HANALEI — The soft trickle of water flowing in the ‘auwai past the Haraguchi Rice Mill enhanced the presentation by taro farmer Rodney Haraguchi as he provided some history of his family’s rice mill.
Listening with great interest were members of the Young Brothers Community Advisory Board, on hand Wednesday to present Haraguchi and the rice mill’s grant-writer, Joan Conrow, with a grant.
Haraguchi noted that the network of belts and conveyor systems that criss-cross the interior of the rebuilt mill was at one time driven by the very waters that flow through the ditch in the back of the rebuilt building.
His grandfather, Kahyohei Haraguchi, shortened to Kahei because people had difficulty pronouncing his full name, arrived on Kaua‘i in 1917 as a contract laborer for Gay & Robinson.
Following the completion of his labor contract, Kahei Haraguchi moved to Kapa‘a to work in the pineapple industry. To supplement his pineapple wages, Kahei Haraguchi obtained permission from the Robinson family to grow rice in a plot situated where the Hanalei Colony Resort sits today in Ha‘ena.
Before being developed, the beachfront land at Ha‘ena was a freshwater wetland in places, and taro was grown along the streams of the ahupua‘a. As workers from Japan, China and other Asian nations settled on Kaua‘i, the demand for rice outpaced that for taro, causing former taro patches to be replanted in rice.
The Haraguchi family’s wooden-walled rice mill was obtained from a Chinese family who put the building up for sale in 1924.
Following a devastating fire, the rice mill was rebuilt to its current layout, utilizing a combination of wood and corrugated sheet iron. The building was extensively damaged by the winds of Hurricane ‘Iniki in September, 1992, but the perseverance of the Haraguchis resulted in the building being returned to its restored state.
Rodney Haraguchi pointed out that through stories obtained from his parents and other relatives, he learned that the family farmed about 75 acres of the summer-only rice crop. Following the milling of the seasonal rice harvest, done in the tradition of similar harvests in Japan, the rice mill was converted to a taro mill.
Haraguchi said the federal government constructed the Hanalei Pier in the 1910s in part to allow the rice harvest to be shipped out of Hanalei to Honolulu for processing. A set of iron railroad tracks led to the end of the pier from a mauka landing where flat boats brought bags of the milled rice down river for offloading. The landing was designed to save the small river boats a trip beyond the river into the ocean. The pier wasn’t given a roof until the 1930s. Lighters, the nautical name for the whale boats used to transport people and goods, were used to take the bags of rice out to steamers anchored offshore.
Rice was a major crop on Kaua‘i a century ago, second only to sugar, with Chinese rice kings making fortunes in Kapa‘a and Waimea. Rice mills to process the grain began popping up in those areas, as well as at Hanalei and other towns, giving individual farmers a choice as to where they could process their crops.
Haraguchi noted that rice cultivation was a labor-intensive operation, and due to the resourcefulness of the farmers, innovative solutions to milling problems evolved, one being a rope spliced into a makeshift belt to drive one of the hullers in the mill.
Another makeshift benefit for rice workers was the hot-water runoff from the main engine that powered all the machinery in the mill. The runoff was used to heat bath water, so workers were treated to a traditional Japanese furo bath following their workday.
Community volunteers are working with the nonprofit organization the Haraguchis have started to preserve and enhance the rice mill project, and are working on the mill engine. Eventually, he said, they envision planting a demonstration plot of rice, with harvested grains actually being processed through the restored, working mill.
The Young Brothers grant will help in achieving that goal, as it enhances the mill’s educational stance in the community, which is geared towards school children, although Haraguchi admits, “you get a lot of questions from adults.”
The Haraguchi Rice Mill is situated on land owned by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and, as such, is limited in its growth, a factor Haraguchi says is good in protecting the endangered wildlife that is often seen by visitors to the facility. Protected native water fowl found in the nearby taro fields include Koloa Duck, the nene and other native water birds. To further reach out to school students, a partnership with the Kilauea Wildlife Refuge has also been arranged so groups making field trips to the Kilauea Lighthouse can further enhance their North Shore visit with a trip to the rice mill.
Due to the one-lane road leading to the mill, the board governing the mill is working out a vehicle access system. One of the family’s ideas is to have a Haraguchi employee drive a shuttle van from a more centralized parking area so visitors can easily access the mill and a planned museum of artifacts and displays telling the history of Hanalei rice farmers.
Haraguchi Rice Mill is the only restored, working rice mill found in Hawai‘i. With the help of family histories, the Kaua‘i Historical Society and grants from charitable donors like Young Brothers, the mill offers a showcase to the past while sitting in the serene beauty of the Hanalei Valley.
Wanda Shibata, chairperson for the Young Brothers Community Advisory Board, said this was the first time they’ve awarded a grant to the Haraguchi Rice Mill, and following a tour, she said she was glad they reached the decision to award the funds to the program. From the mill, it was off to sample poi smoothies and sandwiches made with taro bread baked according to a Haraguchi family recipe.
TGI Editor Chris Cook contributed to this report.