by Veronica S.
The crystalline sound of cups resonates through the
rugged mountains of North Kohala. Japanese ditch-men
are drinking their sake, after a grueling day of work.
The year is 1905. After 18 months, and the loss of 17
lives, the engineering miracle of 22 miles of flumes
and tunnels will soon make sleepy Hawi into a prosperous
sugar plantation town.
Twenty-seven years earlier, Reverend Elias Bond had
written the following letter: "So this was the
'Missionary Plantation', and the prophecies were many
and loud that it would not live five years". But
in the goodness of God we came through." Bond,
once a New England hat maker and merchant, founded the
Kohala Sugar Company in 1863. It was his heroic attempt
to provide employment for a congregation that was leaving
in large numbers for more promising futures.
From the start, the history of Kohala's sugar plantation
reveals an unequaled richness in ingenuity, achievement,
and technical mastery. A man, named John Hind, first
conceived of an irrigation system tapping into the abundant,
wild, and inaccessible rivers that ribbon the Kohala
mountains. His ideas, although met with skepticism,
were to evolve in the year 1904, the engineering feat
that is now known as the Kohala Ditch.
The plan for the ditch, which transmitted an average
of 27 gallons of water per day for sugar cane irrigation,
came from no one else than the famous hydraulic engineer
M. M. O'Shaughnessy, who is also responsible for the
Hetch-Hetchety project in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
In June 1906, the formal ditch opening released the
fertile waters into the dry sugar fields of Kohala.
17 People had died, on wages varying between 75 cents
per day to $1.50 per day.
Prosperity came to Kohala. At the peak of its production,
the Sugar Company counted 600 employees, 13,000 acres
of land, and produced 45,000 tons of raw sugar a year.
The five sugar mills, which consolidated in 1937, generated
their own electricity. There was a single telephone
line along the ditch trail, to enable necessary communication.
The isolated farms, because of the never-ceasing flow
of water, even used conventional toilets. A railway
steam-train hauled the cane to the Mahukona harbor.
But then the inevitable news came: in 1971 Castle &
Cooke announced the closure of the Sugar Company. Over
500 employees were threatened with immediate unemployment.
Most of them had no other education than the intricate
cultivation of sugar cane. With a small population of
3000, Kohala's reason for existence had ceased to be,
and the quaint towns of Hawi and Kapaau, were threatened
to become ghost towns with a forgotten past. In 1975
the last sugar was harvested.
Thanks to State and County funds economic transitions
were made available.
Today, in 1995, Kohala, with 4400 inhabitants, flourishes
once again, and treasures its magnificent history. Hawi
and Kapaau have survived, while maintaining the voices
of the past. Some of its finest homes and buildings
date back to the plantation years. The ditch still provides
water to Kohala.
Porcelain sake cups are still singing in the silence
of the night, for those who dare to listen.
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appeared originally in Coffee Times print magazine and
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