2006/01/28

CHINESE NEW YEAR - HAWAIIAN STYLE

This post is dedicated to all my Chinese friends - both new and old - around the world.

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January 29th, 2006 (on the 425-year-young Gregorian calendar) marks the Chinese New Year. Chinese people everywhere - along with their friends - will celebrate this occassion in a big way with many customs. Hawaii, with its large population of people of Chinese ancestry is no exception. About 4.7% or 60,000 people in Hawaii are Chinese, not including people of mixed ethnicity including Chinese, which, if included, account for neary 1/3 of the population. Hawaii is a true melting pot of cultures. As the Fijians say "one salt water".

The first Chinese contract laborers arrived in Hawaii from Kwantung Provence in 1852. They worked for the plantations at a wage of $3 per month. Mark Twain, who visited the islands, wrote of Chinese labor in the Sacramento Daily Union newspaper on September 26, 1866 - an interesting historical read.

Another intriguing, if obscure, contribution to American culture by a Hawaiian Chinese man is that involving the famous detective series "Charlie Chan". Movies about this detective were very popular from the early 1930's to the late 1940's. Ironically (and sadly), due to the racist hiring practices in Hollywood at the time, the movies starred caucasians made up to look Chinese (sort of!). Yet, in testimony to the popularity of the character in the USA, the part was played alternatively by some of the best actors of the era - Boris Karloff, Leo G Caroll, and Cesar Romero to name three. What I find most fascinating however, is that the character of Charlie Chan was not entirely fiction, but was based on a real dectective: Honolulu Police Department Detective Chang Apana, who joined the force in 1898. Energetic and fearless, Apana was renown for remarkable achievements as a detective. He retired in 1932 after serving 34 years. Chang Apana died in 1933, and is buried at the Manoa Chinese Cemetery in Honolulu.

On the island of Maui, Pandabonium's home for some 28 years, it was Chinese contract labor that built the system of tunnels that brought water from the wet north-eastern coast line to the arid lands of central Maui to make the large sugar plantations there possible. Starting in 1876, they used dynamite and pickaxes to tunnel through the solid lava rock and create a water system that is still in use today.

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Wo Hing Temple


If you visit Maui, stop in at the Wo Hing Temple in Lahaina. Built in 1912 by a local chapter of Chee Kung Tong, a Chinese fraternal society, the building is now a museum dedicated to the history of Chinese immigants to Maui. It displays many interesting artifacts and even has a theater which shows movies of Hawaii taken by the famous inventor Thomas Edison between the years of 1898 to 1903.

The largest Chinese population in Hawaii today is to be found in Honolulu on the island of Oahu, and thus the biggest public celebration is held on Honolulu's Hotel Street - the heart of "Chinatown".

Click on the title of this post to visit the official Chinatown Hawaii website. It has a lot of interesting articles about Chinatown and the history of Chinese people in Hawaii.

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Hawaii Lion Dance Association


I have only touched upon a few points in the very rich heritage of Chinese people in Hawaii. It is worth doing more research on your own to learn more of the contributions by the Chinese perople who make up an important part of the beautiful cultural rainbow that is Hawaii.

Whatever your family backgound or location on our planet, I wish you all a very happy and healthy "Year of the Fire Dog".

5 comments:

Robin said...

Thanks Panda... Yes, with only 4.7% population being Chinese... they sure celebrate it in a big way.. just like any other parts of the whole.

Happy Holidays for u.. I wonder if they celebrate Lunar New Year in Japan?

Pandabonium said...

Thanks Robin. Interesting question!

I have not seen anything about celebrations in Japan this year for the Lunar New Year, but I have read that in very rural places the lunar calendar is still followed. Actually, the older calendars are "lunisolar" because they indicate both the moon phase and the time of the solar year.

Japan now uses the Gregorian (solar) calendar. In 1873, during the Meiji restoration, Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar to make it easier to trade with the West.

Before that time, the lunar calendar was used and even more interesting, time was based on a day that began at sunrise and ended at sunset. That unit "day" was divided into six equal parts as was the night - the equivelant of "hours" but of course not equal. Adjusting early clocks was quite a challenge back then.

In the late 1870's a man named Kintaro Hattori started a clock company which was the predecessor of the modern timepiece manufacturer "Seiko".

Elements of the lunisolar calendar and its Chinese roots are also found in the days of the week in Japan.

The seven day names are simply from the Chinese philosophies of yin-yang, plus the five Taoist elements: fire, water, wood, metal, and earth.

Sunday is nichi youbi (yang-sun)
Monday is getsu youbi (yin-moon)
Tuesday is ka-youbi (fire)
Wednesday is sui-youbi (water)
Thursday is moku-youbi (wood)
Friday is kin-youbi (metal/gold)
Saturday is dou-youbi (earth)

So you see, as with many other things in Japan, the Chinese influence and lunisolar calendar still evident, even if covered over by Western influence.

FH2O said...

Thanks for sharing this. What an unusual looking chinese temple!

YD said...

Hehe the first glance at the temple made me mistook it for a typical chinese family house. :-)

Happy Chinese New Year panda! This is a late one cuz these few days are filled with celebration, and later filled with panicking and rushing to do the piling homework set aside for too long. how i miss those days when we actually have a long holiday for chinese new year back home...

I'm impressed by the magnitude the chinese population there celebrate festivals. :-) I bet you've had some good times back then.

All the best wishes for a new year ahead!

Pandabonium said...

FH2O, thanks for stopping by during your busy (and fun) holidays.

YD - there is no longer a large Chinese community on Maui, and the big celebrations are in Honolulu, a hundred miles away. As a result, I only got to see the celebrations on TV news. :(

Both of you noted the temple in Lahaina. As with most buildings of the period on Maui, it is modest. Maui was a quiet agricultural community back then, and the people were relatively poor. The entire population of Maui county, which includes the islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai was only about 26,000 and many of these people were relatively poor contract laborers who worked for the plantations and lived in houses owned by their employers.

So, when a temple or church or social hall was built by any ethnic or religious group, it was built in the way the local builders knew how with the most easily available materials. While very simple compared to their counterparts in the various homelands of the people, the buildings that survive show the care and pride taken by the community of people who built them.

It is nice to see these older buildings either still in use, or being preserved as museums and such, to give us a glimpse at the past.