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Koloa: An Oral History of a Kaua‘i Community

Labrador family at Stable Camp, Koloa
Labrador family at Stable Camp, Koloa, ca. 1935. Andres Labrador was responsible for the care of horses and mules used on the plantation. (Photo courtesy Andres Labrador.)

Koloa is located near the southern shore of Kaua‘i, approximately ten miles southwest of Lihu‘e. The first commercial sugar plantation in Hawai‘i was founded there in 1835.

“I started working (full time) September the first, 1939. In those days, you start working when you’re about twelve years old, during the summer. . . . And you start working ho hana (weeding). In those days, we didn’t have herbicide. No weed control or anything. Just the hoe.” —Louis Jacintho, Jr.

“I started to work on cut-cane field, you know, that loading. Hapai ko (carrying sugarcane). . . . We make the pile for the ones to load the cane on the car. And that one, I used to get dollar quarter one day. Not one hour, you know, one day. And that’s really hard work, but if I go to hoeing, seventy-five cents a day.” —Hanako Gushiken

“I wen (past tense marker) bring over there for shoes up the horse. And then, one horse, wild bugger, he scared over there. He no going inside the stall, eh? I wen grab the neck, I push, push, push, that horse. Oh boy, one time, he wen stand up. I better let go. . . . I no can hold. I bin (past tense marker) fall down, huh? He kick me. . . . I stay (in the state of) flying yet. Three rib wen broke.” —Andres Labrador

Union activity, which was gaining momentum in the late 1930s, was suspended during the war. In 1945, the Little Wagner Act was passed; it granted agricultural workers in Hawai‘i the right to collective bargaining.

“So, in a way, what I was thinking, our salvation in the plantation was that we could have a union. Because it was not a matter of wages and working conditions, but pride. . . . Because when you say you working for the plantation, you were pitied. That it was synonymous with one dollar a day and that you were living in one old plantation shack. So, union, to me, union is pride.” —Robert Kunimura

At the time of the interviews, Koloa, with its vast sugarcane acreage and then active sugar mill, continued to participate in the sugar industry (Koloa harvested its last sugar crop in September 1996). But it, together with the neighboring shoreline community of Po‘ipu, has experienced tremendous change since the 1960s. An undeveloped shoreline, sugarcane fields, and a quiet plantation town have been transformed by the construction of resort hotels, condominiums, and golf courses, and the appearance of upscale boutiques and restaurants catering to tourists and newcomers.

Some Koloa residents favor this stimulation of the community’s economy, citing improved job prospects for young people. Others express reservations about the influx of visitors and newly arrived residents, crowded streets and beaches, soaring property values, and the disruption of their rural, agricultural lifestyle.

“You know what they should do? They should change the law and make the people that get the money, buy property, build these magnificent houses, let them pay. Not us that born, raised on this island, live here forever, and we got to pay the high tax, too. Ho.” —Vivian Souza

“It’s my home. I always still feel that Koloa’s my home. After they built in there, it took me a long time to look on that side of the street. I’d always look the other way when I passed because I hated to see the old driveway with the royal palms that was all gone and just houses built in there.” —Florence Waterhouse Brandt


Link to audioHanako Gushiken remembers working in the sugar cane fields (.au sound file, 182K).

 

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