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Molokai

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From a strictly architectural perspective, there is no compelling reason to visit the island of Molokai. There are no forms, materials, building techniques, or styles on the island that cannot be observed in one variation or another on other islands in the Hawaiian chain. This does not mean, however, that the island is devoid of interest. Father Damien Joseph de Veuster lived here, as did the late-sixteenth-century kahuna (priest) Lanikaula. Architecturally, the island boasts two Kauahikaua and Chun buildings (ML5 and ML7), a high concentration of intact pineapple plantation architecture (ML14), several exceptional nineteenth-century buildings (ML9, ML10, ML17), and the Kalaupapa settlement (ML19).

A small place, just thirty-eight miles in length and ten miles wide, Molokai encompasses a mere 167,000 acres. Although it is the fifth-largest island in the Hawaiian chain, it is significantly smaller than the island of Hawaii's 225,000-acre Parker Ranch. Molokai was formed by the coalescence of three volcanoes. The mountains of east Molokai (1.8 million years old) are dominated on the north coast by the world's highest sea cliffs (more than 3,000 feet in elevation) and the amphitheater-like valleys of Pelekunu, Wailau, and Halawa. Only the last is accessible by automobile. The ridges of these three valleys converge on the island's highest peak, Kamakou (4,950 feet). The terrain of west Molokai differs markedly from that of the east. The slightly older (1.9 million years) Mauna Loa, a dome volcano, rises to only 1,381 feet. With an elevation insufficient to induce significant rainfall, this side of the island remains dry and windy. Most of the population lives on the coastal plain on the south side of the island, leeward of the east Molokai mountains. Kaunakakai serves as the primary town for the island's 7,257 residents. The third distinctive volcano of Molokai, Kauhako crater (230,000 years old), formed the Kalaupapa peninsula on the north central coast, which for the past one hundred and fifty years has been a settlement for people with Hansen's disease.

Except for inaccessible Niihau, Molokai is the most Hawaiian of the inhabited islands, with 44 percent of its population claiming native Hawaiian ancestry. Although it is situated only twenty-five miles southeast of Honolulu and eight-and-a-half miles northwest of Maui, a limited population and resource base have kept the island off the main routes of commerce and tourism, giving it a sense of isolation. Rural solitude entwines with associations of leprosy, sorcery, and a laid-back lifestyle. Such elements run deep on the island, despite a veneer of the contemporary world. Here varying value systems, ancient and modern, are still trying to come to grips with each other; to comprehend Molokai is to understand, in part, the turmoil of nineteenth-century Hawaii.

The island has undergone a number of shifts in focus over the past two hundred years. In the centuries prior to Western contact, great deeds obviously transpired. The ruins of Iliiliopae Heiau (a traditional Hawaiian place of worship) at Kawela date from the thirteenth century; it was one of the largest temples ever built in the Pacific. More than fifty fishponds, ranging in age from one hundred to five hundred years, still dot the southern coast of the island and attest to a highly structured and productive society. In the sixteenth century, people from throughout the island chain came to Molokai to seek the wisdom and advice of Lanikaula, the great prophet and seer. The Kalaipahoa, or poison wood gods, enhanced the reputation of the island as a spiritual center in the seventeenth century. Contact with just a chip of wood from these gods would result in a person's demise.

Captain James Cook saw Molokai from a distance on November 26, 1776, but did not land here. The people of Molokai would wait another decade before encountering Europeans face-to-face. In 1786, British captain George Dixon traded with Molokai people who came out to his ship in canoes. The island's early interaction with foreign visitors is scantly documented. The first major alien impact on the island came in 1832 with the arrival of missionary Harvey Rexford Hitchcock and his wife, Rebecca. This devout couple made Molokai their home for almost twenty years. Assisted by a succession of fellow missionaries, none of whom remained on the island for more than four years, the Hitchcocks spread Christian doctrine among the people. As a mark of their progress, the station report for 1848 indicated the presence of nine churches on Molokai. Little tangible evidence remains of these early Christian endeavors. The population dramatically dwindled as the nineteenth century progressed, the result of disease and migration. The Hitchcocks estimated the population at the time of their arrival to be about 6,000, which did not include the entire island. This number dropped to 3,540 by 1850, to 2,864 by 1860, and to less than 1,700 a decade later. By the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, the population, excluding patients at Kalaupapa, teetered at 1,006.

With Molokai's small population and minimal foreign influences, Kamehameha V, the last direct descendant of Kamehameha I to rule the kingdom, made this “remote” island his personal retreat and operated “His Majesty's Ranch” in west and central Molokai. Foundations of the king's residence can be viewed in Kaunakakai's Malama Park. Kamehameha introduced axis deer, a gift from the Emperor of Japan in 1867, to the island, one year after he signed the law requiring victims of leprosy to be sent to Kalaupapa (ML19). In addition to the royal ranch, other nineteenth-century entrepreneurial efforts included the establishment of minor sugar operations at Kamalo by Dan and Hugh McCorriston and at Moanui by Eugene Bal. Both of these ventures terminated when conflagrations consumed their mills. Pukoo and Kamalo made the island's east end the commercial hub, with their piers for marine mercantilism. However, the majority of the dwindling population adhered to a more traditional, subsistence-oriented style of life.

Kamehameha V's cousin Bernice Pauahi Bishop inherited his seventy-thousand-acre ranch, which became part of the Bishop Estate upon her death. In 1897, the estate sold the property to a partnership formed by Judge Alfred S. Hartwell, Alfred W. Carter, and A. D. McClellan. So began Molokai Ranch, the dominant economic presence on the island today. Cattle raising was the primary focus of the enterprise; however, sugar and pineapple cultivation also occurred on ranch lands, as did beekeeping. In the opening years of the twentieth century, Molokai Ranch promoted the American Sugar Company. This enterprise, despite its ambitious dreams and major capital improvements, was doomed for failure. The company built a pier from Kaunakakai out to a natural break in the coral reef. To transport the anticipated sugar crops to the pier, railway tracks were laid to Hoolehua, and locomotives and coal were shipped to the island. The company dug eight miles of irrigation ditches, prepared 750 acres of land for sugar, drilled wells, installed steam pumps, and planted 500 acres in cane. Unfortunately, the pumps depleted the fresh water in the wells and the high salt content in the remaining water killed the cane crop before any could be harvested.

In 1907, Charles M. Cooke acquired Molokai Ranch, and shortly thereafter his son, George P. Cooke, moved to Molokai as the ranch's new manager. Both George and his wife, Sophie Boyd Judd, descended from missionary families. A graduate of Punahou High School and Yale University (1905), George operated Molokai Ranch as its general manager and then president until his retirement in 1948. Over time, he made the ranch the second largest in the territory and played the leading role in forming the twentieth-century character of Molokai. In addition to his ranching activities, he served as a territorial legislator from 1911 until 1941, and for four sessions during the 1930s was president of the territorial Senate. He also was instrumental in developing the Hawaiian Homes Commission, and served as its first executive secretary.

Then in 1920, the California Packing Corporation (later Del Monte) began leasing Molokai Ranch's land for pineapple cultivation. This proved successful, and in 1927 the company acquired the ranch's headquarters at Kualapuu, where they developed a plantation community. Libby, McNeill and Libby commenced large-scale pineapple cultivation on the island in 1923, establishing a base of operations and a town at Maunaloa. To ship their pineapples, the company constructed a wharf at Kolo. In response to the island's increased commerce, the wooden wharf at Kaunakakai was replaced in 1929 with a larger, concrete one. The impact of the pineapple industry on Molokai was profound. It placed 11,000 acres under cultivation, led to the construction of worker housing, and quintupled the island's population from 1,117 in 1920 to 5,677 by 1935.

This population increase was a result of the pineapple industry's bringing Japanese and Filipino laborers to the island. Molokai's population was further augmented by the federal government's passage of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act in 1921. With George P. Cooke as executive secretary of the commission, Molokai was chosen as the initial location for homesteading activities. In 1922, fifty-five lots were awarded at Kalamaula, and two years later, lands were opened at Hoolehua and Palaau. By 1935, 197 residential or farm lots, accommodating approximately 1,400 people, had been awarded on Molokai. These lands were intended for small individual farms; however, high winds, a lack of water, and pests discouraged farming, and as a result, many of the homesteaders leased their lands to the pineapple companies.

Much of Molokai's historic fabric, including the town of Kaunakakai, dates from the development of pineapple and Hawaiian homestead land. A great deal of construction in the last half of the twentieth century has been to supplement or supplant that of this boom period. In 1969, a 1.4-billion-gallon reservoir was built at Kualapuu, making small farming activities on Hawaiian Home Lands properties much more feasible. The development of Kaluakoi Resort (ML2) in the 1970s and the initiation of Wildlife Park on Molokai Ranch land in 1978 signaled unsuccessful efforts to make the island a more attractive visitor destination. Pineapple left the island in 1982, and today the pineapple fields have been largely replaced with hay. Change has done little to increase the population base of the island, keeping more recent development to a palatable level.

The building entries begin at Maunaloa in west Molokai, follow a route to east Molokai, and conclude on the north coast of the island.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Don J. Hibbard

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