JUNE 3, 2017



Lāna‘i: Sensing Filipinos as the Social Fabric of the Community


Lāna‘i is a uniquely enriching place for sensing history, heritage, culture, and the future.

It is the 6th largest island of Hawai‘i. With a total area of 140.5 square miles, it is most comparable in size to the Philippines’ Siquijor Island. Siquijor though is densely populated at 95,000 while Lāna‘i’s 2010 population was at 3,135.

Filipinos settled in Lāna‘i because of the pineapple plantation, the largest in the world at one time.

When the plantation closed in 1992, displaced workers transitioned to meet the needs of the island’s growing resort tourism. Filipinos continue to be in the middle of economic change. In 2012, Larry Ellison, self-made tech tycoon and the fifth richest person on earth in Business Insider’s list, bought approximately ninety-eight percent of the island.  He also formed a management company, Pūlama Lāna'i (translated as “Cherish Lāna'i). It is said that Ellison imagines the island to be the “first economically viable, 100 percent green city.” The government-approved Lāna‘i Community Plan reports that Pūlama Lāna'i seeks to “create a sustainable community through plans to diversify the economy, establish a college and address environmental issues.”

Social Fabric of the Community

Filipinos are metaphorically the major threads that make up the social fabric of Lāna‘i. 

About 60% to 70% of Lāna‘i residents today are Filipinos. That Lāna‘i is very much a Filipino community is noticeable from simple things like the sights and aroma of Filipino dishes at the island’s Dole Park Saturday Farmers’ Market.

As one online Q&A source explains, social fabric is metaphor for how well the community members interact amongst themselves.  One can think of all individual members as threads and the social fabric as made by having those members interact, thus weaving the threads together. Enhancing the social fabric means to provide more and better interactions between members of the community so that they can make more friends, be more involved, be happy, be more willing to help someone when there is a need, and be inspired to keep their neighborhood a positive, pleasant place to live. The tighter the weave, the stronger the social fabric is.

Renovating Filipino Community Clubhouse

When plantation companies imported laborers from various parts of the world, ethnic community clubhouses or social halls became gathering places that validated and accepted culture and traditions that were important to the workers and their families.

Most of the Filipino Clubhouses are gone, torn down along with other plantation houses and community structures.  They have given way to other neighborhood developments.  The Lāna‘i Filipino Community Clubhouse is an exception. Pūlama Lāna'i renovated it so that the place can preserve history and remain a vibrant gathering place.

“I remember learning Filipino dance here,” Kurt Matsumoto said in a January 17 speech. He knew that the Filipino Clubhouse was welcoming to Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike. Because he is a native of Lāna'i (LHS class ’75) and grew up during the pineapple plantation era, he grasps the value of community gathering places like the Filipino Clubhouse.  As Chief Operating Officer of Pūlama Lāna'i, Matsumoto led the $200,000 renovation of the Clubhouse.  He explained that, in the plantation setting, workers started and ended work at the same time.  This made it easier for them to get together after work to pursue shared interests, weaving the social fabric of the community in the process.  When the plantation closed, tourism offered work schedules that were all over the place. It became more challenging to do things together. Plantation era structures were also left to deteriorate.

“We have gathered here for birthdays, baptisms, graduations, weddings, welcomes, goodbyes, and wakes,” Jean Sumagit said about the Clubhouse.  She mobilized the community to raise funds to buy new chairs, tables, and other furnishings for the newly renovated Clubhouse. Sumagit, who arrived on the island in 1971, is one of the enduring pillars of community organization.  She received a lifetime achievement award from United Filipino Community Council of Hawai'i in 2015.

Marking Sakada and Lāna‘i Legacy

Last January 17, guests from far and near were invited to come to the historic Lāna‘i Filipino Community Clubhouse to celebrate its renovation and to honor Lāna‘i’s living sakadas or Hawayanos (terms that have become synonymous with the early group of Filipinos who came to Hawai‘i to work in sugar or pineapple plantations).

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