We shared quite a bit over the last month about the island of Maui however, this week I thought I would bring it home to Kauai. We all like to think that our “home” island is the best in the island chain but I am certain that mine is. Growing up in the Appalachia Mountains and then moving to New York City, I have been fortunate to live in natural beauty as well as thrive in a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities. The beautiful Garden Isle of Kauai is the combination of both. Kauai has landscapes that you can only dream of and when merged with the historical sugar plantations of the past it creates the most spectacular and diverse “home” ever.
If you are wondering how this wonderful combination of heritage happened on little Kauai – here is my friends. The first commercial sugarcane plantation was started in Koloa, Kauai on July 29, 1835. Ladd & Company obtained a 50-year lease on nearly 1,000-acres of land and established a plantation and mill site in Koloa. It was soon to change the face of Kaua‘i (and Hawai‘i) forever, launching an entire economy, lifestyle and practice of monocropping that lasted for over a century.
Koloa Plantation set other standards that endured throughout the islands for over 100-years. Plantation life established an entire community for its workers. In addition to the plantation-owned general store, housing was provided as well. Barrack-type buildings or individual homes had space for workers to plant a garden. The company dairy sold milk to plantation workers. Medical services were even provided. The plantations were cities unto themselves employing the majority of island labor force, providing housing, transportation, entertainment and later even electricity to the residents of Kauai through the power generated at their sugar mills.
Beginning in the 1850s, as the sugar industry grew and plantations began to multiply throughout Hawaii, plantation owners—many tracing their ancestry to English and American missionary families—began importing contracted laborers from outside the Islands to supplement Hawaiian laborers. By the early 20th century, thousands of laborers from China, Portugal, Japan, the Philippines, Korea, Puerto Rico and Okinawa had moved to the Islands, completed their sugar plantation contracts and elected to stay.
Chinese laborers, who began arriving in the Islands a half-century before most other ethnic groups, were the first to fulfill their contracts and leave the plantations, collectively creating one of Hawaii’s first middle classes, founding banks and their own businesses. The Portuguese eventually contributed to the growth of Hawaii’s ranching industry, working as paniolo (cowboys).
There were three big waves of workforce immigration:
Several smaller, but substantial, migrations also occurred:
•Puerto Ricans 1900
As you can see, the sugar industry is at the center of Hawaii’s modern diversity of races and ethnic cultures. Of the nearly 385,000 workers that came, many thousands stayed to become a part of Hawai‘i’s unique ethnic mix. Hawai‘i continues to be one of the most culturally diverse and racially integrated places on the globe. This blending of cultures in such close geographic quarters has ultimately influence many of the things we consider uniquely Hawaii—from the many multi-ethnic foods we eat (so very ono), fashions we wear and businesses we frequent to the liberal politicians we elect, fellow residents we befriend and families we raise. This is why Kauai is “home”.
Back to the story, although there was much made progress on the plantation, Ladd & Co. could no longer continue and the plantation was sold at auction to Grove Farm Company for $3,600. When Grove Farm Company closed their businesses; McBride Sugar Plantation purchased most of Koloa Plantation’s cane lands, the Koloa Mill and factory when in 1996 it finally closed forever. Today, most of the land has been converted to cultivating coffee.
Each year we now honor the heritage of the sugar culture with Koloa Plantation Days festival. The festival is a chance for you to immerse yourself in Kauai’s rich diversity. The event is held every July on the sunny South Shore of the island. Located in the area where Hawaii’s first sugar plantation was founded, Koloa Plantation Days comprises a lively, family-oriented slate of events that showcase the area’s social history, its natural history, and its diverse cultural traditions. In addition, numerous events allow attendees to enjoy the sports activities and entertainment available at the gracious resorts in the Poipu and Koloa area. Most events are outdoors and free of charge.
This special event celebrates the immigrants who came from Philippines, Europe, the Azores, Japan, Korea, China, and elsewhere who contributed traditions, music, dances, and foods to the rich melting pot that is Hawaii. You can experience these cultures throughout the week from the first walk down Hapa Trail and a rodeo weekend featuring paniolo culture, through a variety of live music events and cultural performances, a historic exhibit and film night, craft fairs, culinary demonstrations and tasting events, Polynesian revue, and the historic parade and park celebration which brings all these elements together.
Koloa Plantation Days also celebrates the present-day vitality of Koloa and Poipu, a major visitor destination on Kauai. Resorts and businesses welcome visitors and residents to enjoy guided walks and talk stories; outdoors sports and a variety of themed keiki (children) activities, live music and celebrations, and play golf and tennis. Everyone can also watch top rodeo competitors from the state and mainland.
In conclusion, culture and heritage goes hand in hand with the beauty of the island. Kauai is not only created from volcanic eruptions, wind, rain and oceans but also from the passion and love of the people who live and have lived here. You experience culture in ways that only others could imagine and are greeted and embraced with true Hawaiian aloha. Who would have thought the sweetness of sugar would create a bold spice of life? Come to visit us on Kauai.
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