Born in 1891 at Lipa, Batangas Province in the Tagalog (central Luzon) region of the Philippines, Pablo Manlapit was educated in Lipa before emigrating to Hawai‘i in 1910 under a three-year contract paying $20 for 26 days of work per month in the sugarcane fields — only about 77 cents per day — and was assigned to the Hamakua Mill Company on the Big Island.
Hard manual labor awaited him and other Filipino labor recruits of the time — 10 hours a day, six days per week, week in and week out — while being paid less than other nationalities for the same work, with poor housing and lack of opportunities for advancement adding to their plight.
Many returned home discouraged or went to the Mainland, but for thousands of Filipinos who stayed, Pablo Manlapit would come to symbolize their resentment and resistance to the lowly status they endured.
Driven by ambition and a desire to help the Filipino laborers he felt were being exploited by the sugar plantations, Manlapit began the struggle to improve their lot.
He also published the first Filipino newspaper in Hawai‘i, Ang Sandaka, which means “The Sword,” around 1914 and, by studying part-time in the law offices of William J. Sheldon, he obtained a license to practice law in 1919 — becoming Hawai‘i’s first Filipino lawyer.
That same year, he organized the Filipino Labor Union, and a year later, he led the 1920 sugar strike, with thousands of Filipino, Puerto Rican and Spanish workers, joined later by the Japanese, striking to idle O‘ahu’s sugar plantations. Yet this strike, which lasted 165 days, gained little for the workers.
He also declared the 1924 sugar strike, demanding $2 for an eight-hour day and better housing.
This strike, unlike the much larger 1920 strike, involved only 2,000 strikers at 23 of Hawai‘i’s 45 plantations, with just four of Kaua‘i’s 11 plantations represented: McBryde, Makaweli, Make‘e and Lihu‘e.
Its most notable incident, the infamous Hanapepe Massacre, took the lives of 16 strikers and four policemen in Hanapepe on Sept. 9.
Though Manlapit was not present in Hanapepe when the massacre occurred, his influence among his countrymen was so great that the authorities implicated him and the Honolulu press attacked him as its cause.
Kaua‘i tiny strike — supported by only 300 Visayans from the south-central Philippines out of a total of perhaps 10,000 Kaua‘i sugar workers — led to the bloodiest confrontation in all of Hawai‘i’s labor history.
Absent were the Ilocanos from northern Luzon, then new to Kaua‘i and wanting no part of a strike. And Japanese workers, although sympathetic to the Visayans, did not follow suit like they did in 1920.
A day or two before the massacre, two Ilocano men from Makaweli Plantation had pedaled their bicycles into Hanapepe town to do some shopping and were caught by Visayans and held in the strikers’ camp at the Japanese Language School.
When their friends discovered them missing, the police were called, and Deputy Sheriff Crowell and one policeman went to the camp to order the men released, but the men refused to leave.
Suspecting the men were in danger and had been intimidated into saying they would not leave, Crowell obtained a court order to arrest them for their own protection.
The following morning, the 9th, Crowell returned to the camp with an arrest warrant, along with several hunters deputized as policemen.
After Crowell negotiated their release, he and his deputies led the two Ilocanos westward through town on Hanapepe Road toward their cars, parked several hundred yards away.
On their way, a large crowd of strikers armed with knives, sticks and a few pistols pressed upon them.
Exactly what was done or said to provoke the fight that ensued, and exactly who thrust the first blade or fired the first shot, is not known.
It is known, however, that the Hanapepe Massacre took place just before the road that went uphill to Camp 2 (just east of today’s intersection at Hanapepe and Moi roads), and during a furious melee that lasted five minutes, two policemen climbed a small bluff (that still exists) and fired into the crowd with their rifles, killing many strikers as they fled into a nearby banana patch.
The confrontation left 16 strikers dead and nine wounded. Three policemen were killed by gunshot, and three — Crowell — were wounded by knives, one mortally.
The horror of the massacre effectively ended the strike.
The strikers and Manlapit were blamed for the massacre, and National Guardsmen were rushed to Kaua‘i from Honolulu to prevent further fighting. One hundred and thirty strikers and their leaders were arrested and tried; 56 were found guilty of riot and imprisoned. Many were later deported to the Philippines.
Manlapit was convicted of conspiracy and received a two- to 10-year sentence at O‘ahu Prison, but was paroled in 1927 on the condition he leave the state. He moved to California, but returned to Hawai‘i in 1933 to rebuild the Filipino labor organization and was soon arrested for accepting union membership fees on false representation. Banished from Hawai‘i, Manlapit returned to the Philippines in 1934.
Pablo Manlapit, the man who gave Filipino plantation workers a voice and led the 1924 strike that gave rise to the Hanapepe Massacre, passed away in the Philippines in 1969.
• Hank Soboleski is a frequent contributor to The Garden Island. His “Island History” columns run on Fridays.