Sunday, January 13, 2013

Hawaiʻi Research Adventure: Days 6-10

As you might remember, on the evening of Day 5 of this research adventure we flew back to the island of Oʻahu from Hawaiʻi, and we spent the evening in a crummy hostel in Waikīkī. And then we awoke to...

Day 6: The Hawaiʻi State Archives

First-things-first, we transfered to a different hostel in Mānoa that morning and then hit up our favorite coffeeshop in all of Oʻahu, Coffeeline.

After some great coffee, and a filling breakfast, I got on the 4 Bus from Mānoa headed downtown.

Upon arrival—already one and a half hours past due to begin my research!—I couldn't find the State Archives building. First I walked up to an old-looking building that had the word "Archives" chiseled into stone above the front doorway. "This has got to be it." But it wasn't. Maybe it used to be, but after wandering through hallways there, a nice state employee inside told me that I was in the wrong place. "See that building over there," she said, pointing out through her window, "that's the one, where all those people are huddled on the walkway."

And so I walked over to that building, the Kekāuluohi Building, where homeless people loiter on the walkway, protected from the sun and rain by the building's overhang and otherwise sheltered by the security of being on the grounds of the famous ʻIolani Palace.

Entrance to the Hawaiʻi State Archives, Kekāuluohi Building, ʻIolani Palace Grounds

I found the archives easy to use and the staff incredibly friendly and helpful. I was able to request records weeks in advance that I wanted to look at, and they were ready to use when I arrived. In fact, one of the archivists there remarked, "We almost thought you weren't going to come," because I had arrived ninety minutes late to my appointment! (That's because of the screw-up with our hostel, and the fact that we had to migrate from Waikīkī to Mānoa that morning...And, of course, our "slow food" breakfast at Coffeeline didn't get me to the archives any faster! Ah, but all was well in the end.)

I spent the morning looking at the customs records of the Hawaiian Kingdom. The documents I examined were generally from the 1850s and 1860s. I looked at Shipping Articles, basically forms that the Hawaiian government used to keep tabs on Hawaiian migrant workers. Every Hawaiian who bonded himself to a foreign ship or company had to put his mark (usually an "X") next to his name on the form. By doing so he consented to whatever was said on the form, including the amount of time he contracted his labor for (usually not more than twelve months) and the wages due him. The forms were bilingual, but interestingly the ones I consulted were almost exclusively used only in English. So you wonder, of course, whether all these Hawaiian men signing their "X"s next to their names really fully understood what they were signing.

This was the infamous age of contract or "coolie" labor in the Pacific Ocean. We know the story well concerning Chinese migrant workers—the "coolies," as they were called. They often bonded themselves to specific companies for terms of seven years, and if they broke their contracts they were arrested and sent back to work. If they ended their term of service in debt, they were forced to renew the contract. It was a system second only to slavery in its exploitation. (Of course wage labor itself is exploitative, as I have suggested well enough in my "Occupy" posts on this blog, but contract labor is worse.)

The Hawaiian Kingdom imported its own Chinese contract "coolie" workers. But the first contract laborers in Hawaiʻi were not Chinese; they were Hawaiian. Following the passage of the Masters and Servants Act by the Hawaiian legislature in 1850, Hawaiian men could now sign contracts to bind themselves to foreign ships and companies with the permission of the Hawaiian government. Not only that, but they could bind themselves to local planters and firms, too.

Anyway, I found interesting stuff in the archives! 

For lunch, I headed down to the Fort Street Mall (or general area) where I found a non-meat veggie hot dog (made of wheat and soy) and smothered it with coconut relish and guava mustard. Wow, what a hot dog! Only in Hawaiʻi. Some chips and fresh lemonade on the side made it a "combo deal," which appears to be the kind of lunch popular among Honolulu's downtown office worker crowd. Thanks, Hula Dog!

I ate my Hula Dog lunch on the grounds of ʻIolani Palace, looking at the palace and the bandshell and the barracks, all of which date to the late nineteenth century, a period when Hawaiʻi was an independent Kingdom, "and what a great country it must have been!" I thought to myself.

Between ʻIolani Palace and the Archives, huge banyan trees

I spent the rest of the afternoon looking at more customs records. Then back on the bus to Mānoa to meet up with my wife. That evening we walked down to the neighborhood of Mōʻiliʻili for a huge dinner at Da Kitchen. She had chicken katsu and I had a huge "plate lunch" (even though it was dinner time, it is sometimes still called "lunch") of fried mahimahi. Lots of mac salad, too (macaroni salad), which has, at some point since the period of history that I study, become one of the staple food groups in "Hawaiian" food. (On what I mean by "Hawaiian" food, remember that on Day 1 of this adventure I offered all my caveats on what this means.)

It was a great dinner. My only regret was that we were way too full to try the haupia (coconut and arrowroot/cornstarch pudding...yum!).

Day 7: Back to the Hawaiʻi State Archives

We went back to Coffeeline in the morning for our usual. Then I got on the A Express bus, which I learned is much faster than the other buses. The A bus only stops about seven or eight times between the University and downtown. Now I could get downtown in just twenty minutes, and this time I was only about thirty minutes late to the archives! (Getting the hang of this...) :)

I started the morning with the same materials I had been looking at the day before. But by lunchtime I had become tired of looking at these records. They are forms, as I said. And so every document is exactly the same except for the names of the Hawaiian migrant workers listed on these forms. I started to get bored...and actually a little worried. I asked myself, "What do I really want to know from these records?" I had generally been recording everything I thought interesting about each form: sometimes the names of the migrant workers, sometimes their wages, sometimes where they were going. But what was I going to do with all this data? 

This is essentially the whole problem with doing archival research. You can transcribe absolutely everything you read if you want, but in the end you won't use any more than just a small percentage of that material in your dissertation. And you just spent way too much time writing every little thing down instead of focusing on what was most important! (Frustrating.) But what actually is "important" to your study changes over time as you learn new things and learn to ask different questions of the same material. These are all good arguments for photographing the material in the archives. That way, years down the road when your perspective on the materials has transformed, you can look at the documents again (on your computer) and ask new questions. Unfortunately, I'm a romantic conservative when it comes to things like this. So I generally don't photograph archival material. Rather, I like to feel it in my fingers, to linger over the words as I read them, to jot down notes as they come to me, and then put the documents away. I use intuition to determine what is important or interesting. And I try to use foresight... but in reality, I know that I can always come back here in the future and keep looking if I want or need to. (Now, advisors and folks like that say that this is essentially false: that you can never count on making it back to the archives, so you have to do your very best on the first try. But I am a hopeless romantic! I can't not imagine coming back here to Hawaiʻi again and again!) And in the event that I asked all the wrong questions this time around, at least I asked them with true sincerity and passion and joy and wonder. For me, that's all that matters.

Anyway, by lunch time on Day 7, I had pretty detailed notes on at least 60 different situations where Hawaiian workers were recruited to travel abroad as contract laborers in the 1860s. What I will do with this data is a question left for much later, when I actually write the dissertation!

For lunch I had my leftovers from Da Kitchen. I sat outside ʻIolani Palace once again, and daydreamed. Then back in the archives I began to look at a different collections. These were government records related to Hawaiian migrant workers, same as before, but offering other information, like who was arrested for desertion, how long they were imprisoned, and who they were released to. Since these were folks breaking their labor contracts they were of course always sent back to work, sometimes to the same employer, sometimes transfered to another employer. I also started to see some records here in Hawaiian, rather than in English, and being able to at least roughly translate and understand what I was reading, I felt incredibly thankful for the past two years of language study and to my teacher! Otherwise, if I did not know Hawaiian, I can only imagine that when coming across these materials I would have just skipped them and looked for the next English-language document. Now that's not a good way to do historical research, is it?

That evening I headed back to Mānoa. This was my wife's last night in Hawaiʻi and we had planned something special. We were going to Alan Wong's, the fanciest restaurant in all of Oʻahu. But first I had to check in to my new lodgings for this adventure: Hale Mānoa, a dormitory at the East-West Center on the campus of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

My room, so quickly messed up(!), at Hale Mānoa, East-West Center, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

I am glad for the opportunity to stay at the East-West Center. Because I am here doing doctoral research, I had applied to the center's housing department for access to lodging for the last ten nights of my trip. They were able to offer me this nice room for under $30 a month. For a graduate student traveling halfway around the world, housing like this is a huge help! They give you a desk and a small bed, plus a closet (for all my aloha shirts!), a fan (much needed), and internet access. And I am lucky enough to be on the ninth floor with views of Waikīkī and Diamond Head out my window. (You can also see in the photograph above, near the fan, the lei that my wife made for me on her last day on Oʻahu. She has so much aloha. How could I not love her?)

That night we spent a fortune at Alan Wong's, but the food was amazing. (No wonder it is President Obama's favorite restaurant!) After dinner we walked back to Mānoa and my wife took a taxi to the airport. All alone, sadly, I put my huge backpack on my back and transfered my stuff in the rain and in the dark to Hale Mānoa on the other side of campus.

Day 8: The Bishop Museum

The next morning I woke at 7 AM and took some photographs around Hale Mānoa.

Hale Mānoa, a huge dormitory at the East-West Center, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. I live on the ninth floor of this building.

The view makai (seaward) from the ninth floor of Hale Mānoa. In the foreground are university buildings. In the distance is Waikīkī, and at left is the rim of Diamond Head, an extinct volcano.

 The view mauka (mountainward) from the ninth floor of Hale Mānoa. In the foreground is the university. Further beyond is the neighborhood of Mānoa and the Mānoa Valley. And a beautiful rainbow, too!

I took the bus downtown again, to spend the morning at the state archives where I continued to look at customs records from the Hawaiian Kingdom. Around 11:30 AM I packed up my things and bid aloha to the archives, for I had a 1 PM appointment at the Bishop Museum Library. So I grabbed another bus, the 2 bus, and rode out to School Street. But before reaching the Bishop Museum I made sure to get off at the best lunch place in all of Oʻahu, Helena's Hawaiian Food

Last time we were in Hawaiʻi—in 2010—we had our first "Hawaiian" food (and here I mean traditional Hawaiian food) at Helena's. It was here we first experienced ahi poke, ʻopihi, poi, and haupia! Yum, yum, yum. We also had lomilomi salmon (traditional, yes, but only back as far as the early nineteenth century when the first salmon was introduced to Hawaiʻi thanks to the Hawaiian migrant workers laboring in Oregon!). This time I grabbed some ahi poke with ʻopihi and a large poi. I took my food down to the lawn of the Bishop Museum for a little picnic.

Picnic lunch from Helena's Hawaiian Food: (clockwise from top) a large poi, a tub of haupia and raw onions, a little bit of spicy sauce, and ahi poke with ʻopihi. In the middle of it all, a little packet of ʻalaea salt.

I wished to have a little more poke and a little less poi—next time I will order the "small" rather than the "large" poi! But otherwise, nothing beats Helena's, especially eating it on the lawn outside the Bishop Museum.

Inside, at 1 PM, I got to work looking at a collection of correspondence to and from a guano company agent from the 1860s. I found lots of interesting stuff therein, including many references to the Hawaiian migrant workers who labored on equatorial guano islands south of Hawaiʻi. The Bishop Museum Library is currently undergoing a revision, so they only have very limited hours for research. I was there for just three hours, and I felt I barely scratched the surface of the material worth looking at. Anyway, the folks there were very nice and helpful, and I plan to return again next week for more research.

Ideally I would have wandered around the Bishop Museum, especially to their Hawaiian Hall, perhaps the premier exhibition of Hawaiian material culture in the world, but I had to head back to Mānoa, and the bus ride took nearly one hour.

Now living by myself on campus I had to figure out ways to feed myself. They have kitchens here at Hale Mānoa, but I have generally found myself running around too much to use them. Instead I grab coffee and a muffin at Starbuck's on campus in the morning—yuk! (and what an insult to all the coffee growers here in Hawaiʻi who make such good coffee. I'm Sorry! ...). Finding dinner is even harder, since most of the retail eateries on campus close down by the end of the afternoon. When we had visited Da Kitchen, however, in Mōʻiliʻili, I remembered passing a health food store. So Wednesday night I went back there. It's called Down to Earth foods, and is actually a really great place. They have a hot food bar with different vegan and vegetarian items everyday. It is almost $10 a pound, which is expensive, but it is good, tasty, healthy food. So I got a huge plate of vegan hot food, plus some of their vegan tapioca pudding (never had that before), and a most unusual drink: pure sugarcane juice mixed with coconut water. That's it. It is produced locally in Hawaiʻi with local sugarcane and coconut. What drink could be more Hawaiian (except for ʻava of course)? 

I carried all the food back to Mānoa for dinner.

Day 9: Hawaiian Mission Children's Society Library

Time to check out yet another archives. This morning I caught the same bus downtown, but instead walked back to Kawaiahaʻo Church, which we had visited on Day 1 of our research adventure. Behind the church is the Mission Houses museum. We had elected not to visit the museum on Day 1—I'm not particularly interested in church history, as I had made clear in my blog post—but adjacent to the museum is also an impressive library and archives operated jointly by the Hawaiian Historical Society (of which I am a member) and the Hawaiian Mission Children's Society.

I don't know much about the Hawaiian Mission Children's Society, but it sounds like it has an interesting history. Their website says the society was founded in 1852. That would be about ten years before the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), the New England-based organization that sponsored the mission to Hawaiʻi, officially ended the mission in 1863. Who were the "mission children"? They were the kamaʻāina (native-born, yet not really "native") descendants of the New England missionaries. As kamaʻāina, Hawaiʻi was their first home, and they felt a bit differently about their relationships to the Hawaiian Kingdom than their parents did. It is these "mission children," of course, who famously rose up in 1887, and then again in 1893, to overthrow the Hawaiian monarchy and establish their own haole-led republic (annexed by the United States in 1898). According to the society's website, they first opened up the Mission Houses museum in the 1920s. I guess once Hawaiʻi was colonized by the United States, the society's mission was basically to revisit the history of the missionaries and their descendants and try and explain how it was that they converted the "heathen" and brought civilization (and capitalism, and annexation) to this land. What a great story! (...tongue-in-cheek...)

The Mission Houses Museum, downtown Honolulu. These buildings date from the 1820s through the 1840s.

Anyway, no matter how you feel about the missionaries, there are some amazing historical resources to access here. I spent the morning looking at the business records of a major sugar company. I was impressed to find a variety of sources in these records in the Hawaiian language, proving that even as late as the 1850s and 1860s, Euro-American businessmen were forced to know and use the Hawaiian language in order to conduct business. That's interesting enough in itself. But the documents, too, hold gems, like receipts for labor performed by Hawaiians seeking compensation from the company and things like that.

I was also lucky enough to bump into an East Coast friend at the archives. For much of the day we were the only two researchers there: both East Coast haole studying Hawaiian history! Small world, eh? We grabbed lunch down the road at a sandwich place and talked shop about Hawaiʻi, history, dissertations, things like that. It was nice to have a conversation with someone about my research. Archives can be lonely places, so it is always recommended to talk to anyone who will listen to you blab on about your project! ;)

That afternoon I continued looking at these business records, focusing on just one plantation on Maui in the 1850s and 1860s. I am hoping that I will be able to paint a picture of what Hawaiian labor on this sugar plantation looked like during this period.

Anyway, after the archives closed at 4pm my friend and I went for a very long walk around Honolulu, from downtown to the Aloha Tower, then along the wharf to Ala Moana Park and from there to Waikīkī. We must have walked a couple of miles. But it was worth it because he introduced me to a little snack shack in Waikīkī where we got cheap (and big) poke bowls for dinner while watching dusk descend on the beach at Waikīkī. It was wonderful.

Day 10: The Hawaiian Collection at the Hamilton Library, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

Finally, after four days of riding the bus all over and around Honolulu, I spent Friday, Day 10 of my adventure, on campus. This allowed me to sleep in, until 8 AM (ha!), and then mosey on over to the Hamilton Library. In doing so I discovered that there are more places to get breakfast on campus. There is a little food court across from the library—my friend had told me about it. I got granola and soy milk, which seemed like a really "New York" meal, but it least it was better than Starbuck's! 

Around 9:30 AM I entered the Hamilton Library and proceeded up to the third floor to begin research in the archives. Wait...[walking around] I sure the Hawaiian Collection is on the third floor? I was wearing only an aloha shirt and khakis and I was starting to get very cold. See, the Hamilton Library is kept at a constant 50° fahrenheit throughout the day—at least that's what it feels like!—and so I was shivering, wandering around on the wrong floor of the library. I stepped back out and decided to return to Hale Mānoa to retrieve my sweater.

Sweater on, I returned for a second attempt...

The Hamilton Library at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

This time I went to the fifth floor. The right floor. The Hawaiian and Pacific Collection research room is a big room. There were few other students there throughout the day. Some were working on school projects. I overheard one student asking the reference librarian for more information about the ahupuaʻa land system in ancient Hawaiʻi. Another student wanted to locate photographs of second-generation Japanese in Hawaiʻi. I kept thinking to myself: I would love to have these students in my classroom and help them with their projects!

Anyway, my goal for the day was to use materials in the Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association Archives. The archives are a HUGE collection of materials from scores of Hawaiian sugar plantations from circa 1850 to the end of the twentieth century. For my project, though, I am only looking for materials up to 1876, of which there are only a few in this massive collection.

I began the morning looking at cash books / pay books from an early plantation on the island of Kauaʻi. These were interesting records. They listed the names of the workers on the plantation (and sometimes in the mill). First I just looked at attendance records which listed the names of the workers and which days each week they were present for. This is not a lot of data to work with, but the historian could, for example, use it to determine rates of truancy among workers. It is interesting, for example, to see that when some of the Hawaiian workers had missed work for over a week or so, that's when they were usually stricken from the payroll. Later records indicated information about the wages owed the workers. But what I found most interesting about the records was to see how the demographics of the workforce changed over time. One of the arguments in my dissertation is that after being an essential labor force across the Pacific for nearly a century up to the 1870s, it was during the 1870s that Hawaiians were pushed out of work. And this is apparent in the plantation records. I found in the records of one plantation that in the span of just about two years, Hawaiians went from being a large majority of the workforce (about 80%) to being a minority (under 50%), replaced mostly by Chinese but also by South Pacific Islanders, including more than a few with the surname "Bolabola." (from Borabora? Interesting stuff.)

For lunch I went to the food court outside the library and got a big "plate lunch" with rice and mac salad. I took my lunch to the Japanese Garden at the East-West Center for a picnic.

The Japanese Garden at the East-West Center, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

After lunch I returned to the archives to look at the records of a different plantation. In these records I found accountings of the financial status of individual Hawaiian workers. Pretty interesting (and sad) to see how the great majority of the Hawaiians on this plantation were perpetually in debt. So in debt, in fact, that when their one or two year contracts were up almost all of them renewed their contracts. Sometimes the employer was able to get an employee to renew his contract for a longer period of time by offering a slighter higher pay, say a raise from $11 per month to $12 per month.

The issue of pay is interesting. I was fully expecting to find that Hawaiian workers were paid differently than Chinese workers, for example. But instead I found that they were basically treated the same in terms of wages and advances. The only difference was how thrifty the Chinese workers were. From just a cursory glance at these records, it looked like Chinese cane workers in the 1870s were able to pay off their debts to the company much easier and faster than Hawaiian workers were. (Worst of all, however, were the few Japanese workers; all of them were in debt big time to the company!)

At 4 PM, literally shivering due to the cold of the Hamilton Library, I rushed out into the sun, went back to Hale Mānoa and changed into shorts and sandals, and walked back out into the sun to enjoy a little TGIF.

That evening I walked back to the health food store in Mōʻiliʻili and got dinner and more of that nifty cane juice. :)

As the sunset Friday evening, I had to figure out how I was going to spend my first weekend alone on Oʻahu. Well, that's a story for the next post in this research adventure.

As always, mahalo for reading!


  1. Hi,
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  2. Thanks for the "shout out," Kundan. Unfortunately, I barely have enough time to keep up this blog as it is!

    Wishing you the very best,