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The closing of the Waialua Sugar Mill on the North Shore marked the official exit of sugar on Oahu. The industry had begun to struggle in the 1980s, with cheaper manufacturing, labor and exportation available in South America and the Philippines. The next decade witnessed a string of Hawaii mill closures beginning in 1994 when Hamakua Sugar Co. harvested its last crop, Hilo Sugar and Oahu Sugar’s Waipahu Sugar Mill both closed in 1995 and Kau Sugar in March 1996.
Although the sugar days were gone, their legacy lived on—Hawaii’s rich melting pot of ethnicities, its plantation-style architecture, even its pidgin. When the mills closed, the fields sprouted both developments—such as Waikele on the former Waipahu Sugar Mill land and the industrial and commercial factories that moved into the Waialua Mill buildings—and a more diversified agriculture.
A musician? Laid in state at the Capitol? To an outside observer, Israel Kamakawiwoole’s funeral might have been befuddling. He was, after all, the first non-politician to receive such an honor, and only the third person in state history to do so, after Gov. John A. Burns and U.S. Sen. Spark Matsunaga. But for Hawaii, and for anyone who had even a passing knowledge of Bruddah Iz, it was a statewide day of mourning, with more than 10,000 gathering to pay their respects.
Sure, he was a fantastic performer—who could resist the delicate voice that projected the medley of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World” to international acclaim. But he was more than just an entertainer; he was something deeper.
“He become the voice of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement,” says author Stuart Coleman. “In his music, he stated that the Hawaiian people were still owed something in songs such as ‘Living in a Sovereign Land’ and ‘Hawaii ’78.’ He died before his time and suffered many of the things that Hawaiians were struggling with at the time, obesity and drug use and anger. Yet he overcame all those things and became a unifying force for people in Hawaii.”
“The community has lost faith in Bishop Estate trustees, in how they are chosen, how much they are paid, how they govern. The time has come to say ‘no more.’”
With these strong words, printed in a special Saturday edition of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, five well-respected members of the community dropped a bombshell on one of the most powerful institutions in the state.
The essay, co-written by Samuel King, Msgr. Charles Kekumano, Walter Heen, Gladys Brandt and Randall Roth, ignited a storm of controversy that led to a full-scale investigation into the management of Kamehameha Schools, the resignation of all five of the trustees and a reorganization that addressed many of the concerns raised.
Roth says, “I think it was empowering experience for the community at large, to see such large-scale changes being made out of grassroots efforts.”