If you are a historian, the sugar museum in Maui is a bit Meh.* The section on the material culture of the plantation workers is the best part, and they look to be doing excellent work with tracking down family and oral histories and hosting reunions of the various plantation camps. The 10-minute video is a good glimpse into the industrial nature of sugar (though that is better represented by the billowing smokestacks just across the way), and they do a nice job of not being a commercial for sugar despite being owned by the big sugar company (but, since I grew up singing the “C&H! Pure cane sugar….that’s the one!” jingle, and was standing in the heart of its production, they probably didn’t need to).

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sugar cane

But, if you are a bookseller (or perchance the daughter of one), and you follow the signs that says BOOKS around four or five corners and over a mile or so of muddy road to the Friends of the Library store, you also get a nice little tour of the backside of the sugar mill, and even better, good views of a number of the remaining plantation buildings. And can wander around taking photos while your mother peruses books.

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If I understood right, the plantation workers lived in long buildings subdivided into small cabins.

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Not such a great shot, but I like the old plantation church next to the massive mechanical bits of the sugar mill.

The Maui Historical Society does not let you take pictures inside at all, and I found it rather more satisfying overall.

Both museums carefully tread the balance between the problems of colonialism and plantations and the fact that much of their money comes (I assume) from the descendants of colonizers and the owners of plantations. Although, I read in the local news that the sugar industry employs about 800 people on Maui. Three minutes of googling was not enough to tell me how many contracted laborers the sugar industry brought from the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Japan, China, Azores (“Portuguese”), Russia, Spain, US, and the rest of the Pacific, but I bet it was a WAY larger proportion of the population than 800 is today.

*Like the rest of us, I scorn the right-wing for seeing Hawaii as exotic. But I can’t tell you how many times I said “I’ll be back in the States mid-August” and even after consciously pushing myself through that, I still find that I am in my “pumping money into a developing economy” attitude about spending locally and paying for things like local historical museums.

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