The first sugar cane plantation was on the island of Kauai in the town of Kola in 1835. The plantation was originally run by kamakas, or Hawaiians. During the first year, the plantation has twenty five acres of sugar cane. There were twenty houses built for the Hawaiian workers. There was a house for the superintendent. There was also a carpenter's shop, a mill, dam, a sugar house, a boiling house and a sugar mill.
At first, the owners did not pay the workers with money. They were paid with coupons or scripts in which they could redeem for merchandise at the plantation store. The workers were given bagos, metal shaped disks, with stamped numbers on them for identification.
In the 1850s there was a huge expansion of the sugar industry. This was because in the United States, there was a larger demand for sugar. Gold was discovered in California in 1848 and the beginning of the Civil War were the causes for this demand. After this, the Reciprocity Treaty granted Hawaii to export sugar to the United States tax free. This created huge profits for the sugar cane planters in Hawaii.
There was a shrinkage in the labor force because the Hawaiians began to acquire diseases brought by foreigners. Thus, the plantation workers attempted to look for other labor forces from places with a similar climate to Hawaii's.
The plantation workers first sought workers from China. The Chinese already had experience refining sugar. For the most part, only males came because the plantation owners assumed that after the contract, they would return to China. However, many did not return to China. The demand for labor still was high. Thus, the owners began to look to other sources. They recruited labor from Portugal, Japan, Korea and the Philippines. They limited the number of workers from each ethnic group so they would be better able to control the bodies of the workforce.
Typically, the labor contract agreement required twenty six days of work a month, and the contract was for three year. The men were paid about $7 and the women were paid $5 month. However, each ethnic group would work under a different pay scale and rate.
They typical work day would start at five in the morning. If the worker did not leave the house at 5:30, a policeman was sent to the home to go and get the worker. Work began at 6:00 a.m. There was a half an hour break for lunch. Work ended at 4:30 in the afternoon. Workers could be fined for tardiness and misconduct. The fine was up to fifty cents and/or about two days pay out of their paychecks. The steam whistle blew at 8:00 p.m. for lights out.
The plantation manager's house was usually at the top of the hill. It was naturally a larger home, with verandahs, which overlooked the plantation. The lunas (supervisors) lived below the managers. The laborers lived in the lower flat lands. They usually had dormitory barracks or identical wooden framed houses. The houses were often cramped and unsanitary.
By living with the same group of cultural people who spoke the same language, workers soon started to raise families, and improved their surroundings. They landscaped their yard with flowers, fruit trees and vegetables. There were community facilities like the furo (bath house) and tofuya (bean curd shops).
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