Sunday, February 20, 2011

Mapping Hawaiian Labor History

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about two seemingly mundane - but actually quite revealing - maps by Charles H. Judd, the luna (overseer) of a guano mining operation on Baker Island/Puakailima in the late 1850s. These maps were Judd's visual representations of what he hoped the Baker Island/Puakailima guano mining "workscape" might look like after some renovations.

One big problem with these maps, however, as discussed in the blog post, was that the maps were so loaded with Judd's own idiosyncratic, luna-centric perspectives, that it was hard to tease out any information at all about what life was like for the Hawaiian workers! Unfortunately, this seemed to be just another textbook example of how history can so often become a one-sided tale: the words, writings, pictures, objects, etc., of rich and powerful haole (foreign/white) men had been preserved (in this case by the Judd family itself, and then by the Bishop Museum), while the remnants of each worker's life became like a shovel-full of guano dust on a windy day - blown off into the great abyss of the Pacific Ocean never to be seen again!

But thankfully that's not the whole story! Hawaiian guano workers wrote letters home about their experiences. Indeed, their true-life stories of life and labor were published in many Hawaiian-language newspapers in Honolulu like Ka Hae Hawaii and Nupepa Kuokoa. In one such article I found a letter written by one of the guano workers living and working on Jarvis Island in the fall of 1859. This letter listed the names, wahinoho (addresses), and aina (lands/moku [districts]) of all 56 Hawaiians laboring there. Most of these names are incomplete, listing just given-names or surnames. That said, if some kind reader with a good grasp on Hawaiian names would like to tell me which (whether given or surname) is being used, I'd appreciate hearing your manaʻo! Many of the place names, too, reflect village names or valley names that have since - in the intervening 150 years - lost those ancestral titles. This is especially the case in Honolulu which has changed so much since the 1850s. Again, if any kind reader with a knowledge of historic neighborhoods, ahupuaʻa, or moku of any of the main islands would like to share information or clarifications with me, please do so! I need your help!

This undated photograph shows what appear to be the ruins of one of the railroads that was built in the late 1850s to transport guano from the center of the island to the wharf on the western shore. Large piles of unshipped guano appear as lumps in the center of the image.

Below is the map that I have made. But before you click on the link below the map - which will automatically transport you to the GoogleMaps page where the map is based (I encourage you to click into the GoogleMaps page rather than viewing the map on my blog) - please read these simple instructions below:

Begin by noticing the remote and distant location of the Hawaiian men's worksite - Jarvis Island (red marker) - on the equator.
Then feel free to zoom in on Hawaiʻi and explore each of the 56 workers' hometowns (blue markers) and stories...

And here are some final thoughts and questions before you begin exploring:

What is the use of a map like this? What does it tell us about Hawaiian labor history? That's an excellent question without any immediately satisfying answer. Personally, I find it fascinating that these 56 men came together to work at Jarvis from so many different regions; they came from a variety of valleys and villages from every corner of five different Hawaiian islands. Many men came from Honolulu, and that makes sense because they would have been most familiar with the business of the city, the notoriety of the Judds, and they might have even seen and known some of the workers who shipped out and returned year by year on whalers and on other American transpacific vessels. But why did men from Hawaiʻi, Maui, Molokaʻi, and Kauaʻi join this mission? Did they have prior contacts with the Judds? Or were they recommended as good laborers by other haole, perhaps sugar plantation owners? Or did they hear of the opportunity in Ka Hae Hawaii? Why would they leave their families for so many months - sometimes even years - to do such difficult and lonesome work thousands of miles away??

The answers to these questions remain obscure, as do the individual biographies of the great majority of these laboring men. But go ahead. Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine what they experienced. Imagine what it was like to leave home. To live on Jarvis Island. To (hopefully) return home...not all did.

Click on the link immediately below the map to enter the separate map page and begin:

View The Guano Laborers of Jarvis Island (1859) in a larger map

On the concept of the "workscape," see Thomas G. Andrews' excellent Killing for Coal: America's Deadliest Labor War (Harvard University Press, 2008).

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