University of Hawaii Oral Histories

30 November 2005 - 8:30am

Welcome sign at entrance to Hanapepe Town, the site of 1924 Filipino Strike

The 1924 Filipino Cane Strike in Hanapepe

In 1924, principal Filipino groups (Visayan, Tagalog, and Ilocano) in Hawai‘i were divided by background, culture, and language. For Filipinos as a whole, there were the additional problems of an overwhelming proportion of single men compared to women, scant education, general lack of community roots, and low-status jobs, almost totally on plantations.

Some 48,000 Filipinos, more than four-fifths of whom were men, were recruited between 1906 and 1924 to labor in Hawai‘i’s sugar cane fields. Most were Visayans from south-central Philippines and Ilocanos from the north.

“Nineteen-eleven, there were agents going around who were advertising working here in Hawai‘i . . . They would give you a prize or a reward of ten dollars if you agreed to go. Because there were a lot of Visayans going I was also carried along with the group and agreed to go.” —Dimitrio Rivera

As the last immigrant group to work on Hawai‘i’s sugar plantations, they were paid the lowest wages. In 1924, Pablo Manlapit, a labor organizer and leader among the Visayans, called a strike for higher wages and better working conditions. But Cayetano Ligot, an Ilocano labor commissioner from the Philippines, persuaded Ilocano workers not to strike. Out of thousands of plantation workers on Kaua‘i, about 600 participated, including women and children.

“Our real hope, when we first arrived at the strike camp, was that we might be able to win this strike if we stay united together, and if nothing happens.” —Sulpicio Venyan

On Sept. 9, 1924, strikers and police clashed at a strike camp in Hanapepe. Armed police had gone to pick up two Ilocanos at the strike camp, believing them to be prisoners of the strikers. How the battle precipitated by the confrontation actually started is unclear. Outarmed by police, strikers fought with cane knives, sticks, and a few guns.

“There were probably half a dozen, six or eight of ’em (police). But they had the advantage because they had rifles, and the Filipinos had nothing but pistols. It wasn’t a real battle; it was a slaughter, really.” —Lindsay Faye

“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.” —Agapito Bakiano

The battle claimed the lives of sixteen Filipino strikers and four policemen. National Guardsmen from Honolulu were rushed to the scene to quell further fighting. Strikers and their leaders were arrested, tried, and imprisoned; many were later deported to the Philippines.

The strikers failed to achieve their objectives despite the high cost in lives. It was to be over a decade before Filipino workers again organized to strike against the sugar plantations.

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