In browsing the old Hawaiian newspapers, I came across some interesting statistics. The Inspector General of Immigration, C.N. Spencer, visited various sugar plantations quarterly and reported on how many immigrants were on each plantation, and which nationality the plantation owner preferred.
I assume that as bringing laborers to Hawaii was costly, the plantation owners were trying to maximum their bang for their buck by promoting who they thought made model laborers.
1887 is about when they began to second guess the monetary cost of bringing Portuguese contract laborers to Hawaii. Each voyage became more and more expensive as the years passed by.
The survey involved 55 plantations. Of those plantations surveyed, there were 3,473 Portuguese men, women, and children.
There’s some interesting information at the end of the report. The summary of votes by plantation owner for preferred nationalities is as follows:
- Japanese 23
- Portuguese 12
- Chinese 11
- Chinese and Portuguese 11
- Japanese and Portuguese 2
It’s noted that Japanese laborers had moved up to the top spot in favorability, with the Portuguese in second.
It specifically notes that the Japanese laborers had proven to be superior to all others in the boiling house and at Lihue Plantation they only employed Japanese in that part of the operation.
The Portuguese and Hawaiians showed their abilities at working with mules and oxen, plowing and teaming.
It should be noted that racial biases were alive and well in 1887 Hawaii. The Chinese were still a reviled nationality seen as being “good men and workmen”, but there were more than enough Chinese in Hawaii. They didn’t want anymore.
We also learn from this report that the introduction of South Sea Islanders was a failure. The motivation for bringing them to Hawaii was to populate the island, and I quote, “intermarry with the Hawaiians, and by an infusion of new blood, renew the vitality of the latter race.”
It goes on to say these South Sea Islanders proved inferior and troublesome and that no good Hawaiian would marry them anyway. It was recommended that they should not bring any more to the Kingdom.
One final note is an update on the health and welfare of the laborers. It was noted that beriberi (thiamine deficiency) had been running rampant among Japanese and Chinese laborers, but in 1887 it had been eradicated through better diet.
So, there’s your brief glimpse into inner makings of Hawaii’s plantation system in 1887. We see that they were looking for the perfect laborer, that, despite the White business men’s fear of Asians, the Japanese were winning them over. There still was much disdain for the Chinese, though. And, the Hawaiians were seen as inferior in their native lands. This was the world our ancestors lived in.
The Pacific Commercial Advertiser. [volume] (Honolulu, Hawaiian Islands), 13 Oct. 1887. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. “Report of C.N. Spencer, Inspector General of Immigration.”