Hawaiʻi's Plantation Village in Waipahu marks 30th anniversary
Robert Castro has volunteered at Hawaiʻi’s Plantation Village for almost 25 years. The 78-year-old grew up across the street and now leads the village’s tours.
“It's still exciting that the history is tied to my family,” he said. “And hopefully people who go on the tour understand why our chop suey mix of people are here, why they came and how they lived and things like that.”
Castro’s family was part of the nearly 400,000 people who were contracted to work on Hawaiʻi’s sugar plantations. His family came from Portugal, and they eventually moved to Waipahu to work for the Oʻahu Sugar Company.
While leading tours, he enjoys stopping at the village’s Portuguese complex to share memories. In particular, he points out a bread oven that was used to bake sweet bread on special occasions. He remembers his grandma used to do the same during Christmas.
It’s stories like these that the plantation village hopes to perpetuate, said executive director Evelyn Ahlo. She and many community members are marking the village’s 30th anniversary with reflection and pride.
“It’s just the people that come through here and just the people I work with,” she said. “Because you learn every day. Even with our guests coming in here, you just learn where they’re from, what they do. Some of them have connections. And you're just surprised at the connections that they have with us here.”
Opened in 1992, Hawaiʻi’s Plantation Village on Waipahu Street is considered one of the few remaining museums in the islands dedicated to our sugar plantation history.
Operated and maintained by the nonprofit Friends of Waipahu Cultural Garden Park, the 50-acre outdoor museum tells the stories of plantation life from the 1850s to the 1950s.
The museum features about 20 structures that are restored or replicated to look like plantation homes and buildings representing the different ethnic groups of the people who worked and lived there. That includes Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, Okinawan, Portuguese and Puerto Rican.
Hundreds of artifacts are also placed in the structures and throughout the museum. Most were donated to the village by former plantation workers and their families, Ahlo said.
When the plantation village opened, she said it was a dream to many community members.
“We had a lot of group leaders here that wanted to preserve the heritage, and wanted the future generations to know what it was like to be part of the immigration, what it was like to live on a plantation and all the hardships, the struggles, the happiness that they've had living here,” she said. “Waipahu was a big part of it here.”
Prior to the pandemic, she said they hosted hundreds of people every month. Ahlo said they have faced challenges, including vandalism, homeless encampments, staffing and funding. They were also shut down to visitors for a while during the pandemic.
But she said the community has always pulled through. She said they hope to expand their education programs and are excited to see more school groups return.
Ahlo also pointed out that she is one of just six staff, so much of what they do is run by their 75 volunteers.
Besides Castro, one of them is 84-year-old Yoshiko Yamauchi. Her father moved from Okinawa to work on plantations on Kauaʻi. And she’s been with the plantation village since it opened – first as a teacher coordinating school tours and then as a volunteer after she retired.
“When I came on board, I wanted it to be a special place that's unlike any other museum,” she said. “It really worked out because it was about all the different people that are part of Hawai’i. And so it's a blending of the cultures.”
The plantation village plans to hold a 30th anniversary celebration next month. It is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, click here.