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Male Workers on Hawaiian Sugar Plantations
by Melody Lassalle


There were many opportunities for males employed by the sugar plantations. They could work in any capacity within the system. The plantation opened up a world of opportunity that did not exist for many immigrants back home.

All management, skilled, and unskilled jobs were open to the male working class. There was a certain structure on the plantation. The hierarchy looked something like this:

1. Plantation Manager
2. Plantation Head Overseer
3. Foreman or Field Boss
4. Overseer
5. Luna/Supervisor
6. Laborers

A male worker could rise to many levels provided they were of the right ethnicity. White American natives could occupy any level of the management structure. Their European counterparts were afforded many of the same opportunities as their American counterparts. Hawaiians were employed in many positions but the management positions beyond Overseer were somewhat unobtainable. Asians, for many years, were not allowed any opportunities beyond skilled and unskilled workers.

How did the Portuguese men fall into the scheme of things? Although the Azorean, Madeiran, and Portuguese men were of European descent, on the whole they were not seen as Caucasian. Their complexions were much darker than their European brethren and were thus discriminated against. While the Portuguese could work in some jobs that Asians were not allowed in, they couldn't rise very high within the plantation system. Up until the 1920s, Portuguese men were not employed in positions higher than Overseer. They really did not gain "Caucasian" status until the 1940 census when the ethnic descriptions were revised. Because of this the career track of the early Portuguese men on sugar plantations was very limited.

What jobs were available to males on the plantation? Pretty much all plantation jobs were open to males. Here is a listing of some of those jobs:

In the Field: foreman, overseer, seed planting, cane cutting, weeding, ploughing, hoeing, stripping dry leaves ("hole hole work"), cane loading, ditching, watering

In the Mill: engineer, technician, sugar boiler, press operator, furnace operator, mill engineer, mill laborer, sugar bagging

In the Plantation Store: manager, salesman, clerk

In the Office: manager, bookkeeper, clerical worker

On the Railway: locomotive engineer, helper

Some other jobs on the plantation: carpenter, blacksmith, cowboy, company policeman, mason


© 2002 Melody Lassalle
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