Sugar plantations in Hawaii


Sugar plantations in Hawaii

Sugarcane was introduced to Hawaii by its first inhabitants in approximately 600 AD and was observed by Captain Cook upon arrival in the islands in 1778.Deerr, 1949] Sugar quickly turned into a big business and generated rapid population growth in the islands with 337,000 people immigrating over the span of a century.Urcia, 1960] The sugar grown and processed in Hawaii was shipped primarily to the United States and, in smaller quantities, globally.

Origins

Sugar production started slowly in Hawaii. The first sugar mill was created on Lanai in 1802 by an unidentified Chinese man who returned to China in 1803 . The first sugar plantation in Hawaii was established in 1835 and in 1836 the first 8,000 lbs of sugar and molasses was shipped to the United States. By the 1840s, sugar plantations began to gain a foothold in Hawaiian agriculture. Steamships provided rapid and reliable transportation to the islands, and at the same time, demand increased during the California Gold Rush. Takaki, 1983] The land division law of 1848 (known as The Great Mahele) displaced Hawaiian people from their land, forming the basis for the sugar plantation economy.Kent, 1993] In 1850, the law was amended to allow foreign residents to buy and lease land. Market demand increased even further during the onset of the American Civil War which prevented Southern sugar harvests from being shipped northward.HSPA, 1949] The price of sugar rose 525% from 4 cents in 1861 to 25 cents in 1864. The Reciprocity Treaty of 1875 allowed Hawaii to sell sugar to the United States without paying duties or taxes, greatly increasing the plantation profits.Takaki, 1994] This treaty also increased the plantation profits, guaranteeing that all resources including land, water, human labor power, capital, and technology would be thrown behind sugarcane cultivation.Alexander, 1937] The 1890 McKinley Tariff Act, an effort by the United States government to decrease the competitive pricing of Hawaiian sugar, paid 2 cents per pound to mainland producers. After significant lobbying efforts, this act was repealed in 1894. By 1890, 75% of all privately held land was owned by foreign businessmen.

Sugar and the Big Five

The industry was tightly controlled by five former missionary families known in Hawaii as “The Big Five”. The Big Five eventually owned and gained control over every aspect of the Hawaiian economy including banking, warehousing, shipping, and importing. This control of commodity distribution kept Hawaiians burdened under high prices and toiling under a diminished quality of life. These businessmen had perfected the double-edged sword of a wage-earning labor force dependent upon plantation goods and services. Close ties as missionaries to the Hawaiian monarchy along with capital investments, cheap land, cheap labor, and increased global trade allowed them to prosper. Later the missionaries-turned businessmen were critical in the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and in 1898, Hawaii was annexed as a territory of the United States, primarily due to the lobbying of these interest groups.

Importing labor

When Hawaiian plantations began to produce on a large scale, it became obvious very quickly that a labor force needed to be imported. The Hawaiian population was 1/6th its pre-1778 size due to ravaging disease brought by foreigners. Additionally, Hawaiian people saw little use for working on the plantations when they could easily subsist by farming and fishing. Plantation owners quickly began importing workers which dramatically changed Hawaii’s demographics and is an extreme example of globalization.

In 1850, the first imported worker arrived from China. Between 1852 – 1887, 26,000 Chinese arrived to work in Hawaii, while 38% of them returned to China. To maintain a workforce unable to organize effectively against them, plantation managers diversified the ethnicities of their workforce, and in 1868 the first Japanese arrived to work on the plantations. Between 1885 – 1924, 200,000 Japanese people arrived with 55% returning to Japan. Between 1903 – 1910, 7,300 Koreans arrived and only 16% returned to Korea. In 1906 Filipino people first arrived. Between 1909 and 1930, 112,800 Filipinos came to Hawaii with 36% returning to the Philippines.

Plantation owners worked hard to keep in place a hierarchical caste system that prevented worker organization and divided the camps based on ethnic identity. An interesting outcome of this multi-cultural workforce and globalization of plantation workers is the emergence of a common language. Known as Hawaiian Pidgin, this hybridization primarily comprised of Hawaiian, English, Japanese, Chinese, and Portuguese allowed the plantation workers to communicate effectively with one another and promoted a transfer of knowledge and traditions amongst the groups.Steger, 2003] A comparison of 1959 – 2005 racial categories shows ongoing shifts in statistical dominance.

Environmental impact

Sugar plantations dramatically impacted the environment around them. In an 1821 account, prior to the entrenchment of sugar plantations in Aiea, the area is described as belonging to many different people and being filled with taro and banana plantations along with a fish pond. This subsistence farming would not last long.

Plantations were strategically located throughout the Hawaiian Islands for reasons including: fertile soil area, level topography, sufficient water for irrigation, and a mild climate with little annual variation. These plantations transformed the land primarily to suit water needs: construction of tunnels to divert water from the mountains to the plantations, reservoir construction, and well digging.

Water was always a serious concern for plantation managers and owners. In the early 1900s it took one ton of water to produce one pound of refined sugar. This inefficient use of water and the relative lack of fresh water in the island environment were fiercely compounding environmental degradation. Sugar processing places significant demands on resources including irrigation, coal, iron, wood, steam, and railroads for transportation.

Early mills were extremely inefficient, producing molasses in four hours using an entire cord of wood to do so. This level of wood use caused dramatic deforestation. At times, ecosystems were entirely destroyed unnecessarily. One plantation drained a riparian area of 600 acres to produce cane . Ironically, after draining the land and forever altering the biodiversity levels, they discovered it was an ancient forest, so they harvested the trees for timber, only then to find that the land was completely unsuitable for sugarcane production.

Sugar plantations were not only environmentally destructive in the past, they continue to be so. Major environmental concerns associated with sugar plantations include air and water pollution along with the proper disposal of the resulting waste.UNEP, 1982] Modern calculations place the amount of water needed to produce one ton of cane at 3-10 cubic meters.

Decline of plantations in Hawaii

Sugar plantations suffered from many of the same afflictions that manufacturing market segments in the United States continue to feel. Labor costs increased significantly when Hawaii became a part of The Union and workers were no longer effectively indentured servants. The hierarchical caste system plantation managers had worked hard to maintain began to breakdown, with greater racial integrations as a result, ironically, of the sugar plantations. Workers began to discover they had rights, and in 1920 waged the first multi-cultural strike. Additionally global politics played a large role in the downfall of Hawaiian sugar. Shifting political alliances between 1902 and 1930 permitted Cuba to have a larger share of the United States sugar market, holding 45% of the domestic quota while Hawaii, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico shared 25%.

The Big Five slowed the production of sugar as cheaper labor was found in the Caribbean and concentrated their efforts on the imposition of a tourism-based society. Former plantation land was used by the conglomerates to build hotels and develop this tourist-based economy which has dominated the past fifty years of Hawaiian economics.

Notes

References


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See also

*Old Sugar Mill of Koloa
*Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association
*Sugar plantations in the Caribbean

External links

* [http://www.hawaiiplantationvillage.org/ Hawaii Plantation Village]


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