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Sovereign Sugar

Industry and Environment in Hawai'i

Carol A. MacLennan

Publication Year: 2014

Although little remains of Hawai‘i’s plantation economy, the sugar industry’s past dominance has created the Hawai‘i we see today. Many of the most pressing and controversial issues—urban and resort development, water rights, expansion of suburbs into agriculturally rich lands, pollution from herbicides, invasive species in native forests, an unsustainable economy—can be tied to Hawai‘i’s industrial sugar history.

Sovereign Sugar unravels the tangled relationship between the sugar industry and Hawai‘i’s cultural and natural landscapes. It is the first work to fully examine the complex tapestry of socioeconomic, political, and environmental forces that shaped sugar’s role in Hawai‘i. While early Polynesian and European influences on island ecosystems started the process of biological change, plantation agriculture, with its voracious need for land and water, profoundly altered Hawai‘i’s landscape.

MacLennan focuses on the rise of industrial and political power among the sugar planter elite and its political-ecological consequences. The book opens in the 1840s when the Hawaiian Islands were under the influence of American missionaries. Changes in property rights and the move toward western governance, along with the demands of a growing industrial economy, pressed upon the new Hawaiian nation and its forests and water resources. Subsequent chapters trace island ecosystems, plantation communities, and natural resource policies through time—by the 1930s, the sugar economy engulfed both human and environmental landscapes. The author argues that sugar manufacture has not only significantly transformed Hawai‘i but its legacy provides lessons for future outcomes.

Carol MacLennan is an anthropologist who has visited Hawai‘i extensively for over thirty years. She teaches at Michigan Technological University about industry and the environment, with a focus on how large-scale industries such as sugar cane and hard rock mining affect environments and communities. She has published on Hawai‘i’s sugar industry and North American mining.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-viii


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-11

Fly across the Pacific Ocean to Hawai‘i in the early twenty-first century and you will come upon what appears from the air to be peaceful, carefully tended, rural landscapes alongside pockets of intense urban high-rise settlements. Wide sectors of green-sectioned acreages on gradual slopes crawl up to forests on the craggy volcanic peaks of O‘ahu and Kaua‘i. Maui and...

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Chapter 1: Waves of Influence

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pp. 12-35

The human footprint on Hawai‘i’s landscape stepped into an already changing ecology characterized by its remoteness in an ocean world. The islands had been evolving well before Polynesians first landed. Hawai‘i’s environmental history begins with the evolution of the Hawaiian Ridge—a chain of volcanic mountains above and below the sea in the middle of...

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Chapter 2: Sugar’s Ecology

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pp. 36-51

Hawai‘i’s experiment with sugar agriculture parallels the era of industrialization in Europe and North America. Hawai‘i enters the stage as sugar production goes global and when beet and cane sugars from both temperate and tropical climates compete for an international market. As refined sugar finds an increasing appetite within the industrializing world, it...

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Chapter 3: Four Families

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pp. 52-80

Modern ecological change in Hawai‘i begins with money and law. Hawaiians altered the island landscape with their agriculture. Europeans and Americans did it through their institutions of capital wealth. But the financial networks established by five merchant houses and four missionary families fueled profound and permanent changes in Hawai‘i’s...

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Chapter 4: Five Companies

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pp. 81-102

The organization of missionary family wealth into the powerful corporate system known as the Big Five is at the core of Hawai‘i’s massive environmental change from Hawaiian agriculture to the mono-crop makeover of island landscapes. Investment in sugar production in...

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Chapter 5: Agricultural Landscapes

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pp. 103-122

Hawai‘i’s encounter with sugar capitalists produced an island archipelago landscape rewritten in the language of industrial production. What did the land look like at the beginning of this history? How did the early sugar business get its start? What gave the plantation a foothold on the Hawaiian landscape? We start this chapter with a tour of the inhabited...

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Chapter 6: Plantation Centers

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pp. 123-144

The twenty years in which Hawai‘i’s economy turned toward sugar were pivotal. The plantation as an agricultural model of production expanded its grasp on the economy. Basic features of rural factory life were established. Hawai‘i’s king and legislature committed extensive resources to the success of sugar export and looked outward toward taking a...

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Chapter 7: Sugar’s Industrial Complex

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pp. 145-169

The industrial plantation formed the core of a vast sugar-making complex that spread throughout the islands. Beginning in the 1880s, it changed a mixed agricultural and trade-oriented landscape into one organized by the needs of sugar. Fifty years later, this dominant industrial system drew heavily from the forests and waters of interior island ecologies...

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Chapter 8: Plantation Community

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pp. 170-200

The plantation community is an ecological community of plants, animals, and humans sustained by soils, rains, and technology. Carved from a tropical environment of indigenous species and human communities, Hawai‘i’s plantations were artificial creations planted on the landscape and managed from the top through minutely sequenced decisions and...

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Chapter 9: An Island Tour 1930s

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pp. 201-219

A visitor arriving in Hawai‘i in the 1930s for the first time would see the islands at the peak of their production for export agricultural products: sugar, pineapple, and hides. All available land was harnessed toward this economic activity, even the forests, which supplied the necessary irrigation waters. Human activity also organized itself completely around plantation...

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Chapter 10: Planters Organize

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pp. 220-248

A 1930s tour of environmental change in Hawai‘i’s islands leaves us with a question: How did sugar’s stamp become so pervasive on the landscape? Important clues lie in the history of sugar planter cooperation on business, environmental, and political matters. In the 1890s they captured the reins of political power with the overthrow of Queen Lili‘uokalani...

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Chapter 11: Resource Policy

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pp. 249-274

Sugar requires vast amounts of land and water to succeed in the global market. The early sugar planters relied on government resource policies to build their enterprises and empires. By 1940, one hundred years of policy that set the government rules for land use, water diversion, and forest protection had evolved into a system of...

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Conclusion: Sugar’s End

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pp. 275-282

Hawai‘i today mirrors a landscape of sugar’s touch, but without the sugar. There is strange irony in the fact that little sugar leaves the islands for the refinery in California, and yet so much of the natural environment is the industrial product of sugar’s plantation economy. Only on Maui do we find the expanse of cane lands, the cane fires marking harvest season...

Appendix 1: Vegetation Zones

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pp. 283-284

Appendix 2: Sugar Crop Acreage, Yield, Production, and Employment, 1836–1960

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pp. 285-286

Appendix 3: Major Sugarcane Producers in the Pacific and North American Markets, 1880–1940

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pp. 287-288

Appendix 4: Missionary Land Purchases of Government/Crown Lands, 1850–1866

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pp. 289-291

Appendix 5: Intermarriage of Second-Generation Missionary Families

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p. 292-292

Appendix 6: Percentage Increase of Largest Plantations’ Sugar Crops, 1920 and 1930

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pp. 293-294

Appendix 7: Subsidiary Companies Organized,1880–1910

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p. 295-295

Appendix 8: Plantation Centers, Acreage in 1867 and 1879

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pp. 296-297

Appendix 9: Major Water Development Projects

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pp. 298-300

Appendix 10: Crown and Government Lands Leased for Sugarcane

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pp. 301-305

Appendix 11: Ranches in 1930

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pp. 306-310


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pp. 311-352


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pp. 353-366


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pp. 367-380


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pp. 381-385

E-ISBN-13: 9780824840242
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824839499

Publication Year: 2014