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October 2008

Hawai`i News

And Then There Was One:

The Last Sugar Plantation in Hawai`i

By Rochelle delaCruz

There was a time when sugar was king in the Hawaiian Islands. It is the reason for Hawai`i’s multicultural population, as nearly 400,000 contract workers came to the Islands from China, Japan, Korea, Scotland, Germany, Portugal, Russia, Puerto Rico and the Philippines to work on the sugar plantations from 1852 to 1945. Sugar is also responsible for Hawaii Creole English, what locals call “Pidgin,” the language that evolved when these various groups needed to communicate in order to live and work together on small islands. Hawai`i’s food, an astonishing variety that offers such delicacies as lup cheong pizza, poi mochi balls and Spam musubi, is also a by-product of the sugar industry.

But as other states and countries are increasing their sugar production, Hawai`i’s sugar industry is not able to complete and plantations have been shutting down. The one plantation left on Kaua`i, Gay & Robinson Inc. recently announced it will close after harvesting its final crop in the mid-2010, leaving only Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co (HC&S) on Maui as the last working sugar plantation in the Islands.

The plantation has been diverting water from East Maui streams for over 100 years to irrigate their sugar fields in central Maui. This was common practice on all the islands, as a series of “ditches” were built in the 1800s to channel water to the sugar crops. However, a “stream first” policy recently approved by the state Commission on Water Resource Management may have an impact on HC&S operations.

The Hawaii State Water Code (Section 174C-101) states “Traditional and customary rights of ahupua`a tenants who are descendants of native Hawaiians who inhabited the Hawaiian Islands prior to 1778 shall not be abridged or denied by this chapter. Such traditional and customary rights shall include, but not be limited to, the cultivation or propagation of taro on one’s own kuleana and the gathering of hihiwai, opai, o`opu, limu, thatch, ti leaves, aho cord, and medicinal plants for subsistence, cultural and religious purposes.”

The new ruling gives priority to the rights of native Hawaiians to access adequate water for kuleana activities, protect native stream life and help taro farmers cultivate more of their lo`i for kalo (taro) which will increase the supply of poi.

East Maui Irrigation Company, a subsidiary of Alexander & Baldwin that owns HC&S, will be required to remove or alter some of the 74 miles of ditches, tunnels, pipes and flumes that has enabled it to collect up to 450 million gallons of water a day from Maui’s streams.

This might impact the flow of water needed for the growing of sugar on the last plantation left in Hawai`i.


The Dream Begins: How Hawai`i Shaped Barack Obama

Barack Obama is every bit the polished, street-ready pol from Chicago but this new book describes him as an insecure, questioning youth called Barry Obama who grew up in Hawai'i, a state of diverse cultures, while searching for an identity to call his own.

If elected in November, Obama would make history as the first Hawai'i-born person to become President of the United States.

Born and raised in the most multicultural state in the union, Obama bears the indelible stamp of his native Hawai'i.  The Dream Begins: How Hawai'i Shaped Barack Obama, is a coming-of-age story set in Hawai'i's storied "melting pot"-a revealing look at the island state that is surely a core part of what makes Obama tick.

Written by Honolulu journalists Stu Glauberman and Jerry Burris, this 152-page book examines Obama's early years in Hawai'i.  The self-described "skinny kid with the funny name" flourished in the Islands, where local values foster tolerance, compromise and mutual respect-and where diversity defines people rather than divides them. The social mores of the Aloha State and the experience of growing up in an island culture have had a deep and lasting influence on the candidate. Obama himself has noted, "What's best in me, and what's best in my message, is consistent with the tradition of Hawai'i."

However, throughout his remarkable run for the White House, Sen. Obama has played down the fact that he was born and bred in Hawai'i. In stump speeches and campaign ads, Obama has stressed his grandparents' bedrock Kansas values and his Chicago political experience over the Aloha Spirit of his own boyhood home.

It's not hard to understand why: Political pundits seem to think Hawai'i isn't "serious" enough or "domestic" enough to be the home state of a man who would be president. During his much-scrutinized week off in his home state, Obama endured steady needling from Republicans characterizing his vacation in Hawai'i as both elitist and frivolous. National news media joined in, sniffing that it was clearly counterproductive for Obama to enjoy some downtime with his family in tiny, solidly Democratic Hawai'i, when he could be out on the campaign trail upping his lead in daily tracking polls in states that "really count."

When NPR commentator Cokie Roberts said that Obama's trip had "the look of him going off to some sort of foreign, exotic place," you could almost hear the harrumphing up and down the Hawaiian archipelago. Island politicians rushed to defend their state as, well, a U.S. state almost like any other.

While the candidate has chosen not to make much of his Island roots during the campaign, Hawai'i hears echoes of itself almost every time Obama speaks. And those echoes are about a set of values that are far more substantive, but admittedly far more difficult to grasp, than the superficial vision of the 50 th State as a tropical paradise.

The values of Hawai'i's Polynesian host culture include the importance of compassion, cooperation, tolerance and respect for the opinions and traditions of others. They imply a certain modesty that can seem out of place in the crushing competition of presidential politics.

The Island philosophy simplistically characterized as the Aloha Spirit has its roots in the multi-ethnic history of Hawai'i, where the plantations' various immigrant groups understood they had to work together to earn the role they sought in the larger society. The Aloha Spirit is also rooted in the very geographic isolation of the Islands. Those who live on a small island quickly come to realize that cooperation and a live-and-let-live attitude are critical for survival.

Obama himself has said that Hawai'i taught him to build bridges between people. Here he saw the ideal of how people of different backgrounds can live together in a climate of mutual respect. He has said that Hawai'i is part of his core being; it is what's best about his message. Hawai'i is a model for the kind of America he hopes his campaign will bring about: a place where people rise above the barriers that divide them.

As his wife, Michelle Obama, has said, "You can't really understand Barack until you understand Hawai'i." The Dream Begins is the key to gaining that understanding the man who is shattering history as a candidate for President of the United States.

~from Watermark Publishing - www.bookshawaii.net         

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