Thursday, January 7, 2010

“Who’s Your Papa (aloa)?”

The old village of Papaaloa is located along the Hamakua Coastline on the eastern part of the Big Island -- 23 miles north of Hilo. It is one of the many plantation towns that line Highway 19. Papaaloa is near some of Hawaii’s most stunning waterfalls including Akaka Falls and the Kahuna Falls, as well as one of Hawaii’s most beautiful places -- the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens -- as well as close to the Laupahoehoe Train Museum and Laupahoehoe Point.

In 1954 two thousand guests celebrated the eighth birthday of Lani Matsu, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William Matsu of Papaaloa. He was chairman of Unit 8, ILWU Local 142 and worked outside as a poison truck driver. This birthday party was significant because it symbolized improved labor relations between the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union (ILWU) and the Laupahoehoe Sugar Company who had its only remaining mill located in Papaaloa.

“The Filipino union members prepared a nine course dinner of their native dishes while the Japanese friends prepared their native delicacies. Tables were also decked with a full course Hawaiian dinner, “down to raw liver,” as guests commented. Gallons and gallons of delicious opihi and shrimps form the gulches were served. Hula dancers from Hilo in costume waited at tables and did several numbers.” Record

The Laupahoehoe Sugar Company was established in 1880 and the new plantation employed 70 men, 50 mules and 70 oxen. Plantation fields extended approximately ten miles along the coast and rose to 1850 feet above sea level. Ending in high sea cliffs, 22 gulches divided the company land.

Laupahoehoe Sugar had a unique transportation system to supply the factory with cane. A steam hoist lifted cane-loaded cars up 1,100 feet by cable at Maulu Gulch. At the top, the cane was dumped into flumes and traveled to the mill about a mile distant.

Labor relations were not always what were hoped. In fact, seven years earlier in 1947 a young girl of 16 fell off a truck as she was riding to work in the fields during her summer vacation from school. She was subsequently run over by a company truck and suffered a fractured pelvis and permanent damage to her left leg leaving it one-and-one-half inch shorter than her right leg.

The company wrote to the Bureau of Workmen’s compensation, “On the basis of Dr. Hatt’s (a company hired “expert”) examination, technically there is no defect, but because of the pelvis deformity that exists, which will in future prevent normal childbirth” the company would be agreeable to an award of 10 per cent.

This was after such behavior precipitated the “Hilo Massacre” in August, 1938, in Hilo, Hawaii, when over 70 police officers attempted to disband 200 unarmed protesters. In their attempts to disband the crowd, officers gassed, hosed and finally fired their riot guns, leading to 50 injuries, but no deaths.


These protesters were multi-ethnic, including Chinese, Japanese, Native Hawaiian, Luso (people from countries with Portuguese roots) and Filipino Americans. In addition, the strikers were not from one single union; members of many different unions, including the ILWU participated. The different groups, long at odds, put aside their differences to demand equal wages with workers on the West Coast of the United States.

As a postscript in October 1938, injured protester Kai Uratani filed a lawsuit against the officers responsible for the shooting. He lost, and instead had to pay for the officers' defense costs.

So why was this party in Papaaloa some 18 years later such a big deal? Well, for one thing it was the culmination of a two-day program put on by the ILWU. And, the company’s manager participated (!) leading to the Honolulu Record’s comment, the Papaaloa and Laupahoehoe communities where the local newspapers made anti-ILWU attacks almost daily “are today not the same places any more. The shining proof of the healthy change was the gala celebration of the ILWU by Local 142, Unit 8.”

I guess time really does heal all wounds.

One reason I like selling real estate is the great people I get to meet. Another, is the opportunity it provides to learn more about the vast variety of towns and villages on the Big Island. My company recently listed a property in Papaaloa which led me to this research (


  1. that was a very insightful post, thanks for sharing that wes

  2. Thanks Wes. It's good to know some of the history behind those cute communities up the coast.


Mahalo for leaving a comment!~WesIsland