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Celebrate the Plantation Era at new Lahaina event

By Staff | Jul 23, 2009

Andy Kutsunai (left) and Bob Kawaguchi proudly share some of the artifacts that will be on display during “Lahaina Plantation Days, Then and Now” from July 30 to Aug. 1.

LAHAINA — Longtime Lahaina residents Andy Kutsunai and Bob Kawaguchi are like kids in a candy store.

Surrounded by a plethora of items — ranging from kitchen utensils to lanterns, and wheelbarrow wheels to a homemade water dispenser — the two men have been pounding the pavement collecting artifacts from West Maui’s plantation era. 

Their discoveries will be on display during the inaugural “Lahaina Plantation Days, Then and Now,” a three-day event that will pay tribute to West Maui’s rich plantation heritage.

Presented by Lahaina Restoration Foundation, the event will be held at the Pioneer Mill site surrounding the historic smokestack on Lahainaluna Road on July 30 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. and July 31 and Aug. 1 from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. 

Admission on all three nights of the event is $3 — $2 for seniors are free for keiki 12 and under. A special three-day pass is available for $5.

For Kutsunai and Kawaguchi, this volunteer project has been a true labor of love — a nostalgic one at that.    

To date, they have collected more than 75 items for the event’s plantation artifacts display. According to Lahaina Restoration Foundation, this is the first step toward creating a permanent sugar museum in West Maui.

Items collected include an old trunk, flat tub, kitchen utensils, Japanese dolls, wicker suitcase, handmade futon, kerosene stove, electric fans, two-man hand saw, miter box and Singer sewing machine. 

Residents who have donated items include Diane Delos Reyes, Ruth Griffith, Wanda Kitaguchi, Yumiko Nishimoto, Alberta Nobu, Pat Sakamoto, Evelyn Toba, Toshiko Watanabe, Judy Imamoto, Herbert Kinores, Richard Nagamine and Ted Kawamura.

For Kutsunai, who taught at Lahainaluna High School for 34 years as a social studies/history teacher, and who worked in the sugar plantation fields in the summer, these artifacts are meaningful. 

“Each piece has a history and a connection to West Maui,” said Kutsunai. “It’s the stove that our mothers used to cook the best stew in the world, the shave ice maker that the kids used to make a few more cents during the summer, the lanterns that burned the night away during company picnics. These items are a part of one’s history, and we are honored to be able to share these cherished memories of these families through this artifacts display.”

Kawaguchi still recalls his plantation roots. His father was a mason with Pioneer Mill, and Bob worked in the cane fields weeding during high school. He later served as athletic director at Lahainaluna High School for over 20 years prior to retiring. 

“We all have a story to tell, and it’s important that we share these memories, especially with future generations,” said Kawaguchi.

The plantation era artifacts will be on display in the Plantation Camp Reunion Tent throughout the Lahaina Plantation Days event. The public can also see photographs, camp maps and other memorabilia from the various plantations throughout West Maui. 

Former plantation residents can also talk story about growing up during this nostalgic era.

“Many of our plantation residents have passed away,” said Kutsunai. “But perhaps through hearing stories told by those still with us and seeing a glimpse of what life was like, we can pass on these memories to ensure that West Maui’s plantation days will always be remembered.”

For Kutsunai and Kawaguchi, helping to share West Maui’s rich plantation past doesn’t get any sweeter than this.

If you would like to share your West Maui plantation artifacts and photos, contact Lahaina Restoration Foundation at 661-3262.

“Lahaina Plantation Days, Then and Now” will also feature entertainment by cultural groups and popular musicians, restaurant food booths, coffee garden, beer tent, Kid’s Zone with nostalgic activities, historical displays and a preview of the proposed Pu‘ukoli‘i Village project by Kaanapali Land Management Corp.

On Thursday, the documentary “Lahaina: Waves of Change” directed by filmmakers Eddie and Myrna Kamae will be shown at 8 p.m. outdoors on a large screen. Gates will open at 7 p.m.

In 1999, Hawaiian music legend and documentary filmmaker Eddie Kamae visited Lahaina, only to find that Pioneer Mill — the center of the town’s sugar industry — was closing down. 

Kamae knew this signaled the end of Lahaina’s plantation era — a simpler, more innocent time he remembers fondly from the childhood summers he spent in the area visiting his grandmother. 

He knew that change as momentous as this must be documented, so he immediately hired a crew to film the last harvest, the last cane burning and the final days of operation at Pioneer Mill.

Thus began Eddie’s eight-year journey through Lahaina’s complex, tumultuous and fascinating past. 

The result is a one-hour documentary of poetic beauty, rich history and heartfelt emotion.

“Lahaina: Waves of Change” takes the audience back to the beginnings of Lahaina’s history as a sacred Hawaiian place, in a time when “high chiefs worked with heavenly beings.”

The film continues on through the era of Hawaii’s longest reigning monarch. King Kamehameha III, and his rule from Lahaina’s sacred island of Moku‘ula, which now lies buried beneath a Lahaina park. 

During King Kamehameha III’s reign, waves of change broke on Lahaina’s shore with the arrival of missionaries, the whaling industry, commerce and Western concepts of land division. 

Sugar eventually replaced whaling as Lahaina’s primary industry and brought with it a wave of immigrants from countries whose own cultural practices then shaped the Hawaii we know today. 

Change continued as tourism superseded the sugar industry.

What Eddie and his audience discover through the course of “Lahaina: Waves of Change” is that despite all of the radical changes Lahaina has experienced over the years, it remains a sacred, Hawaiian place — not because of what has been built upon it, but because of what is in the hearts of the people who live there.

This story is told in the intimate, highly personal style that is the hallmark of all of Eddie Kamae’s films. It is told through his eyes and through interesting people he meets along his journey.

Volunteers are needed for admissions, scrip sales, greeters, and setup and breakdown at the event. The first 100 registered volunteers will receive an official event T-shirt. Call Lahaina Restoration Foundation at 661-3262.