Every year, thousands of people converge on Kauai to celebrate Koloa Plantation Days, a celebration commemorating the history of the sugar plantation life and its economic and cultural influence.
When Koloa Sugar Plantation began operating in 1835, it was the beginning of an industry that would transform the future of Kauai and the rest of the state. Soon, workers flocked from countries all over the world – Japan, China, Philippines, Portugal, and Germany – in search of a better life and greater opportunity.
Life on the sugar plantations was simple. Workers lived in modest homes in the plantation camp, shopped in family owned general stores for necessities, and became ohana (family) with their new neighbors, all who came from different backgrounds and experiences. Communication was a challenge and the workers in the sugarcane fields soon created a type of broken dialect with words of each culture, which today we call “Pidgin English.” It was the beautiful blending of cultures, traditions, and people that was so influential to the melting pot culture of Hawaii today.
Over time, the ownership of Koloa Sugar Plantation changed many hands. The McBryde family, who owned sugar and pineapple plantations in Eleele, purchased the Old Koloa Mill in 1899. In 1948, McBryde Plantation merged with Grove Farm Company, who continues to own the now historic mill and surrounding area. When the Koloa sugar mill closed for good in 1996, it was the beginning of the end for sugarcane on Kauai. By 2010, all of the sugar plantations had closed for good.
In 1985, 150 years after Koloa Sugar Plantation first opened on Kauai, a celebratory luau was held in Koloa. Phyllis Kunimura, who was an active community leader and wife of former mayor Tony Kunimura, had a great idea to make it a regular occurrence. This idea turned into an annual event organized by a group of volunteers that honors Kauai’s sugar plantation history with a multitude of activities, canoe races, fun runs, and culminates with a parade through the historic Koloa Town. Thus, the Koloa Plantation Days festival was born.
The Koloa Plantation Days will be held on July 22-31, 2016. There is something for everyone to enjoy, from walking tours, talk story sessions, culinary tastings, music events and more. Families will love watching movies under the stars at Poipu Beach Park, catch-and-release fishing at the privately owned Waita Reservoir (reservations required), participating in traditional Hawaiian games at a Poipu resort, and the family fun run/walk.
Here’s our list of “must experience” events at this year’s Koloa Plantation Days:
Friday, July 22, 2016
Bull Bash, 5th Annual Music in the County & Food Truck Frenzy, CJM Stables, 5-9 pm. Bring cowboy boots for this exciting event featuring barrel racing, food trucks, and live music.
Saturday, July 23, 2016
Historic Hapa Trail Walk, St. Raphael’s Church, 8 am. Walk the path of the ancient Hawaiians and learn about the area’s history.
17th Annual Plantation Days Rodeo, CJM Stables, 11am-3:30 pm.(July 23rd and 24th). Everyone can appreciate the skill and challenge of cowboys (and cowgirls) steering their horse around the ring to rope a calf at the annual Plantation Days Rodeo.
Keiki Fishing at Waita, check-in at Kauai ATV, 1-4 pm. Reservations are required for this fun catch and release fishing opportunity at the largest privately owned reservoir full of tilapia, big mouthed bass and peacock bass.
Festival Opening & Hoolaulea, Poipu Beach Athletic Club, 5-8:30 pm. Featuring food trucks and live music by Kauai’s top local entertainers.
Sunday, July 24, 2016
Miniature Golf Tournament, ages 13 and under, Lawai Beach Resort, 9:30 am registration, 10am start.
Mixed Plate – Free Live Music, Old Koloa Town Courtyard, 5-8 pm. Kauai born songwriter and entertainer Violet Asuncion and blues/rock band Bluefinger perform in the historic Koloa Town Courtyard.
Monday, July 25, 2016
Plantation Days Exhibit & Historic Film Night, The Shops at Kukuiula, exhibit opens 6 pm, 7:45 pm showing. The exhibit features portraits of plantation life by photographers Tim DeLaVega and Carol Ann Davis, along with a century of archival images and artifacts from the plantation era courtesy of Grove Farm Homestead Museum. At 7:30 pm, a historic documentary will be shown under the stars at the Palm Court.
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
Koloa Plantation Days Craft Fair, Grand Hyatt Kauai, 9am-3 pm. Features local craft vendors and demonstrations by Hawaiian practitioners of cultural arts.
Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Traditional Hawaiian Games, Kiahuna Plantation Resort Kauai by Outrigger, 10 am-12pm. Children will have a blast trying out Hawaiian games like spear throwing, coconut toss, and 50-yard dash, as well as learn coconut frond weaving and how to throw fishing net.
Plantation Cooking at Kauai Culinary Market, The Shops at Kukuiula, 3:30-6pm. Local chefs show off their talents while featuring the blends of foods and flavors that were once shared on the sugar plantation by the immigrant workers.
Thursday, July 28, 2016
Look Back Through the Sugar Era, Old Koloa Mill, 9-11 am. Walking tour of the Old Koloa Mill and surrounding area with Arryl Kaneshiro, current employee of Grove Farm Company and Earl Smith, a former McBryde Sugar Company employee. In addition to an exterior tour of the Koloa Mill, the tourgoers will visit Waita Reservoir and the Wilcox tunnel.
Friday, July 29, 2016
Flavors of Kukuiula, The Shops at Kukuiula, 5:30-8:30 pm. The catchy rhythm of Puerto Rican kachi kachi music played by Wally Rita and Los Kauaianos will make you move your dancing feet while you shop, dine and sample plantation treats.
Saturday, July 30
Historic Parade, Koloa Town, 10 am, roads close at 9 am. starts at Koloa Elementary School, winds through Koloa Town, and ends at the Koloa Ball Park. Ornately decorated floats designed by businesses and community leaders within the Koloa area all participate in this parade.
Park Celebration, Anne Knudsen (Koloa ) Park, 10 am – 5 pm, $3 admission fee, keiki free.
Nearly all local residents who were born and raised on Kauai are tied to the sugar plantation industry in some way. Although sugarcane is no longer an agricultural industry on Kauai, the Koloa Plantation Days festival is a way to reminisce and honor such an important period of Kauai’s history.
For more information and a complete listing of all events, visit www.koloaplantationdays.com.