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Antone Sylva, A Maui Legend
By Melody Lassalle

Sugar cane was growing freely in the Hawaiian Islands long before Captain Cook came on the scene in the 18th century. People of Chinese descent were producing sugar in Lawai as early as 1802. There were small scale family operations throughout the islands.

In 1819, John Wilkinson came up with the idea of mass producing sugar. He set up production in Manoa Valley, Oahu in 1825. Wilkinson died in 1828 before he realized his dream. Production continued until 1829 when his operation was deemed a failure.

Sandwiched in between these historical facts came Antone Sylva of Waikapu. Sylva is a part of Maui legend. According to local lore, he was the first to grow sugar cane on Maui.

It is said that Sylva arrived in Hawaii before the missionaries (most books date his arrival between 1827-1828). He was one of many sailors who never left Hawaii.

He married a Hawaiian native, Malia Keopukane (aka Maria August). It appears that he married a second time under the name Akoni Sylva on 16 Nov 1846 in Wailuku to another Hawaiian native, Keawe. He had these children: Kapulani, Pueueu, Joseph, William, Manoel, Joaquim, Antonia, and Mary Ann.

Sylva built a sugar mill in 1828 on the island of Maui. He brought agriculture practices with him presumably from his native land. Unfortunately, none of the writings about him say where he originated from--only that he was Portuguese.

Antone Sylva made a will on 21 Dec 1851. He died sometime in 1854 (Probate filed 20 Aug 1854). He probably wasn't the first to grow sugar cane in the islands or the first to begin large scale production. History shows that others were hot on the trail of what would be the largest industry in Hawaii long before he arrived. He is part of the sugar cane story as a one of the many pioneers.

© 2003 Melody Lassalle

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