Kupuna Life: Hawaii’s Plantation Villiage is a historical, cultural melting pot

Kupuna Life

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Visiting Hawaii’s Plantation Villiage in Waipahu is like taking a step back in time.

“So we start with the Hawaiian flag since they were the first laborers,” said volunteer Robert Castro.

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“Because the demand for sugar increases, there wasn’t enough labor here and so that’s why they started going around the world looking for labor,” Castro said of when different ethnic groups immigrated to Hawaii to work and live on the sugar plantations.

“If it weren’t for this place, I think the history would be lost,” Castro said.

He does not want that history to be forgotten. He has been volunteering at the outdoor museum for more than 20 years in Waipahu and has told others what life was like back in the day. He takes groups of people on two-hour tours to show them replicas of plantation structures with clothes, furniture and art.

“And it’s the same gourds that Puerto Ricans used to make the maracas,” Castro said.

His interest in history started at a young age.

“It sort of grew on me, I guess,” Castro said. “From when I was little, asking my grandma where she came from.”

Some of Castro’s family members lived and worked at the plantation in Waipahu. Castro, who has a history degree, also helps out at the Portuguese Genealogical and Historical Society of Hawaii. He volunteered at the State Archives before the pandemic as well.

“I guess it gives me something to do,” Castro said. “It’s a social activity because you have the other docents, the staff here.

“Oh, he’s one of our very knowledgeable and fantastic volunteers here,” said Evelyn Ahlo, Hawaii’s Plantation Villiage director. She said hundreds of people, including students, visited every day before COVID.

“And it’s good for the young kids to know what it was like, because it might have been their grandparents living on the plantation,” Ahlo said.

Castro hopes visitors can get a real sense of what Hawaii was like, how it came to be and why this time period is so important.

“Hopefully people can walk away with a greater appreciation of how Hawaii’s multi-ethnic population came about,” Castro said.

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