Massacre strengthened labor unions

Emme Tomimbang, a renowned Hawai’i media entrepreneur and celebrity, has been researching one of Kaua’i’s most tragic moments in history for her upcoming two-part documentary on the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first Filipinos to Hawai’i in 1906.

The first part of the documentary, marking the first 50 years of Filipinos in Hawai’i, will touch on what has become known as the Hanapepe Massacre of 1924.

On Sept. 9. of that year, 16 Filipino sugar laborers were killed in Hanapepe by Kaua’i policemen at the end of a drawn-out strike of Filipino sugar-plantation workers for better wages and living conditions. Three or four police officers were killed as well.

A major thrust behind the telling of the story is to explain why and how the Filipino men gave their lives to help improve the lot of thousands of Filipino sugar plantation workers in the early years of the 20th century.

What the 16 men did more than 80 years ago has relevance today, says Tomimbang, and they should be viewed as heroes and role models for future generations of Hawai’i residents of Filipino ancestry.

She said she was privileged to have been able to chronicle the event in the two-part documentary that will be aired first on commercial television and, later, in a public-broadcast-station format, later in the year.

Not much has been written in detail about the incident at Hanapepe, and her documentaries will shed light on a matter that was almost taboo for certain generations of Filipinos who grew up in Hawai’i, Tomimbang said.

“This was such a hush-hush thing,” she said. “They just wanted to bury the incident in the way they buried the men (in a mass grave site said to be by a Catholic church in Hanapepe).”

The silence may have had to do more with Filipinos feeling shame about the incident and wanting to forget about it, Tomimbang speculated.

Also, if the incident had gotten national play in newspapers of the day, more Filipinos might not have come to Hawai’i to work in the sugar industry, she said.

“This would have discouraged people from coming to Hawai’i,” at a time when the sugar companies desperately needed workers to support the growing sugar industry, Tomimbang said.

What the 16 Filipino men tried to do for their countrymen should be recognized, she said, and the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the first Filipinos to arrive in Hawai’i should be the occasion in which to do that.

“My thought is that if there were any year to recognize Filipino men, it would be this year,” she said.

Tomimbang said Filipino leaders on Kaua’i are doing their share to recognize the fallen men.

Oscar Portugal, one of 15 commissioners of the state’s Filipino Centennial Celebration Commission, is working with others to try to identify the names of the dead.

Also, efforts also are under way to try to find the mass grave site in which the men were buried, she said.

“Documents indicate the grave site was located by a Catholic church in Hanapepe, but other records show no Catholic churches were built in that town,” Tomimbang said.

The only catholic church by Hanapepe is the Sacred Heart Church, which is located in ‘Ele’ele, she said. Church officials are researching church archives to try to help her, Tomimbang said.

To recognize the 16 men, efforts are being made to put the names of the dead men on a plaque that would be permanently affixed somewhere on Hanapepe Road, where the men reportedly died, Tomimbang said.

Rhoda Libre, a community activist and media personality, has spearheaded efforts to have the plaque project become a reality. Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste has to give his approval as well, Tomimbang said.

Tomimbang has researched the event, and has gotten a better picture of what happened by getting in touch with Kaua’i residents who remembered the incident.

“There was this 90-year-old woman we interviewed in March,” she said. “She was walking home from Japanese school, which was used as headquarters for the strikers.”

While the Japanese in Hanapepe may not have participated directly in the strike, they gave support to the Filipino strikers in spirit, Tomimbang said. “The Japanese were helping them to do their thing,” she said.

The deaths that occurred in that incident were the most of any involving violence in Hawai’i, Tomimbang believes.

The massacre came as sugar-plantation workers across the state began mobilizing efforts to create unions to create better working and living conditions in the sugar-cane industry.

This thrust created friction between the workers and sugar-company owners, according to historical documents.

To repress such activities, members of the Hawai’i Territorial Legislature passed laws to halt the creation of unions, and to impose penalties for picketing.

Sugar-company owners screened the workers who had come from the Philippines, preferring workers who were not literate, according to historical accounts.

Pablo Manlapit, a migrant laborer, lawyer and Filipino labor activist, joined the movement for the unionization of Filipinos in Hawai’i in the early 1920s.

He reportedly helped organize the new Filipino Higher Wage Movement, which claimed 13,000 members.

The movement was needed, historical documents suggested. From 1907 to 1931, about 120,000 Filipino men immigrated from the Philippines to Hawai’i to work in the sugar industry.

As the most-recent arrivals to Hawai’i at that time, the Filipinos had to deal with occasionally harsh lunas (supervisors), social discrimination, and shopping at plantation stores where prices were fixed when they came from regions in the Philippines where bargaining was a way of life, according to historical documents.

The Filipinos also were given the oldest housing because they were considered the lowest-skilled among the plantation workers, the documents note.

Immigration laws also didn’t permit Filipino men to bring their families with them to Hawai’i. All these challenges faced by Filipinos and other ethnic groups working in the Hawai’i’s sugar industry made conditions ripe for a strike.

A strike was called on Kaua’i in April 1924, and among the key demands were $2 a day in wages, and a reduction in hours to an eight-hour workday.

Arrests of strike leaders were used as methods to break up unionization efforts.

As the story goes, strikers held two strike-breakers against their will in Hanapepe, thus triggering the Hanapepe Massacre.

According to a news story in The Garden Island, police officials secured a warrant, and with weapons, including guns, staged a “rescue” at a union headquarters in Hanapepe.

The strikers, though numbering into the hundreds, were armed mostly with homemade weapons and knives.

A law-enforcement official identified only as Deputy Sheriff Crowell mobilized a small number of police officers to visit the site. A Filipino translator also was brought along.

According to documents, Crowell reportedly produced papers to show the men being held against their will by the strikers were wanted and Crowell was going to take them into custody.

The two men were eventually turned over to Crowell, and as he and others prepared to leave in cars, they found themselves confronted by an angry crowd.

Crowell cautioned his men not to shoot unless he gave orders to do so. But a shot rang out from the crowd, triggering a melee that led to hand-fighting and stabbings, and the fatalities, the historical account states.

The article indicated Crowell suffered a cut on the head and arm, and three officers died from being shot or stabbed — officer Ah Boo, Moke Kua and Kailuaaiai.

The wounded officers were Kipe Naumu and Henry Naumu.

The names of the dead Filipino laborers were not listed in the story, although historical accounts noted that two, while running away, had been shot in the back, and died.

Historical documents also showed that 101 Filipinos were arrested, 76 were brought to trial, and 60 were given four-year sentences.

Manlapit, although he was not on the island when the assault occurred, was charged with encouraging others to commit perjury during the trial, and was sentenced to two to 10 years in prison.

The Hanapepe Massacre and the sacrifices made by the 16 dead Filipino laborers most likely strengthened attempts at unionization across the state at the time, and helped create the ILWU (now the International Longshore and Warehouse Union), the first union in Hawai’i. The tragedy helped strengthen the foundation of unions as they exist today, Tomimbang said.

For the Kaua’i portion of the documentary, she spoke with leading Filipino leaders on Kaua’i, including retired federal Judge Alfred Laureta and former Kaua’i Mayor Eduardo Malapit.

Equally important for her in developing the two-part documentary was talking with the sakadas, the first Filipino immigrants to Hawai’i.

The first part of her documentary deals with the lives of the sakadas and the plantation years.

The second part of her documentary deals with Filipinos “moving off the plantation lots,” opening businesses and getting into professional fields.

The shows are scheduled to air in late June.

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