Every year, the communities of Koloa and Poipu spice up summer with the Koloa Plantation Days – a celebration of Kauai’s golden plantation heritage and acknowledgement of the groups and traditions that have shaped the flavorful Hawaiian culture we currently know.
Individuals, local businesses, resorts, and organizations in Kauai all come together to party on for 10 days in this festive gathering, showcasing a number of activities that allow travelers to witness and experience the island’s rich cultural diversity.
Flight seats in July are usually packed due to waves of visitors coming in to join the fun, and it’s easy to see why.
The Koloa Plantation Days celebration is a historical tribute people of all ages can truly enjoy and make a ton of colorful memories from.
It all started with a luau and a few town events in 1985, when the people of Koloa gathered to commemorate 150 years since the start of Hawaii’s sugar industry. Seeing that many people in the community enjoyed the small get-together, Koloa’s community leaders invited the same organizers to host a bigger but similar gathering.
A colorful annual celebration was then born as a product of the locals’ natural lightheartedness and cooperation.
The first official activity for what’s now hugely known as Koloa Plantation Days started with floral floats filling the roads of Koloa, and a marching band that played on at the Knudsen Ball Park until the evening.
At present, a core group is formed every year to put elements of this special celebration together, including deciding on a theme to shed light on.
From aspects of healthcare, arts and culture, education, or family, Koloa Plantation Days activities have remained socially relevant, family-oriented, and reflective of a bygone era throughout the years. It’s not only bigger and brighter – the people of Kauai have committed to making this annual celebration a meaningful one.
Today, Koloa Plantation Days features over 30 activities that span across Koloa and Poipu. Being a commemorative celebration of all the immigrants who have contributed to the rich melting pot that is Hawaii, the event highlight is definitely getting to experience a taste of various countries from the culinary demonstrations, film nights, craft fairs, and cultural performances that take place.
Seeing its 35th year in 2020, the celebration has definitely evolved, but it remains to be a wonderful way of keeping alive all the food, music, and stories shared by the laborers who worked in Hawaii’s sugar plantations. And of course, in true sentimental Hawaiian spirit, the celebration still kicks off with a colorful parade led by a marching band each year, just like old times.
History of Kauai’s Sugar Plantations
Because of Kauai’s natural abundance and its proximity to water, sugar canes and many other essential crops grew in plenty on the island. Sugar cane, being a versatile canoe plant, was cultivated widely and sought by traders.
Chinese carpenters and cooks from trading vessels that stopped over in Kauai would plant and harvest sugar cane, reduce it to molasses, and make raw sugar to sell locally.
The beginning of Kauai’s sugar plantation era could be credited to these entrepreneurial Chinese workers, although some stories would begin in 1835, when a whaling ship provisions merchant called Ladd & Company set up the first commercial sugar mill on the island.
Within just a few years, sugar cane was cultivated on nearly all of the land. As Hawaii’s agricultural industry boomed, waves of immigrants came to Kauai to find work in the sugar plantations and other agricultural plantations across the islands.
While Hawaiian culture remained the prominent lifestyle on Kauai, immigrants from China, Japan, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Korea brought their traditions, food, and music to the island and made for a unique multicultural population unlike any other.
It was camp life during the plantation era that colored the laid back and captivating Hawaiian culture known to the world. It is this part of the island’s history that the people of Koloa and Poipu celebrate during the festive Koloa Plantation Days.
Every year, core organizers and volunteers make sure all the activities continue to tell stories of camp life during the plantation era, hoping to pass on the values, stories, and art to everyone who participates.
Koloa and Poipu Now
Despite Kauai moving towards tourism as its foremost industry, much of the history of Kauai’s plantation days is still very much alive. Resorts and modern businesses see a slew of visitors all year round, but the locals of Kauai successfully keep their stories of their history intact with meaningful events like the Koloa Plantation Days.
Much like the days of old, a sense of community has always been at the heart of Koloa and Poipu. There are a host of community organizations and foundations where residents provide countless hours of volunteer work, locations for particular events, and financial support for the Koloa Plantation Days festival. The locals of Koloa and Poipu continue to make strides towards preserving the culture that their ancestors have celebrated over the years. Visitors alike are also expected to respect the culture that has been so carefully conserved by its people.
The Koloa Plantation Days is definitely a highlight that visitors wouldn’t want to miss. It is a cultural celebration that has stood the test of time. A celebration that commemorates the Hawaiian community’s strong ties to its culture and the very people that partake in it. It shows to the world that Hawaiian culture bends for no one, not even the invisible hand of time.
With the longstanding culture and natural beauty of Koloa and Poipu still on full-display, visitors and residents are welcomed with delightful guided walks and stories, outdoor activities, a variety of themed keiki activities, and live music celebrations that can be enjoyed by locals and visitors of all ages.
As the festival grows bigger and more prosperous each year, the community within Koloa and Poipu grow ever more united, standing together hand-in-hand in celebration of more bountiful days to come. Welcoming visitors from everywhere, to celebrate with them in true Hawaiian fashion.