Wahiawä’s Pineapple Camp Nisei Tell Their Stories

Gail Honda
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

Gail Honda is a writer in Honolulu. She can be reached at 808-942-4783 or gail.honda@hawaii.rr.com

In the pre-World War II years, Wahiawä’s pineapple camps were scattered around the outskirts of the town proper. In these self-contained communities, the plantation workers and their families lived and worked together and bonded through both hardships and good times.

For the first half of the 20th century, Hawai‘i was the world’s largest producer of pineapple. On O‘ahu, most of the pineapple was cultivated on the Leilehua Plateau area north and south of Wahiawä and between the Ko‘olau and Wai‘anae Mountain ranges, although pineapple fields stretched all the way from Robinson Camp near Waipahu to Takeyama Camp near Waialua. California Packing Co. (“CPC,” later Del Monte); Hawaiian Pineapple Co., Ltd. (“Hawaiian Pine,” later Dole); and Libby, McNeill & Libby were the main producers on the Leilehua Plateau.

The Japanese who lived and worked in these camps represented the largest group of all the immigrants brought in to Hawai‘i for all plantation labor, including sugar. Japanese men were brought to Hawai‘i between 1885 and 1908 as indentured laborers for the sugar industry. Once their period of indenture was over, many left to take advantage of the easier working conditions, more freedom and greater opportunity for advancement in the pineapple industry. Filipinos were also actively recruited and brought in during the 1920s by the Hawaiian Pineapple Growers Association (established in 1909), becoming the largest ethnic group to work in pineapple. Portuguese, Koreans and part-Hawaiians also lived in the camps. Some companies segregated their camps by ethnicity, while others, like CPC’s Kunia Camp, did not.

Most Japanese Americans in Hawai‘i look back to the plantation experience as the defining immigrant experience of their ancestors. The richness of life on the pineapple plantations in their heyday is now known only to the Nisei who grew up in the camps. While work in the pineapple fields was often backbreaking labor, the Nisei speak of life in the camps with fondness and nostalgia. Their stories are told here and present a way of life in Hawai‘i that has all but disappeared. And yet, the ways of life on the plantation have been passed down from generation to generation and are widely observed today in such local customs as pidgin English, reciprocity and living harmoniously in a diverse community.

1920s-1930s: The Uezu Family in Poamoho Camp

In the mid-1920s, Jeanette Kiyo Uezu Nakagawa, a 93-year-old Wahiawä resident, moved to CPC’s Poamoho Camp, located a little over two miles northwest of Wahiawä. When Jeanette was 2 years old, her parents, Ansei and Mutaru Uezu, moved their family to Poamoho from Lawai Stable in Köloa, Kaua‘i.

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