The Royal Hawaiian Agricultural Society was formed in 1850 to develop Hawaiʻi’s agricultural resources. It was then that rice made its mark in the Hawaiʻi economy. The group purchased land in the Nuʻuanu Valley and rice seed from China and planted in a former taro patch.
At first the Society offered the rice seed to anyone in Hawaiʻi who wanted to plant it. King Kamehameha IV also offered land grants for cultivation of rice. Because there were no proper milling facilities in Hawaiʻi, it didn’t take off as a viable crop right away.
Then, in 1860, imported rice seed from South Carolina proved very successful and yielded a fair amount of crop. This, combined with the collapse of the taro industry in 1861-1862 (as the Hawaiian population declined, the demand for taro also declined,) added value to the numerous vacant taro patches and a boom in the rice industry.
In 1899, Hawaiʻi’s rice production had expanded so that it placed third in production of rice behind Louisiana and South Carolina.
The Agricultural Extension Service of the University of Hawaiʻi encouraged rice production, primarily in Hanalei. As a result the acreage planted in rice on the island rose from 759 acres in 1933 to 1,058 in 1934.
For areas like Hanalei Valley, such efforts, coupled with the valley’s general remoteness and absence of competing demands for the land, allowed rice cultivation to continue as a regional activity.
The Hanalei Valley of Kauaʻi led all other single geographic units in the amount of acreage planted in rice. The valley was one of the first areas converted to this use and continued to produce well into the 1960s.
The Commercial Pacific Advertiser noted on October 3, 1861, “Everybody and his wife (including defunct government employees) are into rice – sugar is nowhere and cotton is no longer king. Taro patches are held at fabulous valuations, and among the thoughtful the query is being propounded, where is our taro to come from?”
When the Japanese immigrants arrived in Hawaiʻi, their tastes preferred a shorter grain rice than the Chinese long-grain variety. With the decline of the Chinese population and increase in the Japanese population, more of the Japanese rice was being imported from Japan.
As the Japanese left the plantations, they started their own farms and cultivated their own staple rice.
It was at Hanalei where some Chinese built a rice processing facility; it as later purchased by the Haraguchi family in 1924. At one time, the Haraguchis cultivated about 75-acres in Hanalei Valley.
Fire destroyed the original wooden mill in March of 1930; a new mill consisted of a 3-foot thick concrete foundation with corrugated iron for its roof and siding. Interior spaces included engine room, milling area, and storage area for both finished and unprocessed rice.
This main engine operated all the mill machinery by turning a main shaft that connected all the other machines by a pulley system. The rice in a pit would be delivered up by cups on a belt located on a “triple chute” system. One chute served the belts going downward, another chute for the belts returning upwards and a third to suck the dust up which traveled to the blower.
The cups carried the rice over the wall onto another chute and into the strainer. This strainer would shake the rice and separate any rubbish or stones to prevent it from entering the husking machines. From the strainer, the rice would proceed to the first husker that removed part of the husk.
About 80% of the husks would be removed by this husker. The husks would travel up the air ‘chute to the blower which blew the husks out the back of the mill into a ditch that carried the husks into the river.
The partly husked rice would exit the first husker and was taken up a chute by belted cups and dropped onto another chute into the second husker. The second husker would remove the rest of the husks and the grains would continue up another “triple chute” which would carry it up and over into the polishing machine.
The fine dust from the second husker was collected in a basket under the machine and also taken up the chute into the blower. Cowhide was used to polish the rice which prevented the grains from cracking which ensured high quality rice. The rice would exit the polisher and taken up another chute to the grader.
The grading machine constantly shook to move the rice to the three different grades of rice. The whole grain would bypass the grading holes and a trowel was used to push the rice onto a small trough into the rice bag which hung at the end of the funnel. From there the bags were scaled, sewn by hand and then stacked.
Despite the competition from the California grown rice, the Japanese farmers continued to produce on a smaller scale than the Chinese farmers. By the early 1950s there were about 50 growers cultivating 170 acres of rice on Kauaʻi. Hanalei Valley held 90 acres, 48 acres in Wailua and the rest was split between Hanapepe and Waimea valleys.
In addition to the staple rice, “mochi rice,” used for traditional Japanese cake on New Year’s and other special occasions, was grown.
The mochi rice from Hanalei Valley was noted for its quality throughout the Islands. It was largely a luxury crop and most of it was consumed in the Islands; about 200-bags were shipped to the Mainland.
Some mochi rice was imported from the Mainland but local buyers preferred the local crop since it was said to produce a larger yield of mochi per pound.
In 1959, Hurricane Dot left the mill intact except for an air vent at the roof peak that was torn off and not replaced. The mill ceased operating in 1960 when Kaua`i’s rice industry collapsed. Hurricane Iwa on November 23, 1982 toppled 85% of the building onto the machinery; then came Hurricane Iniki in 1992.
The Haraguchi Rice Mill was the last mill to operate in Hanalei Valley and the only remaining rice mill in the State of Hawaiʻi. A nonprofit organization was formed to preserve and interpret the mill; the organization is guided by an unpaid Board of Directors (many of them are members of the Haraguchi family.) The Haraguchi family now farms taro on the adjacent lands that once supported rice.
Today, the Hoʻopulapula Haraguchi Rice Mill is an agrarian museum located in the taro fields of Hanalei Valley. The Rice Mill Kiosk is open to the public, Monday through Saturday, 11 am – 3 pm. No Public access into the farm & Rice Mill unless through guided tours, available Wednesdays at 10 am (reservations are required.) (Lots of information here from NPS.)
Roberta Wong says
Thank you for this treasure. My grandmother is a descendant of the Goo family from Kalihiwai, Kauai. This article gives me a much clearer perspective on the rice industry on Kauai.