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The Molokans of Kauai

On Feb. 19, 1906, 110 men, women and children members of a Russian Christian sect known as the Molokans, whose passage had been financed by Honolulu businessman James Bicknell Castle, arrived in Honolulu aboard the “S. S. China” from San Francisco.

The Molokans then boarded the steamer “Iwalani,” which landed them at Anahola, Kauai, and from there they went to Makee Sugar Company, Kapaa, where they took possession of some vacated Japanese laborer quarters.

While in California, these people had been led to believe that they could expect to purchase good sugarcane land on Kauai, upon which they would raise whatever they wished as a colony of independent farmers.

Instead, they were offered unirrigated land covered in lantana, costing $25.69 per acre — a price they could not afford, as it was $20 more than they’d anticipated.

And, they were also informed, contrary to their expectations, that their labor contracts specified they were to work, not as homesteaders, but as laborers of Makee Sugar Co. at 75 cents for a 10-hour working day.

They reacted by repudiating their labor contracts and refusing to work, except only occasionally, and by complaining about the warm climate, manual labor, and their staple diet of rice.

Makee Sugar Co. owner Col. Zephaniah S. Spalding responded by stating that the Molokans had proved themselves to be the most inefficient and unreliable laborers Makee Sugar Co. had ever employed, despite having been furnished with everything necessary for their well-being and comfort — as well as an opportunity to homestead.

Consequently, in June 1906, Makee Sugar Co. manager George H. Fairchild discharged some them, which prompted the departure to Honolulu of 34 Molokans aboard the steamer “W. G. Hall.”

Those Molokan families remaining on Kauai later joined them in Honolulu, with Mr. Castle thereafter paying their return passages to California.


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