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Tracing history

KOLOA — It was her desire to preserve history that drove Catherine Lo to produce a work that chronicles the lives of about 80 Filipino families in Koloa.

“History is elusive. Plantation life once ruled the day, but it’s the past and it is gone,” she writes in her book, “The Filipinos of Koloa.”

“But we cannot, and must not, let go of the past to relegate it into oblivion because the past is a learning tool for the present,” she added.

The retired head librarian of Kauai Community College spent the last three years researching, reporting and documenting the lives of 120 sakadas from Koloa. Sakadas were Filipino labor recruits that first came to Hawaii in 1906 and later came to Koloa in 1910 when the sugar industry was king.

They were the first Filipinos, those who came from 1909 to 1946, Lo said. To be a sakada, the laborer would have to be under contract. On the south side, Filipinos were contracted by Koloa Plantation.

Filipino and part Filipinos make up about 24 percent of Hawaii’s population or 342,095, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. On Kauai, about 6,300 of its residents identify themselves as having Filipino ancestry out of the 71,000 person population.

Most Filipinos on Kauai who trace their lineage before 1946 are more than likely descended from a sakada who traveled from the Philippines on U.S. boats in search of better lives.

Proceeds from the sale of “The Filipinos of Koloa” will benefit the Kauai Philippine Center in Puhi. On Saturday, Lo will host a talk story about her book at the Koloa Public Library meeting room at 10 a.m.

”I’m hoping the younger generations will find this book as a source when they are looking into their roots,” she said.

The 79-year-old Lo initially chronicled the Filipinos of Koloa in 1985, when she was asked by members of the Filipino community to write a research paper about the people’s history for the sesquicentennial celebration of Koloa Plantation.

New material also includes a detailed history of New Mill Camp, a plantation camp that once housed 29 homes — 17 of which were occupied by Filipino bachelor workers.

“This not just about the sakadas. It’s history. The camps that made up Koloa Plantation are here,” Lo said.

While the plantation life on Kauai was difficult, life at the homeland was even more difficult for Filipino laborers, she said.

“Their contract was for three years, and they didn’t have enough money to go back,” she said. “Most of these sakadas came from the barrios, and there was nothing better to come back to. They had very good work ethic. What became of their children reflected their hard work.”

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