Nearly six years have passed since “The Final Harvest.” After nearly 150 years of sugar production, Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company shut the giant doors to its Puunene Mill in December 2016. The closure of Hawaii’s last surviving sugar plantation caused many to mourn not only the loss of jobs, but the end of an era which shaped our local lifestyle: our values, our language, our sense of community.
Pidgin (Hawaii Creole English) was born in the camps and cane fields of Hawaii’s sugar plantations. So was the idea of “mixed plate,” when workers of different ethnicities began sharing their home-cooked lunches. They learned each other’s customs, accepted their differences and discovered they also had much in common. Over succeeding generations, this multicultural camaraderie became our island way of life.
If you live in Hawaii, even if you weren’t born and raised here, even if you’ve never set foot on the red dirt of a plantation, you are a beneficiary of the plantation era. On Saturday, Oct. 1, you can learn more, or simply celebrate and reminisce, on the grounds of the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum in Puunene, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and presenting the history and heritage of the sugar industry and plantation life.
Partially funded by the Maui County Office of Economic Development, the Plantation Days Festival will feature a multiethnic variety of food and entertainment, along with plantation-era games and activities, historical displays, community informational booths and more, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Featured performers are Maui Taiko, Isle of Maui Pipe Band, K-Pop Maui Dance Klub, Maui Portuguese Cultural Club, Dance International Productions, Kalimaya Herrera and Exergy 35, Iola Balubar and Halau Hula O Keola Alii O Ke Kai, Maria Lanakila Lahaina Ladies, and La Galería: Compañía Baile Filipino.
Culinary offerings will include Portuguese bean soup, sausage hot dogs in sweet bread buns, pancit, pork and peas, pasteles, kalua pork bowls, garlic steak and shrimp, laulau, squid luau and a variety of bento lunches. Indulge your sweet tooth with Portuguese cream tarts, lumpia, and, of course, shave ice.
History buffs will enjoy exhibitions by Hale Ho’ike’ike at the Bailey House, Lahaina Restoration Foundation, Waikapu Community Association, Historic Places of Worship, along with plantation camp maps and registry, and new displays at the sugar museum.
Demonstrations and hands-on activities for all ages will feature gyotaku (fish printing) by the Japanese Cultural Society of Maui, painting by Malorie Arisumi, Sassy Dragons mahjongg, and plantation and carnival games such as Plinko, Lucky Duck, beanbag toss and more.
Admission is only $3 (free for children aged 5 and under) and may be purchased online at www.sugarmuseum.com or at the gate on the day of the event.
After the shutdown in 2016, HC&S parent company Alexander & Baldwin produced a commemorative hardcover book, “Cane: Hawaii’s Last Sugar Harvest,” and gifted a copy to each employee. Written by Ilima Loomis and featuring photography by Danaa Edmunds, Tony Novak-Clifford and Rick Shimomura along with a few images from the Hawaii State Archives and Bishop Museum, the book is a bittersweet, beautiful tribute to the people of HC&S. I was honored to write the afterword:
“The Hawaiian phrase ‘A hui hou’ translates to ‘Until we meet again’ and is a favorite way of bidding farewell to friends. The last harvest is the final farewell to Hawaiian sugar, and the men and women of HC&S may never again meet as co-workers, but we say ‘A hui hou’ nevertheless. We will, in fact, meet again, and again, in nearly every moment of every day. In every plate lunch, every pidgin phrase uttered, every time a helping hand is offered, the legacy of the plantation lives on in all of us.”
A hui hou — at the Plantation Days Festival!
* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM and KEWE 97.9 FM/1240 AM), storyteller, actress, emcee and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every other Wednesday. Her email address is email@example.com.