Fields of Cane
Regardless of the direction island visitors take from the airport they
find themselves driving for miles through Maui's waving fields of sugar
cane. On each side of most roads around the central valley, cane grows in
profusion and creates an image of lushness that disguises the reality of
the nearly desert-like climate which claims the leeward side of the
much of the one-hundred-fifty years between 1850 and the present sugar
cane has strongly influenced almost all phases of life on Maui and, for
that matter, all of Hawaii. The state's history has been largely molded
and formed by the crop and the people who grow it, tend it, and sell it.
sugar's heyday there were eleven plantations and several mills in Maui,
many thousands of acres of the island's land growing cane, and half the
population in some way involved with sugar. Now, after the scheduled
closure of AMFAC's Pioneer Mill in Lahaina at the end of the current
harvest in September, Maui's remaining sugar plantation, Hawaiian
Commercial and Sugar (HC&S), will operate the only two remaining sugar
cane mills in Maui (plantations and mills also still operate in Kauai).
beneficiary of countless mergers and acquisitions, HC&S operates mills
in Puunene and Paia to process the cane harvested from the firm's 37,000
acres (almost three times the size of Manhattan) of owned and leased lands
in Central Maui. The larger plant in Puunene operates on a year-around
basis and Paia Mill operates during the peak of the summer harvest season.
hail the closure of Pioneer Mill as a boon and wish HC&S would soon
follow suit. Critics cite the enormous clouds of red dust from tilling the
soil, and plumes of black smoke and tendrils of "Maui snow"
generated by the open-field harvest burning, as too damaging to the
environment and health of the population to continue. Others are saddened
to think how ugly the formerly irrigated and green fields and hillsides
will be and worry about what might take their place.
the 1960s when tourism and national defense began to compete for economic
superiority, sugar cane was the undisputed ruler. Cane was king, and
everyone knew it. And, while there has been a shift in the economic base
of the state, sugar interests still wield a considerable amount of
influence in the political and social structures of Hawaii in general, and
Maui County in particular, because of the industry's long history of
cane came to Hawaii over 1,000 years ago with the Polynesian voyagers who
found and settled the islands. Early Hawaiians chewed the stalk for its
sweetness, but there is no evidence that they actually made sugar.
ease with which it grows in the islands' mild tropical climate and rich
volcanic soil, combined with the availability of ample lands and water,
set off a hundred and fifty years of political manipulating, marketing
competition, and business dealings which literally created today's Hawaii.
Once an isolated and independent kingdom in the middle of the Pacific,
Hawaii, it's government, it's land and it's people were forged in a
whirlwind of ambition and intrigue which set the stage for today's sugar
industry and modern state.
is a saying here in the islands that the missionaries "came here to
do good, and stayed and did very well." They arrived in 1825 to
deliver the Christian religious message to the Hawaiians, but they and
their sons soon became powerful influences in virtually all matters, both
secular and religious. They acquired control of vast amounts of land,
developed sugar cane as a commercial product, and eventually helped usurp
the Hawaiian Kingdom's power and designed the course to the 1898
annexation by the United States. On its one hundredth anniversary in 1993
the Federal government apologized for the illegal government, church, and
individual actions which precipitated the bloodless 1893 overthrow of
Queen Liliuokalani's Kingdom. The apology also fueled the smoldering
desire of some who would like to reestablish the sovereignty of the old
the first continuous commercial sugar cane plantation and mill was
established in 1835 on Kauai. Cane had been grown and sugar made earlier
by smaller operations including Maui's Hungtai Co., which was set up by
Chinese founders in Wailuku in 1828.
became the old Hawaiian Kingdom's leading economic base just as the
whaling industry, which had proven so profitable in the first half of the
19th century, faded in importance. The growth of the industry was aided by
Hawaiian Kingdom legislative acts in 1848 and 1850. The earlier law
allowed non-Hawaiians to own land and the later permitted contract
laborers from other countries to be imported to work the fields. both laws
were strongly supported by the budding sugar industry.
the new industry grew, largely due to the mainland demand for sugar during
the Civil War (1861-1865) when Union states lost access to southern grown
sugar, plantations and mills sprang up all over the islands. By war's end
in 1865 there were thirty-two plantations, most with milling companies,
compared to only twelve in 1860. The US-Hawaii Reciprocity Treaty in 1876,
which removed tariffs on sugar shipments to the mainland, boosted the
industry's viability and eventually over 60 plantations and mills dotted
the Hawaiian Kingdom's landscape. The sugar barons, who cultivated their
political contacts in Washington, D.C. as well as they did their sugar
cane fields, eventually used their clout to entice the US government to
support their overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom to establish an
independent Republic, and eventually achieve annexation and statehood for
cane requires an abundance of both water and sunlight for maximum
productivity. The key to expanding sugar cane cultivation on Maui lay in
bringing water to the island's central plain, formed by the isthmus
between two volcanoes. Maui's first irrigation ditch (and only the second
in Hawaii) was built in 1878 by Samuel Alexander and Henry Baldwin, whose
informal partnership would eventually become A&B Inc., the sole
remaining sugar plantation in Maui. Today, A&B's East Maui Irrigation
Company has 74 miles of ditches which bring water from rainy east Maui to
the dry central valley of the island. Water from the ditch system
privately developed for Maui's sugar plantation is shared by the county of
Maui, providing approximately one-third of the domestic water supply.
the sugar boom's peak, Maui had eleven operational plantations and mills
located from Kipahulu and Hana in the east to Lahaina in the west, and
from Ulupalakua and Makawao upcountry to Wailuku in the north.
plantations had railroads to haul cane from the fields to the mill, but
only remnants of one survive as part of the Lahaina, Kaanapali &
Pacific Railroad Sugar Cane Train tourist attraction in Lahaina.
sugar's appetite for laborers was the impetus behind Hawaii's reputation
as a melting pot of the Pacific Rim, although the industry's search for
cheap labor was not limited to the Pacific region. The first contract
laborers were a ship load of Chinese "coolies" who arrived in
1852 and were distributed among the planters. They were followed by waves
of workers from Japan, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Philippines and other
of the groups brought their cultural heritage to the islands. While they
were intentionally kept separate in the early days, usually housed in
plantation villages by nationality, they now add their rich cultural
backgrounds to the tapestry which makes Maui no ka oi (the very best). The
melting pot bubbles with the input of many international ingredients and
the outcome is a tasteful and often colorful mix of heritages.
Maui citizens believe that a critical mass has been reached of people who
are being negatively effected by the practice of open field burning in one
way or another. They point to the heavy toll cane
burning takes on the island's environment and economy and on the
health of residents and visitors alike.
Now, for the first time they believe there are enough people on
Maui who feel sugar cane burning is no longer acceptable corporate
behavior and are willing to speak out against it.
has managed to stay competitive on the world sugar scene by continuing to
change with the times. According to General Manager Stephen Holaday and
Agricultural Manager Mae Nakahata, the company is continually
experimenting with new varieties of cane to increase yields and improve
the possibility of mechanical harvesting which requires a more upright
cane stalk. They are also experimenting with and employing new methods of
"green" harvesting, particularly near heavily populated areas.
These changes alone may, in time, eliminate or greatly reduce the amount
of burning. New mechanical harvesting methods also support
"zone" tilling, borrowed from Midwestern corn farmers, which
significantly reduces the billowing red dust clouds which are a nuisance
to downwind people, homes and communities.
harvested with the non-burning, mechanical techniques appears to be
competitive from a cost point of view with the primitive burning methods.
Because the soil does not need to be tilled and some of the
"trash" is left to mulch the fields they are back into the
critical growing cycle much more quickly and at less cost than with the
burn, load and till method used for the past 75 years.
economic impact on Maui of HC&S and its parent company, Alexander
& Baldwin (A&B), is enormous. Between their cane growing and
milling operations, land development both here and on the mainland,
housing development and shipping interests, A&B is one of the Big Five
Hawaii-based companies which have, since the late 1800s, controlled and
directed much of the state's business activity. The familiar names of the
Big Five are; AMFAC (formerly American Factors), Alexander & Baldwin,
Castle & Cook, Theo. Davies & Co, and C. Brewer & Co. In 1933,
these five companies controlled ninety-six percent of Hawaii's sugar crop.
alone plows nearly $100 million into Maui's economy in wages, and service,
product and material purchases. They and their parent, A&B, take
considerable pride in their community consciousness and involvement.
sugar cane is not the economic, political or social powerhouse it once
was, and the sugar barons of old have long since given way to corporate
American ways, the impact is still something to be reckoned with. HC&S
and parent A&B are major players both on Maui and in Hawaii as a
whole. They will continue to wield a great deal of power and influence
into the next millennium.
of Time: A history of the Hawaiian Islands;
& Baldwin Sugar Museum
Heritage Lives On:
Alexander and Baldwin Sugar Museum
Gaylord C. Kubota
sugar plantation communities once dotted the island, most of them are long
gone. However, their heritage lives on in the educational and entertaining
exhibits at the award-winning Alexander & Baldwin sugar Museum in
Puunene. The non-profit museum is located at the intersection of Puunene
Avenue and Hansen Road, across from the Puunene (Goose Hill) Sugar Mill.
nearly 100 years sugar cane dominated Hawaii's economy. Even today, after
being eclipsed in the 1960s by tourism and defense spending as the state's
leading industry, it remains the state's number one agricultural crop.
much of the story of sugar on Maui is about land and water there also is
fascinating story of the people who made sugar cane king here and in the
rest of the islands - both those who made the big business and political
decisions and those who toiled in the fields and factories to make it
Alexander and Baldwin Sugar Museum chronicles the saga of sugar on Maui
with special emphasis on the people who made it possible. During the
heyday of the industry, most of the island's population lived in
plantation towns, the largest of which were Paia and Puunene. In the early
days the plantations evolved into self-contained communities, providing or
supporting such necessities as housing, company stores, hospitals and
labor needs of the growing industry no longer could be met by native
Hawaiians, laborers were recruited from various countries around the world
and brought to Hawaii. Arriving with hopes and dreams of a better life,
these immigrants - Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Puerto Ricans, Koreans,
Filipinos, etc. - established
the foundation of a multi-ethnic society that has come to characterize the
Islands as the "melting pot of the Pacific."
housing generally consisted of ethnic "camps," colorfully
identified by names such as "Ah Fong" for the Chinese, "Nashiwa"
for the Japanese, and "Codfish" for the Portuguese. This
arrangement had a dual purpose: To discourage cooperation among ethnic
groups in the event of labor dissatisfaction; and to ease the transition
to the new land by allowing immigrants to live among their fellow
countrymen. The setting also perpetuated ethnic languages, customs and
cultural heritages, providing continuity amidst traumatic change as
immigrants adapted to life in a new land.
the same time, however, a natural interaction among ethnic groups took
place in the camps, at work and in school. They shared foods, such as
Portuguese "stone bread," and even shared one another's customs:
Japanese communal baths had many non-Japanese patrons. As a result,
Hawaiian plantations camps melded into interracial communities whose
members shared a common spirit and experiences.
& August, Daily, 9:30
A.M. - 4:30 P.M.
to July, Mon. - Sat., 9:30 A..M. - 4:30 P.M.