A Massacre Forgotten
Decades of harsh treatment toward plantation workers resulted in several riotous strikes beginning in the 20th century. One turned deadly. It has since been all but forgotten.
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After the trials, life went on for many as though the massacre had not happened. Widows of the dead strikers remarried, men and women toiled in the fields under the same harsh conditions and the small community went on with everyday business. Taniguchi surmises that this is probably because those who tried to instigate change were either dead, in jail or deported, and that Filipinos did not have a strong community upon which to lean in the face of tragedy. “I think they thought there was nothing they could do,” adds Bushnell.
It was not until 1946 that plantations accepted unionized labor with the recognition of the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union (ILWU). The ILWU organized during World War II and struck the year the war ended, winning improved working conditions and higher pay. “That’s a long time later, though, a whole generation after the strike in 1924. By 1946, I’m willing to bet very few people remembered the Hanapepe Massacre,” says Bushnell.
Okamura agrees: “It goes back to the historical circumstances: striking workers being armed and killing four police, that’s not likely to generate sympathy from the larger public.” He adds that instances such as the killing of Joe Kahawaii during the Massie case or the 1938 Hilo Massacre, in which the police shot at more than 50 unarmed strikers—although none were killed—garnered more sympathy from the public and have been more widely remembered.
Even so, that September day more than 85 years ago was still an important moment in Hawaii’s labor story. “I don’t know if anyone is ever going to get the true history,” says Gonzalves.
“Every nation is as much about remembering as it is about forgetting the past acts of barbarism that were created at its foundation. The best we can do is approximate the event and get at the validity of what happened.”