The orange is one of the oldest of cultivated fruits; although its nativity is not known, it probably originated in the Indo-Chinese region. It is now widely distributed.
Native to Asia, oranges were introduced to Hawaii by Captain George Vancouver; in 1792 he came from Tahiti, where it had long grown, having received a large store of supplies from the natives there.
Arriving on Hawaii Vancouver left with the native chiefs of Kona a number of valuable seeds and ‘some vine and orange plants.’ A few days later he left some ‘orange and lemon plants’ on the island of Niihau.
It is supposed that these plants were the parents of the famous russet Kona oranges that are such general favorites among islanders. On Molokai, far back in the mountains, an old orange grove was seen in a fairly thrifty state.
Some of the trees were two feet in diameter at the height of my shoulder. Everything about them indicated their great age, and it is highly probable that this grove antidates the introduction of the plants by Vancouver. (Bryan, Natural History of Hawaii)
As noted in Captain Vancouver’s journal in March 1792:
The retinue of Tianna (Ka‘iana) on this occasion was to consist of a considerable number; part were to attend him on board the Discovery, and, the remainder was to proceed in the Chatham. His residence was a little to the north of Karakakooa (Kealakekua); and as it was proposed his suite should be taken on board the next afternoon …
As Tianna had several goats, I did not present him with any of these animals, but made him very happy by giving him some vine and orange plants, some almonds, and an assortment of garden feeds, to all of which he promised the most particular care and attention. (Vancouver (Vol 1, 1792)
“The orange flourished in the dry climate, similar to that found in the Valencia region of Spain from which the variety originated.”
“Many acres of what came to be known as ‘Kona oranges’ were grown and, for many decades during the nineteenth century, these oranges were a major export from the region.”
“Many of these oranges were bound for the West Coast, with some making their way into the goldfields of California. A few Kona orange trees still exist, bearing fruit to this day.” (Nagata, WHT)
The California gold rush brought an economic boom to Hawaii agriculture; Irish and sweet potatoes, onions, pumpkins, oranges, molasses, and coffee were shipped to the West Coast. (DOA)
Then, “In the late 1880s and 1890s Holualoa was an agricultural region settled by Chinese, Portuguese and Japanese immigrants who planted coffee, cotton, grapes, breadfruit and Kona oranges for export to support their growing community.”
“From 1899 to 1926 coffee was replaced by sugar cane, which then supported their local economy very well. Coffee later saved the Holualoa economy after the sugar market collapsed.” (Burt, Western Express)
Oranges continued to grow and be sold in Kona, “the orange tree branches are real strong. They won’t break, and you can rely on it. We used to climb the trees, pick it by hand.”
“But another thing, what [my father] did was, to save time instead of getting the basket going up, he made basket on the top with a funnel like thing made out of cloth and the thing would drop all the way to the ground.”
“And what we did was, with the basket we just spin the thing round and around, and when we picked the orange, the orange would come down whirling, whirling, no damage to the orange. So, when you get down there, you know no damage. So that’s the way we were picking the orange.”
“And the biggest success from the orange was when the Second World War came on, the army wanted our oranges and they wanted it real bad. So we just had to go pick, even half-ripe ones, whatever came up to the station up here. The thing just went on the truck and gone. We had four years of good [business].”
[Interviewer Question:] “So wartime, oranges was good then. [Answer]; Oh yeah, couldn’t keep up. … Yeah, in Kona. Kona Orange. …”
“Well, after school, because we were so busy those days. Coming back from school we had to grade the oranges and watch the store when my mother was cooking. My dad wasn’t around, so we all pitched in and did all the things that had to be done.”
“We were lucky because all our brothers stood by, never did go anyplace. But one of the setbacks was, since we had to work on the farm, my second oldest brother couldn’t volunteer for the army because they classified him 4-F.”
“They wanted somebody to run the farm because my father wasn’t here. So, he stayed back and then my other brothers were drafted. The oldest was [a member of] the 100th [Infantry] Battalion. The other one, he just got into the army when the war was over….”
“Yamagata Store was not only general merchandise, [my mother] went into material, and oranges were sold in the store too. In fact, the oranges had their own place in the veranda. We had a rack made just for the oranges; people would just stop and buy the oranges….”
“Tourists used to stop by because of the oranges, we displayed the oranges. A lot of tourists. … [Question]: So it’s mostly tourists buying the oranges? … [Answer] “Yeah.”
“It’s a small quantity going to the tourists, but most of them we had to ship them out to Honolulu, all over. They used to go out, by the truckload they used to ship them out. So we had to make the crates and everything.”
[Oral History Question]: “It wouldn’t make sense for a Kona person to come buy oranges, yeah?” [Answer]: “We used to give them. You know, when the oranges getting a little too old or something, ‘Here, take ‘em home.’” (Sukeji Yamagata, N. Yamagata Store, Kona Heritage Stores Oral History)