It was understood that the Anglo-Saxon would never perspire for plantation wages, bent over in the hot sun with hoe or cane knife. If you wanted Europeans, they would have to be … ‘just low enough to make them contented with the lot of an isolated settler and its attendant privations.’
In practice this meant Portuguese, mostly from Madeira and the Azores. Otherwise it meant Orientals, peasants: two kinds of Chinese, the Punti and the Hakka; Japanese from Yamaguchi, Fukuoka, Kumamoto, and Hiroshima prefectures; some Okinawans from the Ryukyus; a handful of Koreans; and four kinds of Filipinos – Tagalog, Ilocano, Visayan, Panganisan.
Those who remember the plantations’ heyday are in their 80s and 90s now. Their deaths show up in The Honolulu Star-Advertiser every day: Theogenes (Porky) Magalso Behic, retired diesel mechanic, Ewa Plantation. Nobuko Urata Hashimura, payroll clerk, McBryde Plantation. Pedro Bonilla Resurreccion, Waialua Plantation. The obituary in August for Dorothy Leilani Ellis Zeffiro, Miss Hawaii 1953, noted that she was of Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, English, Irish, Scottish and German descent, and that her late husband, Frank, had been a purchasing agent for Lihue Plantation.It's a remarkable story to think about, tragic like most human history but also hopeful. Hawaii, after all, has ended up as a pretty nice place.
Hawaii's story is just one small peace of one of the great stories of the modern world, the way the plantation economy reshaped our planet. Beginning in 17th century with Barbados sugar cane and Virginia tobacco, the huge profits earned by these endeavors supercharged the global economy and led to a worldwide struggle for empire. To do the grim labor, whole kingdoms of people were uprooted and sold or otherwise moved across the globe: Africans to the New World, Indians to Trinidad and the Solomons, British convicts to Australia and North America. It is hard to imagine the 21st century without that great demographic upheaval.