Festival Will Showcase Maui’s Ag Roots

Sugar history and multi-ethnic culture celebrated in annual event

By: Dawna Robertson

When it comes to agriculture, Hawaii has a sweet past. In the industry’s heyday, sugar reigned as the major contributor to Hawaii’s ag picture. While the era has ended, it has left much to celebrate especially for its role in creating Hawaii’s ethnic diversity.

Set for Saturday, Aug. 6, the Third Annual Maui Sugar Plantation Festival will highlight the multiple cultures of early immigrants who came from around the globe to work on Hawaii’s sugar plantations. Workers arrived from China, the South Seas, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Japan, the Philippines, Korea, Spain, Russia, Germany and Scandinavia from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. They practiced and shared the customs and traditions of their homelands, building the unique multi-ethnic heritage and lifestyle enjoyed by Hawaii’s residents and visitors today.

“The object of holding the Maui Sugar Plantation Festival is to enable people to experience and appreciate our multicultural heritage that arose from life on the old plantations,” explained Paula Loomis, assistant director of the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum, which is the sponsoring organization of the Festival.

Festival-goers can sample an assortment of ethnic foods, such as hearty Portuguese bean soup and traditional malassadas, Hawaiian lau lau, Korean kim chee and chicken, Chinese chow fun, the Japanese teriyaki beef plate, the Filipino favorite of pancit, as well as Puerto Rican gandule rice and pasteles.

During the plantation era, workers in the field would share their mid-day meals with each other, combining dishes of their different ethnic backgrounds. This was the origin of the popular “mixed plate” found in Island cuisine today.

The Maui Sugar Plantation Festival presents a free program of authentic multicultural music and dances, performed by local groups and organizations. Many of these individuals are ancestors of those who lived and worked on the plantations. They continue to carry on the cultural traditions handed down to them through their families.

The Third Annual Maui Sugar Plantation Festival will build upon the two previous successful Festival years, according to Loomis. Set from 10 a.m.2 p.m., the outdoor festival is free.

The Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum will be open for touring, with reduced rates of $1 per person. Its most valuable artifact on display that day will be the fully restored “Claus Spreckels” steam locomotive that was in the service of Kahului railroad from 1882 - 1929. Hawaii’s oldest restored steam locomotive, the “Claus” rarely makes a public appearance.

Among the most popular of the 1,800-square-foot museum’s six major exhibit rooms is the Mill Room. Here, visitors can get into several interactive displays, including a 1915 locomotive bell, a "Cuban" sugar mill and an impressive working scale model of cane-crushing machinery. A narrative with special lighting and sound effects accompanies the operation of the model.

Outdoor exhibits offer a close-up look at some of the intriguing equipment and items used by sugar plantations and plantation workers, such as a Cleveland Model J36 trench digger, an outdoor Portuguese oven built in the 1920s and a cane grab large enough for a child to walk under without stooping.


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