Old varieties of Hawaii's sugar cane illustrate colorful diversity. Christine Faye
The first sugar cane plant came to the Hawaiian Islands with the Polynesian settlers, but the early technology for making sugar was imported from China. Over the next 150 years, Hawaii boasted one of the most technologically advanced and efficient sugar industries. Modern labor costs and competition from developing countries have led to a severe decline in Hawaii's sugar cane production until, today, there are only two operations left, one on Kauai and one on Maui.
Immigrant workers spoke so many languages that plantation owners created a multi-national language, Hawaiian pidgin, that even stumped the Nazis during WW II. Gay and Robinson Tours
When sugar was king, there was not sufficient manpower in Hawaii to work the fields and factories, so contract laborers were imported into the Kingdom, beginning with the Chinese as early as 1852, and followed by waves of Japanese, Norwegians, Puerto Ricans, Filipinos, Portuguese, Germans, Koreans and Spaniards. Truly a United Nations gathering of workers until the importation of plantation labor came to an end about 1946!
With so many nationalities, Hawaii's sugar plantations faced a communication dilemma. As more and more diverse groups arrived, new words and phrases had to be developed for people to understand what was required for their jobs and daily life. Pidgin, a Hawaiian plantation language evolved into such a unique vocabulary that during World War II, the Germans were unable to break the code of the Japanese-American 442 Regimental Battalion because they were speaking Hawaiian plantation pidgin!
Gay and Robinson Field and Factory Tours offer an intriguing educational introduction to 165 years of sugar production on Kauai, the only tour of a working plantation in Hawaii. Gay and Robinson Tours
The living history and present day production of sugar on Kauai is brilliantly showcased by the descendants of the entrepreneurs who started it all. Gay and Robinson Field and Factory Tours whisk visitors behind the scenes throughout the vast 55,000 acre property, including intriguing bits of time travel back to when Messers Gay and Robinson launched their enterprise in the early 1880s.
In the 1930s, the introduction of steam engines meant no more hand cutting of the cane. These days, seed canes (above) are the only stalks selected and cut by hand. Alison Gardner
As late as 1931, the G and R company "town" employed nearly 1,000 people, and housed more than 3,000 on the plantation with a doctor and hospital, schools, social welfare director, its own railroad and even a melodic plantation band. One townsite is occupied and meticulously-maintained today: a delight to stroll under huge shade trees and old fashioned street lights along wide, pothole-free red dirt roads.
To immerse even deeper in Kauai's sugar cane past, plan to stay at the Waimea Plantation Cottages, a wonderfully diverse collection of restored plantation workers' homes on 27 acres of pristine beachfront property. Many of the cottages were originally built right on this site; some have been rescued from other island locations and added to a generously-spaced collection of more than 50.
Each Waimea Plantation Cottage is distinctive and furnished in historical context. Alison Gardner
Linked by pathways and manicured lawns and shaded by mature flowering shrubs and towering palms, Waimea Plantation Cottages has made every effort to keep the authentic ambience and furnishing style of these self-catering accommodations -- except for the necessary modern conveniences, of course. This living legacy from the sugar plantation heyday is an ideal opportunity for visitors to literally sleep with history!