COURTESY MARIE ACHI
These historic photos show the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. mill in the 1930s, Portuguese dancers, a railroad engine crew and an early portrait of Puunene residents Anthony, Lionel and Sue Andrade. CLICK FOR LARGE
Sugar, memories planted at Puunene
A planned reunion recalls special memories for a plantation town
STORY SUMMARY »
Puunene provided many sugarcane workers on Maui with a foothold in their new world.
The plantation camps are gone, but the post office and former school are among the last buildings of community still standing.
In early August, former residents are holding a reunion that coincides with the 5th Annual Maui Sugar Plantation Festival and the 125th anniversary of Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co.
The plantation was begun by German financier Claus Spreckels and later bought by Alexander & Baldwin Inc.
The camps were the first homes for waves of Portuguese, Puerto Rican, Japanese and Filipino immigrants in the early 1900s.
FULL STORY »
PUUNENE, Maui » The camps that housed thousands of sugarcane employees in central Maui are gone. The post office and former school are among the last remaining structures of a once thriving community.
But for many of those who once lived there, the plantation town of Puunene provided them with a foundation for their early years and a foothold for families of immigrants.
Former residents and those associated with the camps are scheduled to hold a reunion Aug. 3-5.
The reunion coincides with the 5th Annual Maui Sugar Plantation Festival and the 125th anniversary of Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co., the largest sugar plantation in the state.
The plantation was begun by German financier Claus Spreckels and later bought by Alexander & Baldwin Inc., which is helping to sponsor the festivities.
The camps in Puunene were the first homes to waves of immigrants in the early 1900s, including Portuguese, Puerto Ricans, Japanese and Filipinos.
In the 1950s, workers began to move to the nearby suburb of Kahului, and the plantation eventually stopped providing housing for employees.
"The plantation camps were not only places where ethnic groups preserved their culture, but also were places where they interacted with other cultures," said Gaylord Kubota, director of the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum, located in Puunene.
The camps were also places where people learned to use what they had to make a living.
Kubota said one of them was Rose Freitas, who was recently inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Texas.
Freitas, who still sews her own outfits for the July 4th Parade in Makawao, learned to appreciate other ethnic foods and also to make some, including a sweet pickled radish called "takuwan," Kubota said.
Puunene was also the early training grounds for Olympic and National AAU swimming champions under the coaching Puunene School teacher Soichi Sakamoto.
Sakamoto used not only the town swimming pool but also the plantation ditch to train swimmers from Puunene and elsewhere.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist Bill Smith said the water flowing down the ditch provided what is now called "interval swimming" in their training exercise.
"A lot of my training was in the ditch," recalled Smith, an Oahu resident.
Quite a few Puunene youths also went on to play professional baseball in Japan, such as John Sardinha, Andy Miyamoto and Ichiro "Iron" Maehara.
Some became political leaders, including former Rochester, Minn., Mayor Chuck Hazama and Maui County Councilman Joseph Pontanilla.
Pontanilla, 65, born at the plantation hospital and a graduate of Puunene School, said his family lived in Spanish A Camp, where there were many Filipinos, and enjoyed a rural lifestyle, raising pigs and chickens in their back yard.
When they had parties, a group of friends would come to the house and help in the preparation and cooking of food.
They also swam in the plantation ditches and reservoirs.
"It was a lot of fun," Pontanilla recalled.
The Puunene Camp Reunion starts with registration on Aug. 3.
A luau with entertainment takes place at 5 p.m. Aug. 4, followed by an opportunity to "Talk Story" at Puunene School on Aug. 5.
The 5th Annual Maui Sugar Plantation Festival on the grounds of the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum also takes place from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Aug. 5.
A shuttle bus is expected to provide transportation during the festival.
The deadline for registration for the reunion luau -- $15 per person -- is on July 1.
Registration forms may be obtained through Successories of Hawaii at Ward Centre on Oahu, telephone 592-6400.
More information may be obtained by calling Louie Cambra, 572-5049; Larry Peralta, 664-9881; or Marie Achi, 877-518.