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Sugar Plantation Work Day and Wages
by Melody Lassalle

A typical day in the life of a plantation worker ca. 1900:

4 am--Wake up...women prepare breakfast and lunch, men tend to duties around the house
5 am--Whistle blows for all laborers to arise
5:30 am--Wait at designated place for luna, then walk to fields
6:00 am--Work day begins
11:00 am or so--30 minute break for lunch
11:30 or 12 pm--return to fields
4:30 pm--Work day ends. Worker returns home, women prepare dinner and tend to household duties. Men tend to gardens and repairs
8:00 pm--Curfew/Lights out, workers have 30 minutes for total quiet

Work schedule:
The laborer was expected to work 10 hours a day, 6 days a week.

Type of work:
Men and women worked in the fields. Tasks may include planting, ploughing, loading cane, watering. A typical worker would spend 4 hours at a time bent over his/her work.

By 1901, Portuguese males, could rise to the level of luna, but no further. By 1915, they dominated the luna class, but still could not rise any higher. All higher positions were reserved for the American born and Whites (which the Portuguese were sometimes not considered a part of).

Women with babies had special considerations. If they had to work in the field, they tied the baby to their back. Younger children were left at home for the older children. Depending on their situation, a woman would try to take in sewing or laundry so as to stay home with the children.


Wages were based on ethnicity and sex. Though women worked along side men in the fields and were expected to work as hard, they were paid less than their male counterparts.

Typical Portuguese laborer wage ca 1880: $10 a month for male; $6.50 for female

Some examples of wage disparity:

Blacksmith 1901
Portuguese $1.54
Scottish $4.16

Carpenter 1901
Portuguese $1.54
American $3.67

Laborers 1909 (monthly)
Japanese $18
Puerto Rican $22.50
Portuguese $22.50

Overseer 1915
Japanese $1.86
Portuguese $2.24
American $3.82

For more information, check out these websites:

Interested in learning more? Check out Pau Hana by Ronald Takaki (see book picks). An excellent work on the sugar plantations of Hawaii.

On the web:

Women and Work in Hawaii Exhibit:

Selected Photos of Plantation Life:

A Brief History of Labor in Hawaii:

Upd. Sep 2001
© 2002 Melody Lassalle
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