Posts Tagged ‘Ewa Sugar Plantation’

‘Ewa Sugar Plantation (ca 1890-1970) as mentioned in a previous blog,  was my childhood home.  One day a friend and I were heading out to that side.  It is painful to see what that simple, charming community has degenerated into, I don’t go often.

First thing, since we were coming from Kapolei side, I got lost.  A testament to the City and County’s aggressive development of the ‘Ewa plain agriculture lands. We approached from the old Barber’s Point (Kalaeloa) gate along the old Oahu Land & Railway tracks, past the Hawaiian Railway Society. (Extra)

Varona is the first of the ‘Ewa Villages.  Seriously dilapidated, both physically and by scandal, but still inhabited. One of the things Varona was famous for is cockfighting.  Although, the only one I ever saw was in Fernandez Village.

We drove past the mill that isn’t there anymore.  Past the park with magnificent old royal palms, the only way to identify the town from the surrounding area.  Then into the driveway, which used to be lined with royal palms as well. My friend Joe grew up in Waimanalo, but like most people, including locals, had never been to Ewa Plantation, and was shocked at the extent of  deterioration.   The once spectacular landscaping reduced to dead grass and dirt.  A few of the old trees have survived.

We followed the driveway around the house, now occupied by a church and community association.  No one was there.  Outside the courtyard with dry fishpond, was a splendid pile of the old shutters!  They were there a couple of years ago on my last visit.  A combination of nostalgia and my commitment to sustainability kicked in.  Several of the wood louvers were no longer attached to the frames.  Frames. The wood remained miraculously unmolested by bugs.  Probably because of the lead based paint. The forest green slats were attractively time worn, fabulously faded by natural processes.   Picture frames. (!)

My wonderful brother-in-law, Dennis, who lives in Wisconsin, was a picture framer in his early days.  He’s moved on to more exotic projects, like weaving shuttles and looms, but he might be convinced to make some for his wife and her siblings.   Would that be stealing? Is it a crime to steal discarded items for non-commercial reuse?

I remember picking some thimble berries from our neighbor’s hedge once. My Mother insisted I go knock on their door, apologize, and ask for permission.  I did, wracked with shame, sniffling out my repentance.  The guilt induced was far more effective than the alternative of spanking. Fortunately Mrs. Cushnie was gracious, and invited me to take as many as I wished, anytime.  Lingering guilt prevented any future gathering forays.  Strange how 40 years later I my opu still contracts.  There was no one to ask for permission. Would anyone notice?  Ok, that’s hardly an acceptable moral standard.



As far as I’m concerned, there are no publicly accessible structures of historical charm between Waipahu and Ka’ena Point, you have to go to Wahiawa or Haleiwa.  Some of us appreciate the kuleana of Honouli’uli, but it’s no place for sightseeing.  The years of  labor and resources my parents invested in creating and maintaining this little plantation jewel were utterly destroyed.

Would Messrs. Jacques Pryor and William Messer,  high school European Studies teachers at Punahou, find my sentimental/environmental  arguments valid conclusions of moral discourse?   We put the wood pieces in the trunk and continued through town.

Isamu Murakami, who also grew up on ‘Ewa Plantation, has posted over 600 historical images on his Picasa site: http://picasaweb.google.com/waipahu46/MYHOMETOWNEWA#

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Most people under 60 don’t even remember ‘Ewa Sugar Plantation. It was famous for the twin orange and white banded smokestacks of the mill.  They were the only thing you could see on the entire ‘Ewa side of Pu’uloa (Pearl Harbor) from Honolulu.  Sometime in the last twenty-five years they were torn down.  My Dad was the manager during its last decade of existence as the ‘Ewa Sugar Co.

A pretty nice house came with the job.  It was a gracious old two-story colonial on a couple acres of beautifully landscaped yard.  White, with dark green shutters, guest house, and a cottage.  Other structures included a poultry yard, mother’s orchid and anthurium hothouses, a laundry yard with clothes lines and a big sand box for my sister Mapuana and me.  We had patches of  banana, papaya, sweet potato, cherry tomato, watermelon, and spinach–besides the large herb and vegetable plots.  Even some of the garden flowers were edible, like nasturtiums (eaten only when Mapuana dared me or I lost a bet.)  Finally, but importantly, there was a dilapidated Quonset hut which was my dad’s “ham radio shack.”   Pure Manspace.

Sounds idyllic, and in many ways it was.  Not only my birthplace,  ‘Ewa Sugar Plantation imprinted the fundamentals of the s word on me:  sustainability. It was just normal life then.

As you can probably guess, my parents were not hippies, and no one had heard of a locavore.  But we did live in large part off our land, and local goods. My brother, was (and still is) a cowboy.  We would get a side of beef at a time from him. Besides what we procured on our own, our greater community rounded things out.

Mr. Ornellas was our source for pigs.  Mom would take us out to his place, thick with corrugated iron, and choking  hauna (stink) smell.  Never mind, she would talk story forever, and then pick out the lucky bugga for the imu.

The beekeeper kept his hives in a kiawe thicket. His odd costume and smoker for chasing the bees fascinated us.  Along with the bottles of honey, we also got a few combs.  Mapuana and I just tore off chunks, sucked out the honey, and chewed the wax like gum.

The milkman came to the kitchen door and replaced the empty milk bottles twice a week. Mapuana and I were the morning egg gatherers, but when our chickens weren’t laying enough eggs, he left some of them, too.

There were other plants which ended up on our table in some form: Meyer lemons, chili peppers, poha, starfruit, lychee, macadamia nut, coconut, Suriname cherry, limes, figs, guava, and one big Chinese mango; great for chutney and shoyu mango, but not the best eating. Mother spent days making pickles and relish from cucumbers we grew, jams, jellies, and chutney.  We even made our own mango and poha ice creams, unbelievaby delicious. Mapuana and I made shoyu mango with green mangoes.

Mother took us on outings for other specialties. Catching ‘opae in the ditches out toward Ma’ili was a favorite. We brought them home and put them in the outside cast iron bathtub (mostly used for washing dogs and freshly killed chickens.)  Soaking overnight in clean water flushed the mud out of them. Mauka hikes up Palehua meant mountain apples and liliko’i. Makai outings meant fresh ogo salad.

We shared what we had, as did everyone else, and all lived pretty well.

Even when we went to the grocery store we bought local brands.  ‘Ewa Shopping Basket, the general store, was a block from our house.  It carried a little everything. Along with supplemental produce, fresh meats and fish, we could buy dry goods, fishing supplies and Icees. We purchased only C&H sugar, of course. Meadow Gold dairy products, which back then came from Lani Moo and her pasture pals on the North Shore. Coral (Bumble Bee) Tuna. Aloha shoyu. Dole and DelMonte. Love’s bread.  S & S saimin. One Ton Pi and Lay’s potato chips.  It wasn’t a political statement; we knew where it came from, and local was just better. What happened in the last 30 years?  Grasses from the Americas, Japan, and China, are somehow greener than ours? Of course not. Globalization, efficiencies of the “free market” – where trade agreements and subsidies, thoroughly obfuscate true costs.

The Shopping Basket’s fish supply was limited. Grandmother lived on the water, so sometimes fishermen would stop by and share.  Sometimes it came from the hallowed Kalihi hall of Tamashiro Market.  We only went there on special occasions, and if there were other town errands to do since it was a long hour’s drive into town.

Once I remember a boy about my age, shyly (well I was anyway) watching the live prawns (?) wiggle around in their giant glass tanks. The tanks were well within child’s reach. The cute boy with curly dark hair stretched his hand over the tank, giving my freckled face a daring look.  Not to be outdone, I reached to grab a nice big one just behind its pincers. Quickly he pulled my hand away.  I hadn’t seen the even bigger guy below my target with claws spread.  We smiled, and then mother called me to the checkout line.

Thirty-something years later I met a man who lives in Holualoa, who told me the same story, except the prawns were bigger. That would be Joe, and we’re still friends.

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