The planters err, I think, in not planting the mountain sides, wherever these are accessible and have soil, with trees. The forests of the country are rapidly disappearing, especially from the higher plains and the grass-bearing slopes. Not only is the wood cut for burning, but the cattle browse down the young growth; and a pestilent grub has of late attacked the older trees and destroyed them in great numbers. Already complaints are heard of the greater dryness and infertility of certain localities, which I do not doubt comes from suffering the ground to become bare. At several points I was told that the streams were permanently lower than in former years熔f course because evaporation goes on more rapidly near their head waters now that the ground is bare. But little care or forethought is exercised in such matters, however. A few extensive plantations of trees have been made, notably by Captain
Makee on Maui, who has set out a large number of Australian gum trees. The universal habit of letting cattle run abroad, and the dearness of lumber for fencing, discourages tree planting, which yet will be found some day one of the most profitable investments in the islands, I believe; and I was sorry to see in many places cocoa-nut groves dying out of old age and neglect, and no young trees planted to replace them.
It remains to describe to you the "contract labor" system by which the sugar-plantations are carried on. This has been frequently and, as it seems to me, unjustly abused as a system of slavery. The laborers hire themselves out for a stated period, usually, in the case of natives, for a year, and in the case of Chinese for five years. The contract runs in English and in Hawaiian or Chinese, and is sufficiently simple. Thus:
"This Agreement, made and entered into this 覧 day of
覧, A.D. 18覧, by and between the owners of the
覧 plantation, in the island of 覧, party of the first
part, and 覧 覧, party of the second part, Witnesseth:
"I. The said party of the second part promises to perform such labor upon the 覧 plantation, in the district of 覧, island of 覧, as the said party of the first part shall direct, and that he will faithfully and punctually perform the same as becomes a good workman, and that he will obey all lawful commands of the said party of the first part, their agents or overseers, during the term of 覧 months, each month to consist of twenty-six working days.
"II. The party of the first part will well and truly pay, or cause to be paid, unto the said party of the second part, at the end of each month during which this contract shall remain in force, compensation or wages at the rate of 覧 dollars for each month, if said party of the second part shall well and truly perform his labor as aforesaid."
The law requires that this contract shall be signed before a notary public. The wages are usually eight dollars per month and food, or eleven dollars per month without food; from which you will see that three dollars per month will buy sufficient poi, beef, and fish to support a native laborer in these islands. The engagement is entirely voluntary; the men understand what they contract to do, and in all the plantations where they are well treated they re-enlist with great regularity. The vicious custom of "advances" mentioned above has become a part of the system; it arose, I suppose, from the fact that the natives who shipped as whalemen received advance pay; and thus the plantation laborers demanded it too. The laborers are commonly housed in detached cottages, and live with their families, the women forming an important, irregular laboring force at seasons when the work is hurried. But they are not "contract" laborers, but paid by the day. It has been found the best plan on most of the plantations to feed the people, and food is so cheap that it is supplied without stint.
This system has been vigorously, but, I believe, wrongly, attacked. The recent census is an uncommonly barren document; but there is strong reason to believe that while there is a general decrease in the population, on the plantations there is but little if any decrease. In fact, the Hawaiian living in his valley on his kuliana or small holding, leads an extremely irregular life. He usually sups at midnight, sleeps a good deal during the day, and has much idle time on his hands. On the plantations he works regularly and not too hard, eats at stated intervals, and sleeps all night. This regularity conduces to health. Moreover, he receives prompt and sufficient medical attendance, he lives a more social and interesting life, and he is as well fed, and mostly better lodged. There are very few instances of abuse or cruelty; indeed, a plantation manager said to me, "If I were to wrong or abuse one of my men, he would persuade a dozen or twenty others not to re-enlist when their terms are out, and would fatally embarrass me;" for it is not easy to get laborers.
There is good reason to believe, therefore, that the plantation laborers are healthier, more prosperous, and just as happy as those who live independently; and it is a fact that on most of the islands the greater part of the younger people are found on the plantations. Churches are established on or very near all the sugar estates, and the children are rigorously kept at school there as elsewhere. The people take their newspaper, discuss their affairs, and have usually a leader or two among the foremen. On one plantation one of the foremen in the field was pointed out to me: he was a member of the Legislature.
There is a good deal of complaint of a scarcity of labor. If more plantations were opened it would be necessary to import laborers; but for the present, it seems to me, the supply is not deficient. Doubtless, however, many planters would extend their operations if they could get workmen readily. Chinese have been brought over, though not in great numbers; and of late the absurd and cruel persecution of these people in California has driven several hundred to take refuge in the Islands, where they are kindly treated and can live comfortably.
The machinery used in the sugar-houses is usually of the best; the larger plantations all use vacuum-pans; and the planters are usually intelligent gentlemen, familiar with the best methods of producing sugar, and with the latest improvements. Yet it is a question whether the expensive machinery is not in the long run a disadvantage, as it disables them from profitably making those low grades of sugar which can be cheaply turned out with the help of an "open train," and which appear to have, in these days, the most ready sale and the best market.
Back to: The Sandwich Islands
Notes About Book:
Source: Nordhoff, Charles. Northern California, Oregon, and the Sandwich Islands. Harper and Brothers, Publishers, 1875.
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