Sweet History of Koloa’s Sugar Industry

History can be a major attraction for tourists on Hawaii vacations, some coming here for that very reason. Take the Colosseum or Pantheon, for instance; they scream history. And while most would agree that the small plantation town of Koloa on Kauai is nowhere near that level of prestige, you’d be surprised to find that it does have a history of its own. Koloa symbolizes a significant turning point for Hawaii as the birthplace of the Hawaiian sugar industry.

These bronze figures represent the different immigrant laborers of Hawaii’s sugar industry.

Sugar was not only the first principal crop of the islands but also, the reason behind how Hawaii became the “Melting Pot of the Pacific.” The booming sugar industry during the mid-19th century required planters to recruit laborers from China, Japan and the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira. It didn’t stop there; planters brought in the Puerto Ricans, then the Koreans and finally the Filipinos. In all, more than 300,000 immigrants came to work in the islands’ sugar industry.

Koloa, at one point, had one of the most extensive sugar mills in Hawaii. It included a dam that powered the mill, boiling house, sugar house, cart house and stable. Eventually, special machines were installed to separate molasses from sugar and to grind cane. But by 1913, the machinery had been moved to a new factory in Paa; therefore, abandoning the site we still see remnants of today.

This monument encompasses the history of Hawaii’s sugar cane industry.

Not too far from the remnants, a bronze monument sits. It was built in 1985 in observance of the 150th anniversary of the Hawaiian sugar industry. From the outside, it looks like a plain white circular structure that’s actually large enough to walk through; I couldn’t believe how detailed it was inside. Eight bronze figures towered over me, surrounding me. The artist – Jan Gordon Fisher – purposefully included eight figures to represent the eight major ethnic groups of immigrant laborers. By detailed, I’m talking two or three descriptive items to showcase their home country. For instance, the Hawaiian man is wearing a mall and standing next to his “poi” dog (meaning, mixed-breed dog), while the Japanese woman is wearing chikatabis to protect her feet and a special wrap to protect her face from the sun.

KŌLOA SUGAR MONUMENT • Circular bronze monument dedicated to Hawaii’s sugar industry • Intersection of Maluhia Rd. and Koloa Rd.

Sources: The Historical Marker Database

Posted by: Bruce Fisher