Voices from plantations past

LIHUE— Dr. Patricia Brown describes her book “Filipinas!” as “voices from daughters and descendents of Hawaii’s Plantation Era.”

Monday, the voices were loud and excited as three of the contributing women talked about the book at the Kukui Grove Center.

“I was born back there,” said Senaida “Sandy” Benito Kinoshita, one of the book’s contributors. “Behind the West Kauai United Methodist Church Kaumakani Hall, there was a plantation camp. That’s where I was born.”

The public is invited to the WK United Methodist Church Kaumakani Hall from 1 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday to listen to readings by some of the Kauai storytellers in the Filipinas! book.

“Dr. Brown said as far as she knows, there hasn’t been a book published about the Filipino women who came to Hawaii,” Kinoshita said. “She got us, second and third generation women, to submit stories about our mothers and grandmothers and their experiences in Hawaii and the plantation camps.”

When the Filipinos first came to Hawaii to labor in the plantations, there was a problem because the men were not taking the medications prescribed by the plantation doctors for their ailments and illnesses.

That prompted the plantation to bring over a nurse from the Philippines, who could encourage the Filipino men to follow the prescriptions issued by the doctors.

The stories continue as Kinoshita described her mother, Ignacia Flores Ramos Arciga, as a pitot, or short woman.

“Because of her size, she was, as the Japanese say, ‘gasagasa,’ or all-around, full of energy,” said Pat Valenciano Pablo. “That trait, and the fact she was very strict, gave her the nickname of ‘warrior.’”

Kinoshita said her mother was considered one of the elders in the plantation camp.

“As elders, they were kind of like generals,” Kinoshita said. “They took care of the younger women, serving as consultants when you needed to plant things. They could concoct the herbal remedies, and even helped women plan on the proper food to serve during funerals. They were the leaders, and you went to them for advice on everything.”

Miyazaki said their mother, Maria Bolosan Valenciano, was a hard worker.

“She instilled in us the need for education,” Miyazaki said. “We needed education so we can be independent women and have our own income, not relying on husbands to support us.”

Kinoshita said Brown discovered many similarities among the women in the plantation camps while writing the book.

“Drawn from personal accounts or recollections by 67 family storytellers are tales of loneliness, survival, life on plantations, social life, plus sharing and maintaining Filipino culture and values with their American-born children,” said Dr. Dorothy Cardova, the founder and executive director of the Filipino American Historical Society, in a message. “Some stories are funny, others touching — but all will give readers an accurate account of the lives of pioneer Filipinas in Hawaii.”

Pablos said the Saturday event is free and will probably turn into a talk story about the days of the sugar plantation during the era of their parents.

“It’s also one of the few times, the church in Kaumakani will be open,” Miyazaki said. “The Robinson family owns it, and most of the time, the gate is closed.”

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