Exhibit shows the harsh life of Honouliuli internment camp


POSTED: Monday, December 07, 2009
This story has been corrected. See below.


Today marks the 68th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Within 48 hours of that fateful morning attack on the American naval base, hundreds of influential Japanese community leaders were rounded up and arrested based on profiles gathered by Army and Navy Intelligence in conjunction with the FBI.

Last March the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii and the Japanese American Citizens League arranged a pilgrimage to Hawaii's internment camp in Honouliuli for surviving internees and their families.

The JCCH also put up its own exhibit to remember those beleaguered Japanese-Americans, titled “;Dark Clouds Over Paradise: The Hawaii Internees Story.”;

The internees called Honouliuli “;jigoku dani,”; or “;hell valley,”; a camp occupying five to 10 acres in the middle of a deep gulch.

“;The camp was so deep down and hidden from view,”; said JCCH resource center director Brian Niiya, “;that they even kept their lights on during blackouts. Even though it's just off Kunia Road, less than a mile from H-1, when you're there it feels very remote.”;





        Place: Kapolei Public Library second-floor lobby, 1020 Manuwai St.

When: Open during business hours through Dec. 19


Admission: Free


Call: 693-7050




In early 2006 an archeological survey of Honouliuli was led by Jeffrey Burton of the National Park Service, who had done previous research into mainland internment camps. The results of his efforts are helping in the continuing campaign to make Honouliuli a part of the National Register of Historic Places.

“;Dark Clouds,”; now a traveling exhibit, was first displayed on the Big Island in 2006, then Kauai, before arriving at the main branch of the Hawaii State Library in June of this year. It returns to public view at the Kapolei Public Library, which seems fitting considering its proximity to Honouliuli, between Makakilo and the Royal Kunia subdivision.

The exhibit was born out of the efforts of Niiya and Jane Kurohara, who met in 2005 while Kurohara was co-chairwoman of the Hawaiian Confinement Sites Committee and Niiya was JCCH's liaison.

“;The impetus behind putting the exhibit together was ignorance,”; Kurohara, who volunteers at the JCCH, said. “;I remember when a TV station wanted to send a news crew to the camp site before 'Schindler's List' was opening in theaters, and, to our consternation, it seemed no one knew where it was. It was at this point that I realized the history would be lost—internees were in their 80s—if we didn't do anything about it. So, the intent of the exhibit was literally a 'who, what, when, why and how' explanation of internment in Hawaii during World War II.”;

AND THAT'S what “;Dark Clouds Over Paradise”; addresses. While it might lack the emotional resonance of other exhibits of its kind—there are no snapshots of camp life, with the exception of drawings by internee Dan Nishikawa—plus only stark documentary wide- and long-shot photos of the camp made by the U.S. Army, it contains vital statistics, including a panel that lists the more than 300 names of those interned at Honouliuli.

The Central Oahu camp served as the main hub for Hawaii internment. There were similar camps on the neighbor islands—the Kilauea Detention Center on the Big Island, Haiku Camp on Maui and Camp Kalaheo on Kauai—and transfers made to Oahu, first to the Sand Island Detention Camp and then Honouliuli.

(Physical reminders of the Sand Island camp are, unfortunately, long gone. “;Anything of interest there has been demolished and buried under the asphalt,”; said Niiya, “;so there's little, if anything, of use there archaeology-wise.”;)

“;At its peak, Honouliuli had near 320 issei and nisei,”; he said, “;mostly male—although there were a few women—many married, but no children were in the camp. While the nisei were American citizens—although some were “;kibei,”; born in Hawaii and educated in Japan—the issei, because they could not become U.S. citizens, were later sent to camps on the mainland. Some of the Japanese were released after anywhere between three weeks to two months through exoneration or mistaken identity.

“;Other fascinating things about Honouliuli is that it also interned about 30 German-Americans. Two territorial legislators—Sanji Abe and Thomas Sakakihara—were also interned there, as well as at least 2,000 Korean POWs, all conscripted war workers during the Japanese occupation, who were held in separate tents.”;

Landowner Monsanto is willing to donate the Honouliuli area for purposes of converting it into a national park, Niiya said, and he hopes that the JCCH will be involved in that process. He said that local historical architect Lorraine Minatoishi Palumbo is willing to lend her services to help preserve the two remaining camp administration buildings.

And things seem to be moving in the right direction. The state Department of Land and Natural Resources approved a resource study in August for Honouliuli, and, with the support of Hawaii's congressional delegation, a feasibility study was funded at the end of October. “;The resource study should take about 18 months,”; Niiya said.

If there is some poignancy in the “;Dark Clouds”; exhibit, it comes from two particular items.

One is an iconic image of a group of Hawaiian internees stoically standing in the cold of the Santa Fe camp in New Mexico. The other is a small poem, a compact and heartfelt plea for a return to an adopted island home:

”;When will the day
Come that I may see
My home in the middle
Of the green leaves
Of the sugar cane?”;






        » The National Park Service has been authorized to conduct a special resources study toward making the former Honouliuli internment camp a historic site. The story above says the legislation to approve the study was via the state, not through federal means.