In Hawai'i, by the 19th century, there was an influx of workers from around the world to work on the plantations. Owners recruited Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Portuguese, and African American laborers. With so many diverse groups coming together in a short period of time, there was a need to find a common language. It is from this period of history that Hawai'i’s pidgin language originated as well as the cultural diversity evident throughout the islands today.
The shifting demographics during the 19th and 20th century highlight how the plantation industry forever changed Hawai'i. According to the Library of Congress, Indigenous Hawaiians made up 97% of the island's population in the year 1853 and 16% of the population by 1923 with those of Japanese ancestry comprising the largest percentage of Hawai'i's population.
The plantations were a part of a colonial legacy in which Indigenous peoples were dispossessed from their lands and subject to countless human rights violations around the world. In Hawai'i, the profit of sugar and other related agricultural activities were so lucrative that, in the year 1893, influential businessmen would join forces to overthrow Queen Lili‘uokalani (1838-1917) and illegally occupy the Hawaiian Kingdom.
For a closer look at the details, below are the PDF versions of the maps found in the slideshow.
Born in Ireland, in the year 1826, James Campbell became one of the most prominent land owners in Hawai'i. He owned land on the islands of Maui, O'ahu, and Hawai'i. In 1877, he acquired 41,000 acres of ranch land in Honouliuli, becoming one of Hawai'i's largest landowners. Others criticized and undervalued his purchase of this arid land in the 'Ewa district of Honouliuli. Nonetheless, in 1879, he commissioned a California well-driller, James Ashley, who drilled the first artesian well in the region. This resulted in the development of the Ewa Plantation Company, which grew sugarcane and produced sugar.
James Campbell's marriage to Abigail Kuaihelani Maipinepine Bright Campbell also occurred in the year 1877. She was a member of nobility of the Kingdom of Hawaii. They had four surviving children of eight born. One daughter, Abigail, married Prince David Kawānanakoa of the reigning House of Kalākaua and assumed the title of Princess of Hawai'i in 1922. She was devoted to returning sovereignty to Hawaiians.
According to the James Campbell Company, after his death in 1900, James Campbell left his estate, estimated to be around $3 million, to his wife Abigail and their four daughters. With the enduring legacy of developing the City of Kapolei in the 'Ewa moku of Honouliuli, the trust terminated on January 20th of 2007 following the death of his last surviving daughter. That same year, when the majority of remaining heirs elected to receive their distribution of shares, the Estate of James Campbell became the newly formed James Campbell Company LCC, valued at 3.8 billion dollars as of December 2020.
"Painting of James Campbell Esq" Wikimedia Commons
Ewa Plantation Company
Peter Young, former Chair of the Department of Land & Natural Resources, details the following history of James Campbell's Ewa Plantation Company in his meticulously researched blog. Located in the 'Ewa district of Honouliuli, land was cleared for the Ewa plantation project in 1891. In 1892, 22 wells were bored and 775 acres of the Lahaina variety sugarcane were planted providing 2,849 tons of sugar that year. In 10 years time, the Ewa Plantation Company became known as the most productive plantation in the world due to its ability to produce 10 tons of sugar per acre. By 1910, about 30 miles of railroad track owned by the O'ahu Railway and Land Company serviced the plantation, connecting it to Honolulu Harbor for worldwide shipping. At this time, the plantation also housed a community of 2,500 with several labor camps, a store, a hospital, and a clubhouse.
Ewa Mill. (1893). Kamehameha Schools Archives.
Newspaper Articles Featuring Significant Events Related to the Ewa Plantation Company
The following newspaper articles are available through the Library of Congress. The ones selected for this exhibit focus on the topics of water use, production, the railroad, and the plantation workers' strikes.
Click on the Images to Access the Full Newspaper Articles Each Accompanied with a Summary
Plantation Labor Conditions
Plantation working conditions were inhumane. Plantation owners paid workers based on their nation of origin and at different rates for the same work, while higher positions of authority were strictly reserved for European Americans.
As detailed in the archives of the Library of Congress, plantation owners often had a private army of European Americans to enforce company policy. Workers were subjected to fines or beatings for minor infractions such as smoking, stretching in the fields, or even talking. They lived in unsanitary company housing and shopped at company stores. Up until the year 1900, workers were forced to sign three to five year contracts and were jailed if they attempted to flee.
A photograph depicting a laborer working in the sugarcane fields on a plantation on O'ahu. A caption on the photograph reads: "She gets 50 (cents) a day for cutting sugar."
DeYoung. (1920). Sugar Plantation in Hawaii.
The 20th Century and the End of the Plantation Era in Honouliuli
The sugarcane industry on O'ahu began to wane by the middle of the 20th century with operations affected by labor strikes, the closure of the railroad in 1947, as well as damage sustained during WWII. During the later half of the 20th century into the 21st century, the increasing costs of operation, including labor, made it impossible for the sugar companies throughout Hawai'i to continue to compete on a global market.
One major problem faced by the Ewa Plantation Company was the damage it sustained from machine gun fire and anti-aircraft shells during the December 7th, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. The Army soon took possession of over 500,000 acres of the Ewa Plantation Company’s land. As with all of Hawai'i’s sugar companies, the Ewa Plantation’s most serious wartime problem was a shortage of laborers.
Negative impacts of WWII on the company, as well as other plantation companies, led to the largest and last plantation labor strike ever in Hawai'i that occurred in the year 1946. Martial law in Hawai'i caused labor shortages with the freezing of contracts. It was lifted on October 24th, 1944. During this time, the union began to strengthen and effectively organize, culminating into the labor strike of 1946. The Sugar Strike of 1946 that began on Labor Day closed all but one out of 34 plantations across the islands and ended on November 17, 1946. For more information on the history of labor in Hawai'i, please visit
A black and white photograph depicting a train transporting a car full of plantation laborers.
Mast. (n.d.). Labor Train, Hawaii Sugar Cane.
The Ewa Plantation Company ceased operation in 1970 when it was acquired by and merged with Oahu Sugar Company in Waipahu, O'ahu. The Estate of James Campbell shifted its focus in the region to real estate development and the later establishment of the City of Kapolei in 1990.
Information in this section can be found in a draft cultural impact assessment and archaeological inventory conducted by ASM Affiliates. They prepared it on the behalf of Longroad Energy Management, LLC who is proposing to build the Mahi Solar Facility in Honouliuli. Over the years, there has been an ongoing tension between striking a balance between sustainable green energy, protecting cultural sites and ecological habitats, as well as respecting the needs of local communities. The Mahi Solar document does provide a comprehensive history of the project area in Honouliuli, regarding it as part of a larger ahupua'a, though readers may agree or disagree with the findings. Nonetheless, it does detail places of cultural significance and illustrates changes to the landscape as they relate to agriculture and the military. For instance, on page 45, it details the Waiahole Water Company’s (a subsidiary of Oahu Sugar Company) movement of water from the slopes of the Ko'olau mountains, located on the East side of O'ahu, to Waipahu and the ahupua'a of Honouliuli for agricultural purposes.
Forthcoming research with the NPS will closely document the history of water use in Honouliuli for building on this exhibit’s visual portrayal of a changing landscape.
Click on any of the three sources below to learn more information.