Life was good in Ahukini Plantation Camp, a unique enclave that supplied dock-workers for nearby Ahukini Pier when that was the island’s major seaport, recalled Alfred Alao.
Military ships bound for the Pacific campaign during World War II would come for supplies, while the men on board would camp in nearby pine-tree forests along the Ahukini shoreline before going off to combat.
With a lack of modern equipment or technology, loading cargo ships with sugar and pineapple was a strenuous endeavor, sometimes taking seven days to load one ship, said Alao, a retired stevedore and timekeeper for Kauai Commercial Terminal, a steamship agent for Matson Navigation Co.
“Night camping on the pier, and fishing, skin diving, swimming, sport activities at our community park, from dawn to dusk,” Alao recalled. “We especially loved to (go) spear-fishing, and picking ‘opihi. Yes, growing up in Ahukini was no ka ‘oi.”
Alao’s father was a stevedore, too, and Alfred Alao recalled the days when the warships were in port. While the going rate for a shoe-shine was 15 cents, the sailors always gave him a dollar each for his shines, with candy bars for tips.
With that money, the enterprising Alao bought his first bicycle, a Schwinn, for $32.95.
The stevedores worked seven days a week and as many as 12 hours a day during the war years, Alao recalled. The men took five to seven days to load ships.
Using booms and nets, the men loaded Kaua‘i-grown sugar into steamships bound for the C&H sugar refinery in the San Francisco Bay Area. Pineapple shipments from the cannery in Kapa‘a and Hawaiian Fruitpackers in Kapahi also were loaded onto the ships for export.
Two locomotives, the Kalalau #8 and the Hanalei #9, brought loads of sugar and pineapple to the pier for shipment, Alao recalled.
About 300 former residents of Ahukini Plantation Camp and friends recently gathered at Hanama‘ulu Beach Park to recall life in the old camp, meet old friends, and feast on potluck food.
Among the highlights at Ahukini ‘Ohana Reunion 2003, held earlier this month, was the recognition of about 125 stevedores who once lived in the plantation camp and worked at Ahukini Pier in Hanama‘ulu Bay.
The all-day event drew former camp residents from Kaua‘i, as well as guests from Honolulu, Washington state, California and Vancouver.
Special recognition was given to two brothers and former residents of the camp who attended the reunion. Masao “Masa” Yotsuda, who is in his 80s, was recognized as the oldest retired stevedore attending the gathering.
Bob Yotsuda, a former member of the Kaua‘i County Council and leading Lihu‘e businessman, was applauded for having pushed for the restoration of Ahukini Pier.
Today, the pier is a popular community fishing spot used by young and old alike.
The first former Ahukini Camp resident to sign in for reunion was Clifford Lee, who was also in charge of the food for the gathering.
The camp opened in 1890, and at one point boasted more than 200 people representing 60 families. They lived on 60 acres located near the end of what is now one of the runways at Lihu‘e Airport.
The camp closed in the mid-1960s, the result of the planned expansion of the main runway at the airport and the arrival of containerized shipping to Kaua‘i, which reduced the need for manual labor provided by stevedores.
The camp was unique among plantation camps on Kaua‘i in that while other plantation camps provided small armies of agricultural workers, Ahukini Camp provided generations of stevedores who worked at Ahukini Pier.
Up until the 1960s, the pier served as a major commercial port for East Kaua‘i, supplying goods for that part of the island.
From that point on, full use of the facility declined, eclipsed by increased use of the larger and deeper Nawiliwili Harbor.
A photo display of former stevedores jogged the memories of many former residents at the reunion.
Retired stevedores who attended the reunion included Takeshi Nanbu, Noriyuki Kurosaki, Samuel Haluapo, William Wong, William Mande, Crispin Relacion and Kazuto Yoshimitsu. Kauai Consolidated Terminal at one time employed 125 stevedores and 20 salaried personnel, Alao said.
For the reunion, special thanks was given to those who helped plan and put together the event. They included Lydia (Alao) Ross, Katie Simao, Rena Alao and Clifford Lee, who provided two kalua pigs, lomi salmon dishes, and poi.
Alfred Alao also thanked all who made financial donations and potluck food shared by all at the reunion.
To mark the event, a special commemorative T-shirt featuring the jetty located at the entry to Hanama‘ulu Bay was distributed.
Alao said because the event was such a success, efforts may be initiated to hold another reunion.
TGI Staff writer Lester Chang can be at 245—3681, Ext. 225, or mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.