Sugar: Hawaii–Puerto Rico Connection

Today, the tiny red wooden chapel with the Salvation Army sign is part of Koloa Town’s version of a strip mall, a stretch of quaint shops linked by a plank sidewalk.

The church was re–opened in 2012, when Captains Austin and Nayomia Anderson arrived on the island of Kauai, the farthest north of the Hawaiian islands. (See ‘A Miraculous Match’.) But it has a long history.

In 1897, when the chapel was first built, it was during the sugar cane era on the islands. When the sugar industry collapsed on Puerto Rico, plantation owners in Hawaii looked to that faraway island for workers. They came to “paradise” but lived in far from idyllic conditions. They were housed in work camps, poorly paid, and ill–treated by “Anglos” who ran the plantations. The Salvation Army saw a need and stepped in.

In some cases, officers lived and worked on the plantations and did worship services in the camps. One such camp was at Makaweli, on the southwestern part of the island. There, the Army found resistance to its ministry until one man named Carasquilla was converted. Captain George Clark wrote of a changed atmosphere: “The comrades march around the camp singing songs of victory and beating the drum.”

Juanito Candelario Feliciano was one sugar cane worker who found the Lord at the Koloa Corps. That was in 1907. Three years later, he applied to become an officer and entered training in Honolulu, on the island of Oahu. He became an officer in 1911 and served on Maui, the Big Island (Hawaii), and Oahu.

The Koloa Corps continued to serve the area for many years, and is now an “outpost” of the Hanapepe Corps. Some congregation members at Koloa can remember attending Sunday School there back in the 60s. Though the number of regulars here is small, tourists often drift in as they hear the sweet praise songs, played on guitar and ukelele, floating on the breeze.

When they walk through the wooden doors, most have no idea that they are stepping into history.

An upcoming book, Triunfarán: The Hispanic Ministry of The Salvation Army by Colonel Frank Payton will have more on the history of Puerto Ricans on the islands. Material for this article was taken from a draft chapter of that book.

by Linda D. Johnson

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