use, eld camps were discontinued almost entirely and
everyone lived close to the mill. (MacDonald)
While the emigration of Japanese women during the picture bride era changed the
composition of the plantation camps there still remained a large community of single male
laborers. In 1910 men outnumbered adult women 2-to-1 in the Territory and in some
communities, the sex ratio was even more skewed. (Bill)
The caneelds were a social space as well as worksite. With families to care for, women had
little free time and eldwork oered daily contact with other women. The companionship
of others is what women most often remember about their eld work days. (Bill)
The camps were self-sucient and resources, hours, and pay were tightly controlled by the
plantation management. As their contracts expired, members of these ethnic groups either
moved back to their home countries, or moved to “plantation towns” and began mercantile
business, boarding houses bars, restaurants, billiard halls, dance halls and movie theaters.
(Historic Honokaa Project)
2/28/2019 Plantation Camps | Images of Old Hawaiʻi 3/9
Company towns with schools, churches, businesses, hospitals, and recreational facilities
emerged as workers raised families on the plantations. (Bill)
“We bought most of our food and clothing from the plantation stores and, if our families
were short of cash, credit would be provided. Some children were born at home, but most
of us were born in and treated for our illnesses at the plantation hospital.”
“We were entertained (in a) recreational building provided by the plantation. Our young
people, especially the males, enjoyed the ballparks provided – again – by the plantations. …
(W)e worshiped in church building provided by plantation management for the large
groups who worshiped and conducted religious instruction in the language of their
members.” (Nagtalon-Miller)
While the public schools in the rural areas of Hawaii were not under direct control of
plantation management, they were looked upon as an extension of the plantation because
virtually every child had parents who worked on the plantation.
School principal and teachers were often included in the social milieu of the plantations
hierarchy, and school program tended to represent middle-class American values of hard
work and upward mobility, which have motivated second generation children from the
early 1930s to the present.
Although immigrants did not own their own homes or lots (everything was owned by the
plantations, which provided for most of their needs), our families were largely content with
this economic support system. In any case, for most people there was no alternative.
Most laborers had little or no schooling. We lived in groups where language and cultural
values were shared. While wages were meager, women took in laundry, made and sold
ethnic foods, and did sewing to supplement their husbands’ pay, and many people were
able to send money regularly to parents, siblings, or wives and children who remained in
the Philippines, enabling them to buy property or nance an education. (Nagtalon-Miller)
“The plantation took care of us. The plantation was everybody’s mom over here. They held
us. I mean, you had plantation life, and then you get the real world. And we were so
sheltered.” (Dardenella Gamayo, Pa‘auhau resident; UH Center for Oral History)
Make no mistake; life on the plantation was hard.
2/28/2019 Plantation Camps | Images of Old Hawaiʻi 4/9
Sugar plantation at Hana,
Sugar mill at Wailuku, MauiS00028-1880s
Portuguese family HC&S Co.’s
Spanish B Camp in Pu’unene in
the 1930s-Adv
Plantation manager’s home,
Waianae, Oahu-S_00038-1885
Plantation housing for sugar
Onomea sugar plantation,
Hamakua Coast, Hawaii
McGerrow Camp in Pu’unene
(circa 1960) was home to HC&S
Lihue PlantationState_Archives-1885
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© 2016 Hoʻokuleana LLC
2/28/2019 Plantation Camps | Images of Old Hawaiʻi 5/9
Hakalau sugar plantation,
Hawaii Island-PP-28-11-007-
C. Brewer’s Honolulu
plantation mill (1898-1946)
Aiea, Oahu, ca. 1910
Japanese sugar plantation
laborers at Kau, Hawaii IslandS00039-1890
Sugar Plantation workers
eating lunch from their Kau
Kau Tin
Puerto Ricans in the elds on
Maui, circa 1920
University of Hawaii students
sit together to show the ethnic
dierences of Hawaii’s
population in 1948-NPR
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Filed Under: Economy, General Tagged With: Economy, Hawaii, Plantation Camps, Sugar
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Charlotte Hepler says
January 29, 2016 at 7:51 am
I appreciate all the photos you provide for you stories. Thanks for sharing.
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