In Hawaiʻi, shortage of laborers to work in the growing (in size and number) sugar plantations became a challenge. Starting in the 1850s, when the Hawaiian Legislature passed “An Act for the Governance of Masters and Servants,” a section of which provided the legal basis for contract-labor system, labor shortages were eased by bringing in contract workers from Asia, Europe and North America.
Of the large level of plantation worker immigration, the Chinese were the first (1850,) followed by the Japanese (1885.) After the turn of the century, the plantations started bringing in Filipinos. Over the years in successive waves of immigration, the Sugar Planters (HSPA_)brought to Hawaiʻi 46,000-Chinese, 180,000-Japanese, 126,000-Filipinos, as well as Portuguese, Puerto Ricans and other ethnic groups.
Upon arrival in Hawaiʻi, Filipino contract laborers were assigned to the HSPA-affiliated plantations throughout the territory. Their lives would now come under the dictates of the plantation bosses. They had no choice as to which plantation or island they would be assigned. Men from the same families, the same towns or provinces were often broken up and separated. (Alegado)
Between 1906 and 1930, the HSPA brought in approximately 126,000-Filipinos to Hawaiʻi, dramatically altering the territory’s ethnic demographics. Comprising only 19-percent of the plantation workforce in 1917, the Filipinos jumped to 70-percent by 1930, replacing the Japanese, who had dwindled to 19-percent as the 1930s approached. (Aquino)
The end of World War I was a time of crisis for labor in general – the economy had to accommodate two-million soldiers seeking civilian jobs – and, the US Supreme Court issued rulings which were unfavorable to labor. Never-the-less, “There seems to be some sort of strike in every city, town and hamlet in the country.” (Poindexter, Advertiser, October 28, 1919; Alcantara)
In Hawaiʻi, the Japanese abandoned unionism altogether with the failure of the 1920 strike; Filipinos, led by Pablo Manlapit, continued to organize and also form the Higher Wages Movement.
The Movement petitioned the Sugar Planters in 1923 for a $2-a-day, 40-hour work week and an end to abuses. Then, in April 1924, Filipino plantation workers went on strike. Rather than a unified Filipino effort, it turned into a Visayan versus Ilocano conflict (the plantations brought Ilocanos in as strike breakers.) (Alegado)
The strike of 1924 occurred over a period of approximately five months from April through September. It consisted of loosely coordinated strike actions on Oʻahu, Kauai, Maui and the Big Island under the general direction of the Executive Committee of the Higher Wages Movement involving a few thousand strikers at 23 of Hawai‘i’s 45 plantations, with just four of Kaua‘i’s 11 plantations represented: McBryde, Makaweli, Makee and Līhuʻe. (Kerkvliet)
On September 8, 1924, two Ilocano Filipinos, Marcelo Lusiano and Alipio Ramel (each about 18-years old from the Makaweli plantation,) rode into Hanapēpē on their bicycles to buy a pair of $4 shoes. (Hill)
Filipino laborers earned approximately $20 to $25 a month, and would spend about one-fourth of their wages on food and an additional $2 to wash their clothes. They sent much of the remaining money to relatives in the Philippines.
On their way back to the plantation, Lusiano and Ramel passed the strike headquarters, where they were apparently attacked by Visayan strikers and held inside the schoolhouse against their will. When friends of the young men realized they were missing, they reported them to the Kauai sheriffs. (Hill)
“(T)he men were kidnaped by strikers and held prisoner at a Japanese school house at Hanapēpē. They said they were attacked by strikers and intimidated into declaring that they would join the strikers.” (Honolulu Times, September 12, 1924)
The next day, strikers and police clashed at a strike camp in Hanapēpē. About 40-armed police had gone to pick up the two Ilocanos at the strike camp, believing them to be prisoners of the strikers. (hawaii-edu)
The two men were released and were leaving the school grounds with Deputy Sheriff William Crowell when some strikers began following and taunting them, waving their cane knives in the air threateningly. The sharpshooters fired upon the strikers when they saw the men try to attack Crowell. (Hill)
“The policemen drew out their revolvers and I heard one saying that they should be quiet otherwise they would be pacified with their revolvers to which strikers answered that they should go ahead.”
“Later on we heard a shot quite far from us. I cannot ascertain whose shot it was, if it came from the police side or the striker’s side, but I was sure it was quite far from us behind.” (Lusiano; Honolulu Times, September 12 ,1924)
In the end, 16 strikers were shot dead; four sheriffs suffered casualties as a result of stab wounds and 25 were reported wounded. (Hill)
“When I heard the shooting, I began to run … I didn’t even have a knife. I had nothing to defend myself with. There were others who had guns, but they only had two bullets. They were courageous, they were acting tough … They’re the ones who died. I’m a coward. Those who ran away, they didn’t die.” (Bakiano; hawaii-edu)
The incident has been referred to the Hanapēpē Massacre; it was the bloodiest incident in the history of labor in Hawaiʻi. (Alegado)
Most of the strikers were arrested; seventy-six were indicted on riot charges, 60 received 4-year sentences. Some returned to work afterward; some were deported back to the Philippines. Nobody was charged with murder. (Hill, Alegado)
Manlapit was convicted of conspiracy and received a two- to 10-year sentence at O‘ahu Prison, but was paroled in 1927 on the condition he leave the Islands. He moved to California, but returned to Hawai‘i in 1933 and returned to the Philippines in 1934. (Soboleski)
In 2006, a plaque was placed in the Hanapēpē Town Park to commemorate the Hanapepe Massacre of 1924.