FORMER RESIDENTS OF ONOMEA AND KAINAULE CAMPS GATHER FOR
Several dozen former residents of Onomea and Kainaule camps on the Big Island gathered for a reunion on July 5 at the Papaikou Community Center. Attendees enjoyed an informal program, talking stories, telling jokes, and sharing lunch and desserts.
Unlike some former plantation towns, nothing remains of Onomea Camp today. Once located about 8 miles up the Hämäkua Coast from Hilo, Onomea is also unique in that most plantation camps revolved around a school and sugar mill: Onomea did not. Its sugar mill shut down back in 1884, and children attended Pepe‘ekeo School, about 3 miles away.
Nevertheless, Onomea remained a thriving community for decades, until families gradually began moving to neighboring towns such as Päpa‘ikou in order to be closer to work.
According to a history of Onomea Camp compiled by Tadao Okimoto and Atsumu Fujinaka in 1982, the town was made up of Japanese, Filipino, Portuguese and Puerto Rican camps. There were community bathhouses, vegetable gardens, small stores, a baseball field and gymnasium. In its heyday, youngsters could participate in the Onomea Comets 4-H Club, a Boy Scouts troop, Sputniks volleyball team and even a Candy Stripers unit. Children of Japanese ancestry would attend Onomea Nipponjin Gakko after English school ended. Nothing, however, engendered more pride than the Onomea Rangers Athletics Club. One of the highlights of this year’s gathering was an impromptu rendition of the Onomea Rangers fight song.
Virtually every participant at the reunion remembered how everybody got along with one another, working and playing together in that now bygone era. Those deep friendships, pride and spirit are what motivates these former residents to gather each year, even if their numbers are dwindling. The last big reunion took place in 1985. Over 500 people attended that event, held over two days at the Papaikou Hongwanji Social Hall and Wailoa State Park. One of this year’s organizers, Ronald Crivello, addressed this year’s much smaller gathering and said: “Someone asked me why we do this every year. Well, all we gotta do is look around to know that too many people pass away every year. That’s why it’s important for us to keep doing this.”