Puerto Rican sugar contract laborers arrive in Hawaii

The first contingent of immigrant Puerto Rican sugar contract laborers — 56 in number — arrived in Honolulu aboard the S.S. City of Rio de Janeiro on Dec. 23, 1900, and were sent to Lahaina, Maui, on the steamer Lehua to work at Pioneer Mill Company.

These Puerto Rican laborers, and others to follow, had been recruited by agents of the Hawaiian Sugar Planters’ Association primarily from Adjuntas, Aguadilla, Utuado, Lares, Arecibo, Penuelas, Yauco, Ponce, and Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.

A second group of nearly 400 Puerto Rican immigrants — about half being women and children — arrived at Honolulu on Jan. 16, 1901, on board the S.S. City of Peking and were transported to Maui and the Big Island aboard the steamer Helene, or were sent to Waialua and Ewa plantations on Oahu.

It was not until Feb. 25, 1901, when the S.S. Zealandia docked in Honolulu with 765 Puerto Rican men, women and children aboard ship, that the first Puerto Rican immigrants destined for Kauai sugar plantations arrived in Hawaii.

Hawaiian Sugar Co. at Makaweli, Kauai, was allocated 40 families that sailed for Kauai aboard the steamer Waialeale.

Another 75 families assigned to Lihue Plantation made sail for Kauai on board the Hanalei.

Initial wages for field laborers were $15 monthly for men, and men were paid a bonus of 50 cents per week provided they worked a 26-day month, while women, boys and girls were paid between 35 cents and 50 cents per day. Free housing, medical care and schooling for the children was provided.

Lihue Plantation noted in March 1901 that its Puerto Rican employees, serving mainly as field laborers, were doing well.

Immigration continued and by Oct. 17, 1901, about 5,000 Puerto Ricans resided on 40 sugar plantations on Oahu, Maui, Hawaii and Kauai.

And, in the fall of 1902, Puerto Rican sugar workers were employed, not only as field hands, but also as clerks, overseers, mechanics, teamsters, wharf men, railroad men and mill hands.

Currently, around 30,000 residents of Hawaii are of Puerto Rican ancestry.

  1. No_They_Didn't May 27, 2018 12:39 am Reply

    Traveled by boat. How much people on Kaua’i then? About 10,000. Very small

  2. No_They_Didn't May 27, 2018 12:46 am Reply

    The more the merrier. About 130,000 in 2025. What do you say?

  3. harryoyama2 May 27, 2018 4:31 pm Reply

    On their days off, I remember allot of Puerto Ricans used to get dressed up and go to these halls to perform their “cha chi cha chi” dances. There was this drunk Puerto Rican man, high on whiskey acting as their bouncer, but always ended up in the corner passed out from his drinking.

  4. VIStar May 28, 2018 3:10 am Reply

    We have Puerto Ricans in the US Virgin Islands. Not only Hawaii. In the past years, many of them moved to St. Croix for work after the collapse of the sugar industry on their island.

  5. VIStar May 28, 2018 11:44 am Reply

    During the Danish time, the Virgin Islands had a lot of sugarcane plantations.

  6. Eddie Lopez May 29, 2018 6:43 pm Reply

    In January 1958 I married a Puerto Rican lady. She was 21 and I was 19. I had been on the island of Oahu for about 7 months after arriving from the San Diego Navy Recruit Training station. I met my future wife at a Puerto Rican dancehall, Sala Borinquena on Dillingham just Ewa of King. I was stationed at Barber’s Point at the time. Anyway, after asking for a dance she sat down and told her sister that was with her, “I’m gonna marry that guy.” True story. However, for the next 13 months or so when I courted her we had to be chaperoned, either by her brother, Edmund, or her cousin Danny Boy, or both. Her father who lived in Omao, Kauai insisted that we follow his strict Spanish tradition. Either chaperoned or no going out, lol. We have now been married 60 years, 4 months, 2 weeks and 2 days.
    In 1992 on the 500th Anniversary of the founding of Puerto Rico, we visited the island of Puerto Rico. At the Ponce archives, we were able to look at the books that told when her great-grandparents sailed to Hawaii. The route was: sail to Houston, train to Los Angeles, and then sail to Oahu. From there they went to the Big Island where eventually both her mom and dad were born (Hilo). I’m not sure when both went to Oahu but both were living on Puuhale Street when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. At the time there were 5 children and as the attack continued the father sent everyone to a storm shelter he had built. During the almost 4 years of the war, her father worked at Pearl helping raise the sunken ships that had gone down during the attack. After the war, they moved to Omao, in Kauai where my wife lived until she graduated from Kauai High. After working in the cannery in the summer of 1955 she moved to Oahu where she lived with her maternal grandmother. Sixteen months later we met.

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