Sugar plantations in Hawaii
Sugarcane refers to any of six to 37 species of tall perennial grasses of the genus Saccharum . Native to the warm temperate to tropical regions of South Asia, they have stout, jointed, fibrous stalks that are rich in sugar, and measure two to six metres tall...

 was introduced to Hawaii
Hawaii is the newest of the 50 U.S. states , and is the only U.S. state made up entirely of islands. It is the northernmost island group in Polynesia, occupying most of an archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean, southwest of the continental United States, southeast of Japan, and northeast of...

 by its first inhabitants in approximately 600 AD and was observed by Captain Cook upon arrival in the islands in 1778. Sugar
Sugar is a class of edible crystalline carbohydrates, mainly sucrose, lactose, and fructose, characterized by a sweet flavor.Sucrose in its refined form primarily comes from sugar cane and sugar beet...

 quickly turned into a big business and generated rapid population growth
Population growth
Population growth is the change in a population over time, and can be quantified as the change in the number of individuals of any species in a population using "per unit time" for measurement....

 in the islands with 337,000 people immigrating over the span of a century. The sugar grown and processed in Hawaii was shipped primarily to the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 and, in smaller quantities, globally. The groups of people that were contrcted to work on the plantations were the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos and Puerto Ricans.


Industrial sugar production started slowly in Hawaii. The first sugar mill was created on the island of Lanai
Lānai or Lanai is the sixth-largest of the Hawaiian Islands. It is also known as the Pineapple Island because of its past as an island-wide pineapple plantation. The only town is Lānai City, a small settlement....

 in 1802 by an unidentified Chinese man who returned to China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 in 1803. The first sugar plantation, known as the Old Sugar Mill of Koloa
Old Sugar Mill of Koloa
The Old Sugar Mill of Kōloa was part of the first commercially successful sugar plantation in Hawaii, which was founded in Kōloa in 1835 by Ladd & Company. This was the beginning of what would become Hawaii's largest industry. The building was designated a National Historic Landmark on December...

, was established in 1835 by Ladd & Co.
Ladd & Co.
Ladd & Company was an early business partnership in the Kingdom of Hawaii.Its founders were William Ladd , Peter Allen Brinsmade , and William Northey Hooper...

 and in 1836 the first 8000 lb (3,628.7 kg) sugar and molasses
Molasses is a viscous by-product of the processing of sugar cane, grapes or sugar beets into sugar. The word molasses comes from the Portuguese word melaço, which ultimately comes from mel, the Latin word for "honey". The quality of molasses depends on the maturity of the sugar cane or sugar beet,...

 was shipped to the United States.

By the 1840s, sugar plantations gained a foothold in Hawaiian agriculture. Steamships provided rapid and reliable transportation to the islands, and demand increased during the California Gold Rush
California Gold Rush
The California Gold Rush began on January 24, 1848, when gold was found by James W. Marshall at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California. The first to hear confirmed information of the gold rush were the people in Oregon, the Sandwich Islands , and Latin America, who were the first to start flocking to...

. The land division law of 1848 (known as The Great Mahele
Great Mahele
The Great Mahele or just the Mahele was the Hawaiian land redistribution act proposed by King Kamehameha III in the 1830s and enacted in 1848.-Overview:...

) displaced Hawaiian people from their land, forming the basis for the sugar plantation economy. 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
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 which prevented Southern sugar from being shipped northward. The price of sugar rose 525% from 4 cents per pound in 1861 to 25 cents in 1864. The Reciprocity Treaty of 1875
Reciprocity Treaty of 1875
The Treaty of reciprocity between the United States of America and the Hawaiian Kingdom was a free trade agreement signed and ratified in 1875 that is generally known as the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875....

 allowed Hawaii to sell sugar to the United States without paying duties
Duty (economics)
In economics, a duty is a kind of tax, often associated with customs, a payment due to the revenue of a state, levied by force of law. It is a tax on certain items purchased abroad...

 or taxes, greatly increasing plantation profits. This treaty also guaranteed that all resources including land, water, human labor power, capital, and technology would be thrown behind sugarcane cultivation. The 1890 McKinley Tariff Act
McKinley Tariff
The Tariff Act of 1890, commonly called the McKinley Tariff, was an act framed by Representative William McKinley that became law on October 1, 1890. The tariff raised the average duty on imports to almost fifty percent, an act designed to protect domestic industries from foreign competition...

, 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
Lobbying is the act of attempting to influence decisions made by officials in the government, most often legislators or members of regulatory agencies. Lobbying is done by various people or groups, from private-sector individuals or corporations, fellow legislators or government officials, or...

 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 former missionary
A missionary is a member of a religious group sent into an area to do evangelism or ministries of service, such as education, literacy, social justice, health care and economic development. The word "mission" originates from 1598 when the Jesuits sent members abroad, derived from the Latin...

 families, concentrated in corporations known in Hawaii as “The Big Five”
Big Five (Hawaii)
The Big Five was the name given to a group of what started as sugarcane processing corporations that wielded considerable political power in the Territory of Hawaii during the early 20th century and leaned heavily towards the Hawaii Republican Party. The Big Five were Castle & Cooke, Alexander &...

. These included Castle & Cooke
Castle & Cooke
Castle & Cooke, Inc. is a Los Angeles-based company that was once part of the Big Five companies in territorial Hawaii. The company at one time did most of its business in agriculture...

, Alexander & Baldwin
Alexander & Baldwin
Following World War II, the company entered a new business: land development and real estate. The company formed a new subsidiary, the Kahului Development Co., to develop housing in the Kahului area. In the following years, the company became more involved in the development of its land and the...

, C. Brewer & Co.
C. Brewer & Co.
C. Brewer & Co., Ltd. was a Honolulu-based company that was once part of the Big Five companies in territorial Hawaii. The company did most of its business in agriculture....

, American Factors (now Amfac
Amfac (Hawaii)
Amfac, Inc. formerly known as American Factors and originally H. Hackfeld and Company was a land development company in Hawaii. Founded in 1849 as a retail and sugar business, it was considered one of the so-called Big Five companies in the Territory of Hawaii...

) and Theo H. Davies & Co.
Theo H. Davies & Co.
Theo H. Davies & Co. is a company that was one of the Big Five trading and agricultural companies in the Territory of Hawaii.-History:Starkey, Janion, & Co. was a trading company founded in Liverpool in April 1845 by Englishmen James and John Starkey and Robert Cheshire Janion. Janion arrived in...

., which together eventually gained control over other aspects 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
Quality of life
The term quality of life is used to evaluate the general well-being of individuals and societies. The term is used in a wide range of contexts, including the fields of international development, healthcare, and politics. Quality of life should not be confused with the concept of standard of...

. 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 businessmen of missionary families were critical in the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893. In 1898, Hawaii was annexed by the United States to become the Territory of Hawaii
Territory of Hawaii
The Territory of Hawaii or Hawaii Territory was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from July 7, 1898, until August 21, 1959, when its territory, with the exception of Johnston Atoll, was admitted to the Union as the fiftieth U.S. state, the State of Hawaii.The U.S...

, primarily due to the lobbying of these interest groups.

Importing labor

When Hawaiian plantations began to produce on a large scale, it became obvious that a labor force needed to be imported. The Hawaiian population was 1/6 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
Globalization refers to the increasingly global relationships of culture, people and economic activity. Most often, it refers to economics: the global distribution of the production of goods and services, through reduction of barriers to international trade such as tariffs, export fees, and import...


In 1850, the first imported worker arrived from China. Between 1852–1887, almost 50,000 Chinese arrived to work in Hawaii
Chinese immigration to Hawaii
The Chinese in Hawaii frequently referred to by their Hawaiian name Pākē, constitute about 4.7% of the state's population, most of whom have ancestors from Zhongshan in Guangdong. This number does not include people of mixed Chinese and Hawaiian descent...

, 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
Japanese people
The are an ethnic group originating in the Japanese archipelago and are the predominant ethnic group of Japan. Worldwide, approximately 130 million people are of Japanese descent; of these, approximately 127 million are residents of Japan. People of Japanese ancestry who live in other countries...

 arrived to work on the plantations. Between 1885–1924, 200,000 Japanese people arrived with 55% returning to Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

. Between 1903–1910, 7,300 Koreans arrived and only 16% returned to Korea
Korea ) is an East Asian geographic region that is currently divided into two separate sovereign states — North Korea and South Korea. Located on the Korean Peninsula, Korea is bordered by the People's Republic of China to the northwest, Russia to the northeast, and is separated from Japan to the...

. In 1906 Filipino people
Filipino people
The Filipino people or Filipinos are an Austronesian ethnic group native to the islands of the Philippines. There are about 92 million Filipinos in the Philippines, and about 11 million living outside the Philippines ....

 first arrived. Between 1909 and 1930, 112,800 Filipinos came to Hawaii with 36% returning to the Philippines
The Philippines , officially known as the Republic of the Philippines , is a country in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific Ocean. To its north across the Luzon Strait lies Taiwan. West across the South China Sea sits Vietnam...


Plantation owners worked hard to keep in place a hierarchical caste
Caste is an elaborate and complex social system that combines elements of endogamy, occupation, culture, social class, tribal affiliation and political power. It should not be confused with race or social class, e.g. members of different castes in one society may belong to the same race, as in India...

 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 was the emergence of a common language. Known as Hawaiian Pidgin
Hawaiian Pidgin
Hawaii Pidgin English, Hawaii Creole English, HCE, or simply Pidgin, is a creole language based in part on English used by many "local" residents of Hawaii. Although English and Hawaiian are the co-official languages of the state of Hawaii, Pidgin is used by many Hawaii residents in everyday...

, this hybrid primarily of Hawaiian, English, Japanese, Chinese, and Portuguese allowed plantation workers to communicate effectively with one another and promoted a transfer of knowledge and traditions amongst the groups. A comparison of 1959–2005 racial categories shows the ongoing shifts.

A unique operation was the Kohala Sugar Company, known as "The Missionary Plantation" since it was founded by Reverend Elias Bond
Elias Bond
The Bond District is a collection of historic buildings located in the district of North Kohala on the island of Hawaii.The district has three sections: the homestead of missionaries Ellen and Reverend Elias Bond , Kalahikiola Church, and the Kohala Seminary.-Ellen and Elias Bond:Elias Bond was...

 in 1862 to support his church and schools. He protested the slave-like conditions, and the profits made him one of the largest benefactors to other missions. It operated for 110 years.

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
Taro is a common name for the corms and tubers of several plants in the family Araceae . Of these, Colocasia esculenta is the most widely cultivated, and is the subject of this article. More specifically, this article describes the 'dasheen' form of taro; another variety is called eddoe.Taro is...

 and banana plantations along with a fish pond
Hawaiian aquaculture
The Hawaiian people practiced aquaculture through development of fish ponds , the most advanced fish husbandry among the original peoples of the Pacific. These fishponds were typically shallow areas of a reef flat surrounded by a low lava rock wall built out from the shore...

. 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
Environmental degradation
Environmental degradation is the deterioration of the environment through depletion of resources such as air, water and soil; the destruction of ecosystems and the extinction of wildlife...

. 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
Deforestation is the removal of a forest or stand of trees where the land is thereafter converted to a nonforest use. Examples of deforestation include conversion of forestland to farms, ranches, or urban use....

. At times, ecosystems were entirely destroyed unnecessarily. One plantation drained a riparian area of 600 acres (2.4 km²) 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
Air pollution
Air pollution is the introduction of chemicals, particulate matter, or biological materials that cause harm or discomfort to humans or other living organisms, or cause damage to the natural environment or built environment, into the atmosphere....

 and water pollution
Water pollution
Water pollution is the contamination of water bodies . Water pollution occurs when pollutants are discharged directly or indirectly into water bodies without adequate treatment to remove harmful compounds....

 along with the proper disposal of the resulting waste. 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 state and workers were no longer effectively indentured servants. The hierarchical caste system plantation managers had worked hard to maintain began to break down, 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
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

 to have a larger share of the United States sugar market, holding 45% of the domestic quota while Hawaii, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico , officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico , is an unincorporated territory of the United States, located in the northeastern Caribbean, east of the Dominican Republic and west of both the United States Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands.Puerto Rico comprises an...

 shared 25%.

The Big Five slowed the production of sugar as cheaper labor was found in India, South America and the Caribbean
Sugar plantations in the Caribbean
The sugar cane plant was the main crop produced on the numerous plantations throughout the Caribbean through the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, as almost every island was covered with sugar plantations and mills for refining the cane for its sweet properties. The main source of labor was African...

 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
Tourism in Hawaii
Hawaii is the name of several islands and are among the numerous Pacific Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Of these, the islands which have significant tourism are: Hawaii, Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and Lānai....

which has dominated the past fifty years of Hawaiian economics.

External links

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