Celebration of ‘Plantation Days’ Set for Saturday

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A celebration of culture and deep rooted sugar plantation history will be the emphasis of Saturday’s second annual Hamakua Sugar Plantation Days Festival, hosted by the Heritage Center at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo’s North Hawai’i Education and Research Center.

Aiming to commemorate the sugar plantation industry not only throughout Hawai’i but specifically along the Hamakua Coast, the day-long festival will center around the Historic Rickard House, currently called the Salvation Army. Throughout the day, the festival will encompass a range of cultures that are at the focal point of Honoka’a’s sugar plantation roots.

“The reason why we chose the Salvation Army is because it’s the old Rickard House, it’s one of the oldest buildings in Honoka’a. When the Rickard family bought it, they were good friends with the Queen. Queen Liliokalani actual stayed there when they imprisoned her,” said Darde Gamayo, one of the event organizers.

Gamayo says the event aims to address several needs in the community, including a bringing together of cultural roots that assist in the community-wide acknowledgement of Honoka’a’s plantation history, along with an educational aspect that will provide both children and new arrivals to the town an understanding of Honoka’a’s culture and beginnings.


“We did a project with fourth and seventh graders where they would draw the sugar cane… and none of those students even knew what it looked like. They were all drawing eucalyptus trees,” Gamayo said.

It was at that point, along with last year’s 20th anniversary of the Last Harvest at Honoka’a Sugar Company, that community members started thinking about how to preserve the important culture for generations to come.

Ethnic foods from Portuguese, Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, and Puerto Rican communities will fill the air as local talents Maelan Abran, Darlene Ahuna, Ryan Hiraoka, and Bulla Kailiwai will take the stage for performances beginning at 11 a.m.


Along with activities surrounding the old Richard family house, the Honoka’a Theater will host “plantation-timed” movies and be home to a talk by Wendy Tolleson, who is with the Honoka’a Town Project, seeking to preserve the town through an official historic town recognition.

Patsy Iwasaki, an author and professor at UH-Hilo, will show a special sneak peek documentary trailer viewing at the theater. The film revolves around the death of Katsu Goto, the subject of her widely known manga-style book, “Hamakua Hero: A True Plantation Hero.”

Iwasaki’s preview is expected to play prior to Tolleson’s talk at 11:30 a.m. Films will play until 1 p.m.


“The event really brings out a lot of former sugar plantation workers and their families. Our main objective is really to conserve the plantation history,” Gamayo said.

Saturday’s event is free and open to the public through a sponsorship by NHERC Hertitage Center, funds by the County of Hawai’i’s Department of Research and Development, and collaboration with various community organizations.

“The sugar plantation created a unique environment where people from different races and parts of the world could harmoniously co-exist, giving Honokaa its uniqueness that attracts many to our area,” Gamayo noted. This, Gamayo says, is the whole meaning behind the festival.

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