Monday, November 2, 2009

And Then There Was One

Click on sweet photos

“Fortunate people often have very favorable beginnings and very tragic endings. What matters isn't being applauded when you arrive - for that is common -
but being missed when you leave.”
Baltasar Gracian

“The secret to a rich life is to have more beginnings
than endings.”
David Weinbaum

“The greatest stories are those that resonate our beginnings and intuit our endings, our mysterious origins and our numinous destinies, and dissolve them both into one.”
Ben Okri

The first sugar mill in Hawaii was opened in Koloa Kauai in 1835.

As late as 1968 there were 26 mills producing more than 1 million tons of the sweet stuff. In 1970 5,900 workers cultivated 239,000 acres. By 2000 only 1,000 workers on 60,000 acres remained. According to the USDA, this year there remain only 21,700 acres of waving green.

On Friday, Gay & Robinson of Kauai (1889) brought in their last crop, leaving Maui's Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar's 800 employees as the last of the breed.

The by now familiar scene unfolded: convoys of cane trucks, sounding their horns, drove past cheering locals. Many if not most of those folks were 3rd generation sugar workers, a living connection with Hawaii's plantation past.

The Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, and Portuguese all came to work the land, bringing their customs, languages and food: major ingredients of the unique "local" flavor that IS Hawaii. The plate lunch grew from their shared lunches, our beloved pidgin way of talking (Hawaiian Creole English) came from mingling on the plantation too.

Yes, King Sugar remade these islands. It would be impossible to imagine what we would be without it.

Fortunately for the workers, many of them will remain in their cozy plantation housing (less than $104 a month for a family house, and $10 a year for water).

We never thought we'd miss the hard work and paternalistic atmosphere of the plantation, it was not the work our grandparents wanted for us, but now there is more than a hint of nostalgia as a rich, long, way of life fades into history.

"I told them to get an education. I didn't want them working hard like me. This is hard work." Charles "Red" Carveiro, 3rd generation sugar man from 1961 to 2002, speaking of his own children.

"I just don't know what I'm gonna do." Frederick Bacio, age 70

The economy, and rising value of land, drove the closure.
I remember the signs: "Slow Moving Cane Trucks" and the dusty, red-caked trucks themselves. Little did I know then that I was stuck behind history itself. When Brother Israel Kamakawiwoole died, a similar convoy of trucks circumnavigated our Oahu while mourning crowds lined the roads.

"It was a very, very tough day for me. We tried everything to keep the company going. The (Robinson) family lost a lot of money over the last 5 years."
E. Alan Kennet, G&R president

Seed corn companies, DOW Agribusiness (bio-tech), and Pioneer Hi-Bred, are leasing some of the land and will keep on a handful of the workers. There is even talk of growing sugar again, this times as ethanol, and as bio-mass that will be burned to produce electricity. No one yet knows how this will all work out, but many of us hope to see acres and acres of waving sugar cane on Kauai again.

"The sugar land is now in corn or some other crop,
So hopefully Kauai will keep it's beautiful green vistas."
George Costa, Kauai Office of Economic Development

"That's been a goal of our family, to work hard for a better life. But never forget your roots and the values to work hard and respect your neighbors."
Pat Pablo, state public health nurse who comes from
a "sugar family."
"You are the salt of the Earth, You made Kauai and Hawaii what it is."
Congressional Rep. Neil Abercrombie.
Good night, sweet prince!
A L O HA! cloudia