Aug 8, 2011

Filipinos Living on the Pineapple Isle

By Hillary Leano

 There is no single ethnic group that impacted the history of Lana’i more than the Filipinos. With more than 60% of its population of Filipino descent (2000 U.S. Census), Filipinos have become a  huge influence on the culture of Lana`i, starting from the plantation days and continuing into the future.  Through their history of hard work, rich culture and proud heritage, Filipinos of Lana’i have helped to make this Pineapple Island a one of a kind place.

 Lana`i was the driest island around—a place where it was all dirt and cactus, it was considered a place that was only good for raising cattle.  Little did people know that it was a perfect island to grow pineapple!  In 1923 after purchasing the island, James Dole turned Lana’i as the world’s largest pineapple plantation ( Dole’s booming Hawaiian Pineapple Company was in need of cheap labor, so they looked abroad and eventually recruit laborers from the Philippines.  In 1898, the U.S. and Spain signed the Treaty of Paris officially ending the Spanish-American War and ceding the Philippines to the U.S. as a territory.   This made it easy for Filipinos to enter the U.S. with work contracts and Filipinos started to come to work to Lana’i. 

  Pineapple workers worked  every weekday on the field for hours picking, planting, and cutting pineapple. Corazon Masicampo, an active member of the Filipino Federation of America recalls “harvesting and all work on the field was done by hand and back, and we had to work from 10-12 hrs a day.”  My grandfather, Johnny Maltezo, immigrated to Lana’i in 1927 at the age of 17.  He said that “sometimes the pineapple was too heavy to carry, I had to chop it in pieces right in the field so that I can carry it.” 

        Today, Ilokano is the second most spoken language on Lana’i.  It is so widely known on the island that Lana`i High and Elementary School decided to discontinue Filipino language classes. In 1975, the Lana`i Filipino Community Association was established. The association has since built a center for them called the Filipino Club House.  This is where meetings are held and where dances of the Philippines are taught to youth like the tinikling, cariñosa, candle dance, and pottery dance. The members set up benefit dances, fundraisers, and beauty pageants to raise money to celebrate and share the Filipino culture with everyone. Recently, the LFCA organized a Martin Nievera benefit concert.  However, according to Onaona Maly of the Lana’i Culture and Heritage Center, the event had to be cancelled due to bad timing and low ticket sales.  Proceeds from the concert would have benefited the  community heritage program, the LFCA and the Lana’i High and Elementary School Scholarship Fund.  

  One event that is very popular in the Lana’i Filipino community is the Miss Lana`i Filipina Scholarship Pageant.  Every year the LFCA awards a $1,000 scholarship to a Lanai High School senior that is constantly involved in the Filipino community. This year’s winner was Nishae Niimi. Nishae, 17, is the daughter of Warren and Karen Niimi. whose family’s roots are from Ilocos Norte, Philippines. 

  Last April, the  first annual Multicultural Day was held on Lana’i.  Together with the LFCA, volunteer Filipino students helped teach high school students from Lanai High and Elementary School about Filipino culture.  They organized a fashion show of the different traditional outfits, set up booths of different hand made crafts, games, and of course you can’t forget the food!  “I learned a lot about the Filipino culture.  There were things I was doing that I didn’t even know were a part of the culture” said a fellow high school student.

 The Filipino community continues to impact the island of Lana`i. This is evident through the many community activities that the people organize and participate in annually, such as the Barrio Fiesta, Rizal Day, Flores De Mayo, and many more.
  Living in this Filipino community has given me the opportunity to have a connection to my Filipino roots, and for that I am grateful.  The Filipino community on Lana`i is truly a community like no other.


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