Virginia Couple Funding Digitization of “Rice and Roses” Programs
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Much of Hawai‘i’s unique plantation history sits in a climate-controlled vault in the library of the University of Hawai‘i-West O‘ahu, waiting to be saved.
The 12 pallets of videotapes — more than 3,000 cassette tapes — representing the archives of the long-running television series from the 1980s and ’90s, “Rice and Roses,” which aired on Hawaii Public Television, KHET (today, PBS Hawai‘i). The tapes are being tended to with tender loving care by the series’ director, Joy Chong-Stannard, and producer, Chris Conybeare, under the administration of CLEAR — the Center for Labor Education and Research.
The programs delved into all aspects of Hawai‘i’s plantation past — from the picture brides brought over from Asia at the turn of the century; to the prolonged sugar, pineapple and dock strikes; to plantation politics; to the various traditions that brought about Hawai‘i’s blended culture.
The archives at UH-West O‘ahu’s ‘Ulu‘ulu — the state’s archive of moving images — includes some 30,000 videotapes and 400 motion picture film reels. ‘Ulu‘ulu is a project of the University of Hawai‘i’s Academy for Creative Media.
The “Rice and Roses” tapes are in peril because they are slowly disintegrating, said Conybeare.
“We can’t even play them without risking damaging the tapes. We have videos where we are talking to picture brides coming to Hawai‘i in 1918 and ending up in a labor strike in 1920. It is the only tape in the world of this,” Conybeare said.
But a rescue operation is underway.
Enter Frank Moy and Marcia Mau, two federal retirees living in Vienna, Va.
Moy was born in Washington, D.C., and Mau in Honolulu. They are longtime friends of Barbara Kawakami, who authored two major books on Hawai‘i plantation life: “Ja-panese Immigrant Clothing in Hawai‘i: 1885-1941” and, more recently, “Picture Bride Stories.” Both were published by the University of Hawai‘i Press.
In July 2016, Moy and Mau attended the launch of Kawakami’s “Picture Bride Stories” at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i. In his presentation, Conybeare showed pictures from the videos he had produced while working with Kawakami on a series about the picture brides, the immigrant women who came to Hawai‘i from mainland Japan, Okinawa and Korea between 1908 and 1924 as the wives of sugar and pineapple plantation laborers who they had never previously met in person and knew only through the exchange of mailed photographs.
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Richard Borreca is a veteran Honolulu journalist. He has worked for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, KHVH News Radio, KHON-TV, Honolulu Magazine and The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, for whom he now writes a Sunday column.