Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Driving through History, Part II

 Continuing where I left off, in Lāʻie, looking for lunch...

 ...this is a driving tour through Hawaiian history on the island of Oʻahu. I was lucky enough to get a car (named Constance) for the weekend so that I could explore the rest of the island (beyond Honolulu) for the first time.

I did not find lunch in Lāʻie—you might remember that I found a Polynesian McDonald's hale, and I decided to pass on that—so I backtracked a bit. I had passed a sign reading "Best Fish Tacos" a while back, so I drove back to Hauʻula and there I had some very good fish tacos!

From Hauʻula it was off north again, past Lāʻie, to Waimea Bay, famous for its surfing history and culture, but this being summer when the waves are dull, I did not see much surfing. The beaches at Waimea, however, were still jam-packed with cars and tourists and cars bumping into tourists. One section of the highway heading to Waimea was backed up for miles because so many people were standing around at one section of the beach taking photographs of a beached marine animal of some kind. (I didn't really catch what kind of animal this was, not wanting to "rubberneck" since that's what caused the traffic jam in the first place, you know!)

But the reason I drove to Waimea Bay was to visit the largest surviving heiau in all of Oʻahu: Puʻu o Mahuka Heiau. 

Puʻu o Mahuka Heiau, overlooking Waimea Bay

The view of Waimea Bay from Puʻu o Mahuka Heiau

As discussed in part one of this driving tour, heiau are Hawaiian religious temples. They are "temples," not "ruins." Although to be fair, the photograph above does not show what the heiau would have looked like prior to the abolition of the kapu system in 1819. Interpretive signage at the site suggested that multiple hale (buildings) were erected within the rock-rimmed frame of the site. There was even a twenty-foot-high tower made of kapa cloth. So what we see today are the "ruins" of that age, but still an active temple of religious significance. As with Ulupo Heiau (mentioned in the previous post), I cannot say with certainty when Puʻu o Mahuka Heiau was constructed, although in one book I read the 16th century. 

It's not just a very old heiau—possibly as much as five hundred years old—but also a very large one. The photograph above shows only the first of three terraces. The other two are overgrown with shrubbery, but you can still walk along the stone perimeters. The other photograph, showing the view of the bay from the heiau, makes clear the command that this temple site had over the Waimea Valley and Waimea Bay.

After the heiau, I decided to visit another sort of "ruin": a ruin of Hawaiʻi's industrial age: the last surviving sugar mill on Oʻahu. To do this I drove on, through Haleʻiwa—where I bought some souvenirs for friends back home—onto Waialua. The Waialua Sugar Mill closed in 1996, the final holdout in an industry that had once dominated Hawaiian politics and economy, from the 1870s well on into the twentieth century, at least until the age of mass tourism in the second half of the last century. In the intervening seventeen years since the Waialua mill closed, the town has apparently experienced quite an economic decline. 

I visited the old mill complex. It is now a shopping center, of sorts.

Part of the Waialua Sugar Mill complex

There is now a soap factory and store within this old industrial building. I did not discover what this building was used for in the sugar age, so if any readers know, I would be interested to hear your manaʻo!

I was happy to see this new utilization of the old sugar mill complex. It is a way to keep the buildings up—a way to keep the history alive. Of course, in the historical period I study—up to 1876—the big debate in Hawaiʻi was whether or not to even promote the sugar industry!—whether it was even a good thing for Hawaiʻi. Well, so much for that. Sugar was "king" for the next century, and then it died a slow death. It's final resting place on Oʻahu? Waialua. The murderer? My guess is corn syrup.

Then I got back on the road, and I was off to Central Oʻahu, to the town of Wahiawa, home of the Dole Plantation.

Entrance to the Dole Plantation, a sort of plantation "theme park" in Wahiawa

The Dole story is pretty easy to sum up. Daniel Dole came to Hawaiʻi as a Christian missionary in the early nineteenth century. He had two kamaʻāina sons—that means that they were born in the islands, although they were not Hawaiian—George and Sanford. George Dole went on to work in the sugar industry, before moving with his family to Southern California at the end of the nineteenth century. Sanford Dole was a judge in the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi and eventually an "overthrower" of the Kingdom—first via the Bayonet Constitution imposed on Kalākaua in 1887, and then in the overthrow of Queen Liliʻuokalani in 1893. He was then the first President of the Republic of Hawaiʻi, the revolutionary government that overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy. He was later the first Territorial Governor of Hawaiʻi under U.S. rule in 1900. And then there was James. James Dole was George and Sanford's cousin. He came to Hawaiʻi in 1900. Within a year he was growing pineapples on a small patch of land. Within a few decades his Hawaiian Pineapple Company was producing most of the world's pineapples! And that's the story of the Dole corporation. One big, bad family and their twisted relationship with the Hawaiian Islands.

But I came here to learn about pineapples, not Dole. I wanted to know about the labor and environmental conditions of pineapple production, both then and now. 

First, I took an audio-guided walking tour of the Dole Plantation "gardens."

Off to a promising start: an interpretive sign on the history of plantation labor...
 
...but then the rest of the garden tour focused on traditional Hawaiian ethnobotany, such as discussion of ki (ti) (pictured above) rather than discussion of "modern" Hawaiian men and women who worked for the Dole company.
 
Wauke (paper mulberry), traditionally used for making kapa (tapa; barkcloth): more ethnobotany
 
And pineapple of course! But nothing traditional here; pineapple is native to South America, not Hawaiʻi. The "Hawaiian Pineapple" was a modern invention of transnational capitalism.
 
Oh, what the heck. How could I resist taking this photograph of a chicken and lots of chicks strutting through the pineapple field? So cute.

The garden tour was enjoyable. But it was just the prelude to the main course: a trip on the Pineapple Express. (Choo-choo!)

The Pineapple Express, traveling through the Dole Plantation
 
The worst part of the twenty-minute Pineapple Express ride—you call twenty minutes "express"?—was having to listen to the happy-go-lucky narrator tell the whole story of James Dole and the Hawaiian Pineapple Company all over again. The best part was seeing the plantation landscape. We saw endless fields of pineapple (see photograph below), but also lots of other plants including a bit of sugar cane, some bananas, and much more.
Pineapples as far as the eye can see.
 
But there was one problem. Where were the people?! If this is a plantation, where were the laborers? I kept wondering, why are they growing all these plants if no one is harvesting them? A couple thoughts flashed through my brain. Perhaps they bring in the workers only after the last tourist has left for the day; they harvest the plants under the light of the moon and the stars, picking all the fresh pineapples that tourists will eat the next day at the gift shop / cafeteria. Or perhaps it just wasn't harvest season. But then I wondered: what are the politics of allowing tourists to ride a clumsy steam train through fields populated by real, hard-working plantation laborers? I doubt that people would find that very ethical. "Look at the workers in the fields, mommy! Glad we don't have to work like that!" But then again, to not show us the labor behind the plantations, aren't tourists just getting the wrong message about Dole? Tourists will go home thinking, "gee, Dole really is a fine corporation. They truly care about their workers—all twenty or so of them we saw working in the service/retail/security fields. Now those are 'fields' that workers don't have to do stoop labor in!"

So what's the answer? Oh wait... what's that?

Is that a plantation field hand on the left-hand side of this photograph that I snapped while steaming by on the Pineapple Express? Maybe there really were plantation laborers out there picking those pineapples!
 
Oh my! There's another.  Who is this man? Can we please stop the train and ask him some questions about the labor conditions on the plantation?

Oh, hello! That looks like hard work. Can I ask you a few questions about your work experience?
 
Somehow the Dole Corporation succeeded in making us feel not only that the plantation workers of old were pretty happy campers, but that they are likely even happier today because now they are all robots.

What's the problem here? The problem is that pineapples, just as with any other commodity, are made with labor. And capital, and management, and pineapples, of course, but also labor. Somehow labor was not a big part of the Dole story as they presented it. (And you have to keep in mind, this place is not a "museum"; it is an entertainment center managed by the very corporation whose history is being told. They have a big interest in telling the story the way they want to tell it!)
 
As for Hawaiian workers—the subject of my dissertation—I learned that yes, they worked for Dole in the early twentieth century (and maybe some still do today), but I didn't learn anything else about the character of their lives as Dole employees. Hawaiians only appeared here in the ethnobotanical "garden" tour; and they only appeared as "ancient," "traditional" Hawaiians. We learned about how Hawaiians traditionally use(d) plants such as ki, wauke, kalo, and other plants. But what about the relationships between Hawaiians and sugar? Hawaiians and coffee? Hawaiians and pineapple? The storyline here favors Hawaiian timelessness, but what we really need to hear is the story of Hawaiian dynamism and change, including Hawaiian workers' engagements and resistance with and against the Dole corporation as well as the larger capitalistic economy. But such a story would not match many tourists' idealistic, romantic notions of Hawaiians as a "premodern" people. But, I say, too bad! The status quo is a hurtful and oppressive type of romanticism—a very privileged romanticism, I should add—and it's got to stop.
 
But why am I so upset? Look at what I got to eat at the end of my tour!
 
Pineapple ice cream atop pineapple chunks, in a bowl and spoon made from pineapple "plastic." (Just kidding about that last part, although I wouldn't put it past Dole to figure out how to engineer that.)
 
After my sickeningly sweet snack, and after rubbing pineapple-scented hand lotion into my hands, I ran back to my car and hit the road one last time. The sun was setting—I had spent two hours at the Dole plantation—and it was time to drive home. The ride back to Honolulu was quick and easy. I stopped at Liliha Street to visit the 24-hour diner Liliha Bakery for dinner, and then I headed home to Mānoa.
 
This concludes my drive through Hawaiian history on the island of Oʻahu. I may get the chance to drive Constance again this upcoming weekend. If I do, I plan to head to the other side of Oʻahu, to the Waiʻanae coast, to explore more history. So stay tuned!

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