Friday, October 29, 2010

Babe Ruth in Hilo

With the World Series in progress it seems fitting to discuss Babe Ruth’s presence in Hilo on the Big Island -- particularly since his Hilo visit was memorialized in such a spectacular way.  The year was 1933 and The Babe was in Hawaii to play a series of exhibition games against various local teams.
About that same time several park commissioners in Hilo decided that it would be a good idea to have celebrities’ plant banyan tree saplings along the Waiakea Peninsula.  In late 1933, Cecil B. DeMille was on the island filming "Four Frightened People".  Several of the actors planted trees in their own honor, along with Mr. and Mrs. DeMille.  Some eight trees were planted in October 1933. And in addition to the movie stars, one tree was also planted by one of the most famous men in America, Babe Ruth.  This drive, now named Banyan Drive is also known as the "Hilo Walk of Fame.”
Over time probably some fifty trees were planted with many surviving until today having grown into a thick canopy, making it popular for walking.  The Waiakea Peninsula is anchored by the beautiful Liliuokalani Park and Reed’s Bay Beach Park, and not far from the Hilo airport.  The name comes from wai ākea which in Hawaiian means "broad waters,” and sometimes what is now called Hilo Bay was once called Waiakea Bay.
The Banyan tree is an example of a strangler fig that often begins life in the crown of another tree. Its roots grow down and around the stem of the host, their growth accelerating once the ground has been reached. Over time, the roots coalesce to form sort of a pseudotrunk.  Older banyan trees are characterized by their aerial prop roots that grow into thick woody trunks which, with age, can become indistinguishable from the main trunk. Old trees can spread out laterally using these prop roots to cover a wide area.
The first banyan tree in the U.S. was planted by Thomas Alva Edison in Fort Myers, Florida.  The tree, originally only four feet tall, now covers 400 feet.  Robinson Crusoe, in the 1719 novel by Daniel Defoe makes his home in a banyan tree.  Due to the complex structure of the roots and extensive branching, the banyan is also extensively used for creating Bonsai.  Taiwan's oldest living bonsai is a 240-year-old banyan in Tainan.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Big Island = Big Scary Story

As we approach the Halloween holiday, it may be appropriate to retell a frightening story that happened here on the Big Island; in fact just some twelve miles south of Hilo in the quiet village of Ola’a.
Ola’a is in the sacred Ola'a forest, which was once an area restricted to bird-catching families (whose occupation was to collect hulu or feathers for the ruling class) until the abolishment of the kapu system in 1819 and the arrival of the missionaries shortly thereafter. A small church was established in 1835 to serve Hawaiians living in the area. As Hawai'i island developed with small coffee farms and with the establishment of sugar plantations in the 1890's Ola'a saw the arrival of immigrant labor.  Soon the church and community embraced an ethically and culturally diverse plantation community.  Ola'a Church
Ola'a Church

In 1947 in Ola’a children were playing near the local pond when one of them fell in and drowned.  The boy, named Tanaka, was later found by divers sitting on a rock with his eyes and mouth open and body swaying with the currents.  Yet, he was dead and his corpse was retrieved and buried.

Later, people who walked by the pond would often fell something tug at the bottom of their trousers. Rumors spread that the boy’s spirit was trapped beneath the water.  In his book, Obake Files, Ghostly Encounters in Supernatural Hawaii, Glen Grant writes:

“On some evenings the villagers could hear a cry emanate from the pond in the middle of the night. At first most everyone believed that the haunting cry was the wind blowing through the tall sugar cane fields. But a few of the older people said they knew the spirit of the Tanaka boy- cold, wet, and desolate at the bottom of the pond. The soul was crying out for help and deliverance. Trapped in this world by accident, he sought someone’s spirit as a substitute. They would take his place at the bottom of the pond so that he could be free to go to the otherworld.

“Those who were present at the second accident swear that the other boy was pulled into the water against his will. It was the noon hour. He was walking about 50 yards behind his father along the edge of the pond, occasionally picking up a flat stone to skim across the water. When he fell, he screamed out to his father that something was pulling him into the pond. He clawed at the earth, trying to hold on, to fight back. But in what seemed like an instant, the force tugging at his legs pulled him into the watery depths of the pond. By the time the young boy’s body had been located, it was found sitting naturally on a rock on the bottom of the pond. He seemed so natural sitting there- arms placidly at his side, eyes and mouth open, swaying gently to and fro in a light current. Fortunately, the rescuers were able to bring him back to the surface in time to be resuscitated.

“A Shinto priest was brought from Hilo to bless the waters, and the haunting cries finally ceased. Yet, on peculiarly dark nights when the evening skies seem bathed in black ink, those who live closest to the pond say that they sometimes hear the Tanaka boy’s cry. But are the cries melancholy or sinister? And will the Tanaka boy ever find peace?”  Weird Hawaii

Pretty spooky…..I’d say!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Sugar Cane in Hawaii

By the mid 1800s, the Hawaiian kingdom’s economy was not very bright.  Sandalwood, ( an important trade item, was almost gone from the forests of Hawaii.  And whalers who wintered in Hawaii and restocked their boats were fewer in number; partially because the need for whale oil had diminished as petroleum became a source of fuel for lamps.
The Great Mahele of 1848 allowed for the private ownership of land for Hawaiians and foreigners for the first time. Many American and European businessmen quickly gained control of large tracts of land that led to the development of agriculture and especially the sugar industry in Hawaii.

Sugar was brought to the islands by the early Polynesians who chewed on the plant as a source of energy and food.  In 1778, when Captain Cook happened upon the Hawaii islands, the lands were already abundant with sugar cane.  The first serious sugar plantation was at Koloa, Kauai in 1835 by Ladd and Co.

In September 1835, Ladd & Co., began the first major Hawaiian sugar plantation. Hooper, Brinsdale, and Ladd managed to do something that no one else had previously done in Hawaii. With the help of missionary settlers, they obtained the first major land lease in Hawaiian history.  The lease comprised 980 acres in Koloa, Kauai, which was set aside for sugar cane production. The lease ran 50 years at $300 per year.
The missionaries were bent on making farmers of the Hawaiian natives so Ladd & Co. fell nicely into those plans. By employing Hawaiian natives, they would be teaching them the skills missionaries felt were so necessary.  However, perhaps not so surprisingly, native Hawaiians were far from eager to work the fields and the native population had been reduced to 70,000 people by the 1850s, diminished greatly by disease. Ladd history

Sugar meant plantations and mills and the need for workers. Plantation owners turned to workers in devastated areas of the world that were ravaged by wars and famine initially in China, and then Japan, the Philippines and Portugal which explains the rich, varied racial make-up of present-day Hawaii.
The Big Island's lava soil and regular rainfall offer ideal conditions for growing sugar cane.  Ah Kina, a Chinese planter, began raising cane at Amauulu above the town of Hilo in 1851.

Among the biggest producers of sugar cane was the Pepeekeo Sugar Company not far from where we now live along the Hamakua Coast. When it was established in 1857, it was named Metcalf Plantation after the owner Theopilus Metcalf.  When Metcalf died in 1874, the new owners of the plantation changed its name to the Pepeekeo Sugar Company.

In the early 1960’s Hawaii produced a million tons of sugar cane annually.  One of every twelve workers participated in the sugar industry.  And these workers were among the highest paid in the world.
Ultimately cheaper sugar from the Caribbean and other locales doomed Hawaii’s sugar cane industry.  The last plant closed on the Big Island in 1996.  However, the islands still possesses a rich agriculture industry, with large amounts of papaya, vegetables, coffee beans, flowers, and macadamia nuts still being grown and produced.  Hawaii Island is also known as the Orchid Isle due to its large production of tropical orchids.