Day 11: Journey to Waipahu
I wasn't sure what to do with my one weekend alone on Oʻahu. I had originally thought that I might take The Bus all around the island, to the leeward and windward coasts and to the north shore, all in one big loop.
But you know what, after riding the bus everyday for five days all week, going to and from the archives, I couldn't stand the thought of spending at least four hours on the bus just to do a complete circle around the island. Too much bus riding!
So instead I decided to take a different but still rather big journey—but not too big—and make my way to the leeward side of Pearl Harbor, to the old sugar plantation town of Waipahu. First stop, Hawaiʻi's Plantation Village.
Looking down upon a section of Hawaiʻi's Plantation Village, Waipahu, Oʻahu
The bus ride took a little over one hour on the A Express line from UH-Mānoa to Waipahu. Along the way I got to see the communities that ring the mauka (upland) side of Pearl Harbor, but only in fleeting moments did I catch glimpses of the harbor itself. I noticed that the communities around Pearl Harbor switch quickly between trim and orderly U.S. military gated communities and then some more rough-and-tumble neighborhoods.
Waipahu used to be a rural plantation community. But it is certainly not that today. It's more suburban-like, crisscrossed with endless strip malls and highways, but with lots of quiet residential streets hidden in the background. The Plantation Village is off the main highway in a more quiet part of town. I was told that the sugar industry on Oʻahu (and here locally at Waipahu, too) finally collapsed in the 1990s (although it had been in decline for many decades before that).
This place was once a plantation; workers and their families lived onsite and harvested cane. But what is left today is hardly representative of what was left behind. Instead, the Plantation Village has made a concerted effort to tell stories of an earlier time, roughly the early twentieth-century, and to do so they have rearranged and reproduced a whole series of buildings along a "main street," as if to compress time and space and all of Hawaiian labor history into one walkable narrative! And you know what? For the most part, this actually works quite well.
To see the Plantation Village, you must take a guided tour. I was lucky enough to be led by an extremely knowledgeable and friendly guide named Ken. I was a bit late and missed the first ten minutes of the tour, so I missed his introduction. But I got the impression that this history was also personal history for him—that his family members had lived and worked on sugar plantations like this one perhaps one, two, three generations before him.
Our guide Ken talking about a Portuguese bread oven behind him. Tens of thousands of Portuguese laborers came to Hawaiʻi in the late nineteenth century, bringing all kinds of traditions that are now part of common Hawaiian heritage, like the ʻukulele.
I missed the first house on the tour, which spoke to Chinese migrant workers' experiences. The Chinese were the first migrant workers recruited for the sugar plantations. Hundreds came in the 1850s and 1860s (as I discuss in the final chapter of my dissertation), but the real tidal wave of Chinese labor came after the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi and the United States signed a Treaty of Reciprocity in 1875. The treaty removed U.S. tariffs on Hawaiian sugar, and Hawaiʻi's sugar boom took off from there, including the displacement of Native Hawaiian workers by tens of thousands of imported Chinese workers.
One thing I liked about the Plantation Village was that it did not just preserve residential buildings, but outer buildings and structures, too, like the Portuguese bread oven (above), and this view of an alleyway with an outhouse (below):
Alleyway with outhouse at Hawaiʻi's Plantation Village, Waipahu
On our tour we kept returning to the topic of food. And fittingly so, for when so many different migrant workers of different ethnicities came together on the plantations, one of the ways they bridged their differences was through the sharing of food. Most people are familiar with Hawaiʻi's famous "plate lunch," and how it represents the legacies of such intercultural dietary exchanges. Our guide showed us two different lunch pails (below). One was brought over from Portugal (if I remember correctly); the other represents the more common Hawaiian plantation lunch pail. I don't know anything about Portuguese history and culture, but their pail—with its five equally sized trays—reminds me of Spanish tapas. The Hawaiian pail, with one big tray and one small tray, basically represents the East Asian legacy on Hawaiian foodways: whatever you eat, you eat it with a big heap of rice. (In many ways, in the late nineteenth century, rice replaced poi in this way. You can even see this in the archival sources, how as planters moved from preferring Native Hawaiian labor to Chinese labor, the market for poi slowly disappeared while rice rose to a state of "new normal.")
Kitchenware in the Portuguese migrant worker's home at Hawaiʻi's Plantation Village. The "Old World" lunch pail is on the bottom shelf at left; the "New World" lunch pail is on the middle shelf at left.
While Chinese labor was seen as a "cure all" for cane planters (and even by the Hawaiian Kingdom which highly promoted the "coolie trade") in the 1870s and 1880s, public opinion turned against the Chinese at some point in the 1880s. Since my dissertation only goes up to the year 1876, I'm not as familiar with what happened in the next decade, but for some reason Chinese migration slowed—in fact, thousands returned home to China—and the Kingdom turned its eyes towards Japan. I have the feeling that the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act in the United States, and the general fear of a "Yellow Peril" across the world at that time, bled over into Hawaiian politics and racism. And even though tens of thousands of able-bodied Hawaiian men and women were still available, planters kept looking elsewhere. Anyway, the end result is still clear to us today. While tens of thousands of Chinese were recruited in the 1870s and 1880s, hundreds of thousands of Japanese came over in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—and this is why people of Japanese descent are still today one of the largest ethnic groups in the Hawaiian Islands.
Inside a Japanese migrant worker family's home at Hawaiʻi's Plantation Village. As our guide explained, Japanese migrants to Hawaiʻi continued to prefer sitting on the floor even decades after arriving in Hawaiʻi. (And, so did many Native Hawaiians, too, prefer the floor; as late as the mid-nineteenth century evidence shows that many Hawaiians preferred to rest on mats on the floor rather than use European-style furniture. When and why that changed, I'm not sure.)
Our guide explained that this was an invention that arose out of the intercultural hybridity on the plantations. The device heats up two bottles of sake while at the same time heating up a frying pan (for eggs or meat or whatever)!
An early twentieth-century Japanese temple at Hawaiʻi's Plantation Village
After a few decades of Japanese migration, Hawaiʻi's next big wave of migrants came in the early twentieth century from a then-colony of the United States: the Philippines. Hundreds of thousands of Filipino/as came to Hawaiʻi following the Philippine-American War (aka the Philippine War of Independence, which failed, unfortunately, because our country so brutally put down the Filipino/as who were fighting for their sovereignty.) Today, people of Filipino/a descent in the Hawaiian Islands may just be the most represented of all ethnic groups, just above those of Japanese descent. (I've seen different numbers on this. But these two ethnicities are definitely the top two groups in the Islands today. More than people of Hawaiian descent, sadly.)
Filipino men's boarding house at Hawaiʻi's Plantation Village, Waipahu
Inside the Filipino men's boarding house
One of the problems with the Plantation Village, of course, is that it represents a mythic spatiality: as if the Chinese workers lived next to the Japanese workers who lived next to the Portuguese workers who lived next to the Filipino workers. In reality, Hawaiʻi's plantations generally kept each ethnic group segregated in their own "camps." This is why the history of labor organizing on the plantations is such an incredible story, because different ethnic groups—especially the Japanese and the Filipinos—had to find a way to come together and work together in order to pull off a successful strike. It was in the planters' interests to pit ethnic groups against each other, to make them hate each other. It was labor's challenge to develop a new way of thinking about race, to create a space where different ethnic groups could come together to see themselves as a "class."
Speaking of labor, I was interested to see a reproduction of a plantation manager's office:
Plantation Manager's Office, Hawaiʻi's Plantation Village, Waipahu
Here is finally where archival research meets material culture. That book on the plantation manager's desk would have had the names of workers in it, and their cash accounts. (At least in the 1860s and 1870s that is what it was like.) Workers were kept perpetually in debt. (Across the "street" at the Plantation Village is the ubiquitous plantation store. On payday, the store would hope to attract the workers to spend all their money on material goods. And when it wasn't payday, they sold things to the workers on credit anyway. Their modus operandi was debt, debt, debt.) In terms of the worker accounts I've read of Native Hawaiian cane workers in the 1860s and 1870s, a good 90% of them were always in debt. Since they were contract workers—bonded to serve their plantation "masters" for generally twelve months at a time—many of them were basically forced into resigning their contracts year after year because they were in debt to the company.
As our tour wrapped up, I wondered: "well, what about the Hawaiians?" We had looked carefully at the stories of many immigrant groups, but what about Native Hawaiians who worked on the sugarcane plantations? What of their story? Behind the Plantation Village's "main street" are a few grass hale (houses) built in the traditional Hawaiian style. But do they really represent the material cultural story of Hawaiians' experiences of plantation labor? How many Hawaiian cane workers in the 1850s and 1860s lived in grass hale? None as far as I've seen in the archival record. So, unfortunately, while all other ethnic groups are shown as contributing to the multicultural birth of modern Hawaiian society as we know it, the Native Hawaiians here are almost represented as the antithesis of that, as a people trapped in time, destined to be forgotten and never of much value to the archipelago's economic/social/cultural history in the first place.
But, perhaps ironically, the ecosystem at Hawaiʻi's Plantation Village today is more "Hawaiian" than anything else. I saw not a single stalk of cane on my visit there. Instead, we saw kukui nut trees and loʻi kalo (taro paddies). It's as if when the sugar industry died here in the 1990s the Hawaiian agro-ecology sprouted back up in its place, as if to say, "Hey. We never left."
Loʻi kalo (taro paddy) rather than mahi kō (cane plantation) at Hawaiʻi's Plantation Village, Waipahu
Overall, I had a wonderful time on my visit to the Plantation Village. It was nice to actually see some labor history rather than just reading about it in the archives! From there I wandered down the road about a mile until I got a great lunch at Poke Stop. I'd say between the Plantation Village and Poke Stop that Waipahu definitely deserves a day's visit by anyone spending more than just a few days on the Island of Oʻahu.
For me, this was my eleventh day. After the long bus ride back to Mānoa, I then decided to explore that part of Mānoa mauka (upland) of the university. So around dusk I wandered up there, beyond the university, to East Mānoa Road. I found a Korean BBQ joint. Since I don't eat meat, I'm not sure why I decided to stop there. But I got a dish called "fish jun," along with sides like kimchee and mac salad, plus a kalo-flavored bubble tea, and there you go: another uniquely "Hawaiian" meal. :)
Day 12: Sticking around Mānoa...and Translating
Day 12 was Sunday. I couldn't stand to take another big journey, not like the day before. So I slept in, past 9 AM. That was nice. Then I did Hawaiian-to-English translations all morning. Specifically, I was working on translating Hawaiian-language materials that I had found in the archives the week before. As I encountered the materials in the archive, I was able to understand them enough (without a dictionary or anything) to know if they'd be useful. One, I could tell, was a transfer of property—a deed. Another was a contract or receipt for a project that a Hawaiian was carrying out on behalf of a sugar company. All these Hawaiian-language documents, from the 1850s and the 1860s, were evidence that haole-run plantations and plantation companies still relied heavily on Native Hawaiians for land and labor in that period, and to get either of those things, they needed to negotiate and bargain, and sometimes they had to do that in ka ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi (the Hawaiian language)! Interesting stuff, no?
Around lunchtime I wandered makai (seaward) back to that health food store, Down to Earth. I sat outside and had a big lunch of vegan food and also a drink made of Kona Red coffee fruit juice (not the bean juice, which is what we call "coffee," but the juice of the fruit that surrounds the coffee bean). It was weird.
Wandering mauka to campus, I decided to stop at the university's John Young Museum of Art. It houses a fascinating collection: mostly ancient Chinese art, with an especially good selection of materials from the early dynasties, like Shang, Zhou, Han. They also have a good selection of Buddhist art from across Southeast Asia: Cambodia, Thailand, Burma. In a back room is a much smaller hodge-podge exhibition of American, African, and Oceanian art. (Reminds me of the Met museum in NYC where they crowd together American, African, and Oceanian art all into one department. They should just go ahead and call it "Third World Art" if they are going to continue to throw all of these amazing and distinct artistic traditions together into one big heap.)
Anyway, the stop at the museum paid off because I ended up having a very long conversation with a curator there. We talked about life in Honolulu vs. life on the mainland, talked a bit about our respective research interests, the politics of studying indigenous societies/histories/cultures, et cetera. It was a very productive and heart-warming conversation. And I realized, upon walking back to Hale Mānoa, that it was probably the first conversation I had had with a real person in about 48 hours! ;)
And so that was my Day 12. I went back to my dorm room and continued working on my Hawaiian translations. I had brought other materials with me from New York. I had especially planned to spend my "down time" here working on writing my dissertation. I thought I might polish up a draft chapter on the history of sandalwood extraction. The reality is that I haven't had a "down" moment since I got here. Archival research is actually exhausting! My brain never stops flying around in a middle different directions these days (and restless nights). I just cannot think about writing right now...
I brought some books, too, including E.P. Thompson's nearly 1,000-page-long Making of the English Working Class. I thought I'd have lots of time to read the thing while in Hawaiʻi. Ha!
And so the sunset on Day 12, and Day 13 and a whole new week of archival research was just around the corner. I wish I could say I went to bed early, but I did not. When I awoke, it was Monday, and the story picks up next with the last post in this adventure, which will discuss my final week of research in Hawaiʻi.
Mahalo for reading!