by smmmarti guide
July 13, 2003
It’s likely that after stopping to tour the Sugar Cane Museum and examining the important role this plantation crop played in Maui’s development, the attitude toward the smokestacks of Hawaii’s largest working sugar factory would change. It was the plantation life built around Hawaii’s major crops, sugar being the most prolific, that brought the great cultural diversity and pidgin’ that makes Hawaii so unique.
Tucked down the tree lined lane off Pu`unene Highway and Hanson Avenue, the six-room museum has been created in a beautifully restored home of a plantation manager by a non-profit organization dedicated to "preserving and presenting the history and heritage of the sugar industry and the multi-ethnic plantation life which it engendered."
A volunteer accepts the $5 admission fee and invites visitors to explore the exhibits and watch the ten-minute video. Fascinating examples of plantation life, including archival photos, workers’ costumes, and even an old "mess kit," made up of empty tin cans and recycled bull Durham sacks, gives an intimate glimpse into a bygone lifestyle.
Another exhibit tells the story of the original sugar plantation founders and their dreams. Alexander and Baldwin, both sons of missionaries to the islands, formed this company after building extensive irrigation systems that redirected water from the West Maui mountains. Prior to their feats of engineering, only the wettest parts of the island were suitable for growing sugar, as the plant requires great amounts of water. Many personal artifacts, including Mr. Baldwin‘s desk and Mr. Alexander‘s strongbox are on display.
After watching the video on sugar production, be sure to check out the scale model of the refining equipment. Additionally, study the detailed map designating the origin of the plantation work force from Portugal, the Philippines, Germany, China, Japan and other countries around the world. Each brought and retained their own indigenous culture while cohabitating on the plantation village. Eventually, these cultures cross-pollinated and a unique and entirely new culture in terms of food, activities and even language, emerged. The results are considered "Hawaiian" by today’s standards.
Bring along a picnic lunch to fully enjoy the picturesque grounds. Giant ancient trees line the little lane leading to the museum and shade the adjacent yards. A sugarcane harvesting truck borders the expanse of the backyard giving a decidedly rural and old-world romance to the quaint setting.
The museum’s small gift shop deserves attention. Even locals who’ve grown numb and unimpressed with the traditional tourist schottisches will find unique items from books and games to poi dog t-shirts and money cats. Purchases help to support the efforts of this exceptional "Kahili" award winning preservation sight.
From journal Maui with Keiki