There are few sights as sweet as flying home and looking at the lush green of Central Maui. From altitude, the fields appear to be a carpet. It used to be easy to see grids of pineapple. Now, look up above Haliimaile to see Maui's only remaining pine fields.
Haliimaile Pineapple Co. has taken over where Maui Land & Pine left off. Maui Land & Pine can trace its history to the 1950s. The sugar fields have been there for 134 years.
An act of Congress set off a rush to plant and harvest sugar cane in the islands generally, but on Maui specifically. An 1875 treaty with Kingdom of Hawaii allowed island sugar to be exported to the United States without a tariff.
You can imagine the dismay of sugar planters in the U.S. South, the origin of the most virulent opposition to Hawaii becoming a state. The authors of "Maui, 1930" called sugar "the mainstay of Hawaii's industrial life." The book, while loaded with glimpses of Maui life 80 years ago, is an unabashed polemic against Mainland efforts to stifle corporate agriculture.
Use Maui as an example of properly run industrial agriculture, wrote authors Alice Clare and Jack Morrow.
Polynesians carried sugar cane to the islands. It's said Capt. Cook found it growing in the "Sandwich Islands" in 1778. In 1802, a Chinese man brought a stone mill and boiler with him and set them up on Lanai. He abandoned the effort after one year. Clare and Morrow wrote that a Spaniard, Don Francisco de Paula Marin, arrived in 1791 and succeeded in producing sugar by 1819.
The Great Mahele gave would-be sugar producers the opportunity to buy the land that grew into plantations. There were many plantations on Maui - in Hana, Ulupalakua, Haiku, West Maui and in Central Maui after Henry P. Baldwin and Samuel T. Alexander built the $80,000, 17-mile Hamakua-Haiku water ditch.
It's said that the Hana fields later turned into cattle pastures were first cleared and leveled by workers brought in from Jamaica. What happened to the workers is something of a mystery. Maybe they went home. Maybe they simply dispersed and became part of the islands' many hued population.
Ulupalakua switched to cattle in the late 1800s after Capt. John Makee acquired the ranch. He dropped sugar when the rains failed. Under F.F. Baldwin and his son, Edward, the ranch expanded into Kipahulu, buying land from the Haiku Pineapple Co.
All those sugar plantations, including West Maui's Pioneer Mill and Wailuku Sugar Co., are gone. Their lands are now open to development. Casual beach camping on plantation and ranch property slowly disappeared when shoreline property was developed and the county had to deal with malahini squatters rather than established residents.
The biggest player in the sugar industry for most of the last century and into this century is still around, struggling to make the fields of sugar a paying proposition. Can you say alternative energy?
Two men formed the Alexander & Baldwin company, the current owners of Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. The plantation was founded by Claus Spreckles, who was also responsible for building a railroad between Paia and Kahului. Spreckles was what Hawaiians called a kolea, the bird that flies in each winter to get fat and then leaves. A&B acquired HC&S after Spreckles, who had married into Hawaiian royalty, left for the Mainland in 1852.
The most lasting legacy of the plantations is the makeup of Maui's population - the descendants of laborers brought in from around the world. The Royal Hawaiian Agricultural Society first turned to China, which supplied the muscle from 1852 until 1899 when a federal law prohibited importing men and women from China.
According to Clare and Morrow, Micronesians were recruited in 1878. They were followed by Norwegians, Germans, "Galacians," Russians, Portuguese from the Azores in 1878 and Japanese in 1885. When federal officials banned the importation of Japanese, the plantations turned to the Philippines.
Tracking the ownership of Maui's plantations and ranches is a task worthy of an expert historian.
Once upon a time, nearly every Maui institution and commercial venture was run by boards of directors. Most of those directors were the same individuals.
Maui's commercial history is a long and complicated one, but it has resulted in generations of individuals who came to Maui for a better life. And found it.
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.