Songs of plantations past

Hole hole can be tedious and boring work and was usually assigned to the Japanese women who arrived in Hawaii between 1885 and 1924.

They toiled in the cane fields, using a machete to strip the leaves off the cane stalks to make it grow larger and juicier.

“Today, almost all of these women are gone, but not forgotten,” said Gerald Hirata, president of the Kauai Soto Zenshuji temple in Hanapepe. “As a tribute to these issei, or first generation, women, the Kauai Soto Zen is having special events devoted to them during the bon dance this weekend.”

Events will include an exhibit featuring period photos, plantation artifacts, audio recordings, and a display of the original verses sung by the women about the struggles of plantation life, expressing their joys and sorrows.

“We have a recording of the late Mrs. Shizuko Kato, a former temple member, singing the hole hole bushi,” Hirata said. “She was born in Hiroshima, Japan in 1906 and came to Kauai as a picture bride in 1921. She worked in the cane fields of McBryde Sugar Plantation and sang these songs.”

Labelled “painful songs,” or “Buddhahead blues,” some of these songs, known as hole hole bushi, will be performed during the intermission performance at the bon dance this weekend.

Cara and Lacy Tsutsuse, two singers from Honolulu, will perform some of these hole hole bushi, instructed by Harry Urata, the person credited with saving these songs from extinction, Hirata said.

“This weekend, for the sake of our children, we must teach them to remember the sacrifices of these women who led the way and endured the hardships,” Hirata said. “Obon is the perfect time to reflect on the significance of those who came before us.”

Hirata said free bus service, Friday night only, and senior preferential parking at the event will be available.

The bus leaves the Kapaa Hongwanji Mission at 6 p.m., the former Lihue Big Save parking lot at 6:20 p.m. and arrives at the Soto Zen temple at 7 p.m. It leaves the bon dance at 9:45 p.m.

Rev. Shuji Komagata will lead the special memorial service at the Hanapepe temple starting at 6 p.m. followed by a special Taiko Kauai performance starting at 7 p.m.

Bon dancing starts at 7:20 p.m.with the special hole hole bushi performance by Somei Taiko starting at 8:30 p.m.

A special fire burning ceremony will take place Saturday night at 9:30.


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