Military Intelligence Service
Born in 1922, Dick Hamada is the third of Tokuichi and Shige Hamada’s five children — all born in Honokaa Sugar Company’s Maite Camp on the island of Hawaii.
Tokuichi, a plantation carpenter, builds laborers’ homes. To supplement the family income, Shige does laundry for Filipino bachelors. She also makes raincoats and sews trousers for family and others.
Dick tends the livestock and garden. The Hamadas share and exchange produce with neighbors.
In 1922, I was born in a camp called Maite, just about four miles from Kukuihaele. Kukuihaele was further towards Waipio Valley [on the island of Hawaii].
That is where I was born, in [Honokaa Sugar Company] plantation camp.
My father [Tokuichi] emigrated from Japan to Hawaii. He was born in 88. His [date] of entry was February 3, 1905. Shortly thereafter, my mother came to Hawaii. I guess being that both of them were from Hiroshima-ken [prefecture], they married.
As a result, I have four siblings. I was number three. My brother Tokumi, later named George, he was the eldest. My sister Ayako, the second. I was the third born. My sister Asako was the fourth. Shizuka, the baby, was the fifth. We were all born in [Maite] Camp.
Father: Tokuichi Hamada
[My father] was employed by Honokaa [Sugar Company] and he was in charge of building homes. He built many homes for the laborers. This is what he did all his life. He was a good carpenter. We’ve learned from him doing things.
He was a great man; he had great talent. Some of his talent was making tools. He used to make the kanna, which is a plane. It was a time-consuming, perfecting job. When he tested the shaving of a wood, the results of the shaving would come out straight and long, continuous. He made some wonderful tools, which we inherited when he passed away.
Mother: Shige Yoshino Hamada
[My mother’s name was] Shige. My mother emigrated from Hiroshima. She never did go out in the plantation to work, like many people did. She remained home and she took care of the laundry for the Filipino workers. Invariably, the clothing was muddy and dirty. It was my job to make the bonfire with a big tarai, we call a pot, of boiling water. So, she would soak [the laundry] in there and then take it out.
I used to help her, with a stick, take out the hot laundry. She would pound it, and soap and scrub it. My father made a board serrated with little ridges, so that when you wash your clothes, it would get that effect of gripping. He made that for my mother. Even today, I have a piece of that washboard. It’s a sort of keepsake, and still useful.
I helped [my mother] carry the washed laundry to the site where she would hang it up with pins. Every now and then, I would go out and help her pick up, especially when the laundry’s dry and it started to rain. It was a hectic event, running out and trying to gather the clothing before it got wet.
[It was mostly] work clothes, yeah. Besides our clothes, the rest of it was, majority, the laborers’ clothing, which she just made a few pennies for washing of clothes. She enjoyed doing it. And I liked to help her because knowing that [the water] was hot, burning hot, and there were quite a few [pieces of] laundry that she did.
Oh, incidentally, my mother used to make raincoat [out of linen]. She used to use linseed oil and waterproof [the fabric], and dry it out. Hey, it worked real well [for] all my brothers and sisters. And the Filipino neighbors bought those and they used to wear to work.
We used to use [rice bags] for towels and underpants. Once in a while you see the rice trade name on the side. But you wore your pants over, so you can’t see it. [My mother] did a lot of that.
My father went to a tailor in Honokaa and learned how to cut the pattern. That’s how he used to pattern things to all different sizes and my mother would do the sewing. We never bought pants. We never bought shirt. All was sewn. In the olden days, you got to make to provide yourself. It was not bought.
I think making of trousers, the other people used to come over and have my mother sew for them. I’m really grateful that my father learned pattern cutting of pants. Hey, he used to cut a lot of pants. My mother would sew it, and I used to sit down and watch her sew.
And, you know, today, I like to sew. In fact, I use the sewing machine at home more than my wife. When her trouser or her shorts get loose, I do the sewing. I make it smaller. I put little pleats in it. I enjoy doing it.
My house, it was a plantation-built home, with galvanized tin roof. When I was a little child, I used to climb up and run all over the house, on the roof. It was a three-bedroom home. The living room was large. The flooring was covered with goza, straw mat. And we never did have furniture, other than a little table. Everything was a sit-down affair. When guests come, we used to bring zabuton [floor cushion] for the guests, but we never did use any of that.
The kitchen, my father built. After we moved in, he built the kitchen area where my mother used to cook. And cooking was done by kerosene stove, later, but in the early part, it used to be all firewood. Firewood and fireplace. She’d cook, and the pots and pans were black. We had to scrub and clean that thing, but it never did get clean because I guess during the cooking, the accumulation of that carbon or that black smoke just really covered the pot and pan.
Oh, and in those days, we never had a refrigerator. The food was either thrown away after few days, or we consumed it. But, it was consumed before it got rotten.
We had a safe to keep the flies away. My father built that. The extra food was stored in there. And later on, we got ice. Ice was bought. Somebody would come over [and deliver the ice]. And those days, it was very cheap. But, it was not — we didn’t have provisions for storing the ice because my mother stored the food without refrigeration. The ice that we bought was more hindrance than usefulness, you might say.
Since the toilet facility was outdoors, you had more space in the house. Toilet facilities was one of those olden styles where a hole is dug and the toilet with seats is placed over it. It had a door and it was remotely located from our living area. But in those days, we never did think about the danger of walking at night.
Every now and then, when the thing gets filled, we’d cover up, dig another hole, and place the toilet over it. And we didn’t have any water fountain. So naturally, after we’d return home, we’d wash our hands and so forth.
[We used] newspapers [for toilet paper]. In those days, we used to tease each other. Say, “I think you got yesterday’s issue on your behind.” (Laughs)
We had a good life. I say we never starved. One of my favorite foods was sausage, can of sausage. At times when I was hungry, I just opened a can, washed the oil off the sausage, and consumed that thing directly. No dirty dishes to wash.
My mother did provide enough cooking. My mother used to make a lot of pancake for us in the morning.
[My mother made] chicken hekka [meat and vegetable dish]. And she cooked rice, hot rice. My father, I noticed he used to put sashimi and place it on the rice and cover it. And that thing will cook, the steam will cook the fish, and he used to love that. Of course, he used to love the sashimi itself. And naturally, a little shot of whiskey, or that okolehao [liquor distilled from ti root], which were plentiful.
We used to consume a lot of poi [cooked and pounded taro corm], but I don’t remember having laulau [steamed package of meat, fish, and taro leaves]. But we had lomilomi, the tomatoes chopped up and salmon put in.
SFish, Frogs, and Livestock
You know, a fish, an aku [bonito] about [a foot-and-a-half long], I think we paid less than fifty cents. The peddler would come from Honokaa. He’d get the aku, ice it, and he’d come out and [ask] if we needed fish.
One of the things we did [was to] go out to the gulch looking for fish and frogs. We used to catch a lot of frogs. It’s amazing how we used to catch that. We used to use a little red flag with a hook on it. No bait on it, and just dangle it in front the frog, and they grabbed that and we got a frog. And the bullfrogs were pretty large. Head to foot on a stretch was about [one foot].
We cooked our own frogs. I did a lot of cooking of frogs. My brother taught me how. Get a knife. By the head, you cut it, and then we pull it [the skin], and the whole thing would come out like a glove, you know? Unraveling a glove. And they would cut off the toes, and cut the intestines out, you got a frog. So, when you catch about a dozen frogs, it’s quite a lot of work to clean and prepare it. But, it was worth the effort.
We’d fry it with shoyu and spot of sugar on it. It’s very, very tasty. The flesh, when cooked, turned white, and would cling to the bone. We’d pick it up and break the limbs and eat it, and it was a delicacy as far as food was concerned.
Today, people don’t know. They see a frog, they say, “Wow, that ugly thing, can you eat that?” But we used to love that.
Also, we had rabbits. My brother used to raise rabbits. Rabbit, we’d skin that thing, and that also is a technique in skinning. You’d grip it, hanging by the limbs, and then you pull the skin, the whole thing would come off, right up to the toes. You chop it off, and get the intestinal portion out, and chop it. And that, also, with vegetables — my mother used to do the cooking on the rabbit, because it was, in quantity, more than the frog. The family enjoyed that.
I used to take care the chickens, and my mother used to help me feeding the chickens. I belonged to the 4-H club. Poultry used to be one of my elementary school projects.
And also, we had pigs, [for] which we gathered slop from the neighborhood and fed the pigs. We did throw in barley and stuff and mix it [with the slop]. But we never did cook to kill any disease or bacteria that was in that slop. They can transmit worms to human beings through their flesh. But they were healthy. We never got any worms.
Washing the pen was one of my jobs. And in those days, we just flush [the waste] down into the gully and it would go down into the gulch. We never did think of the health aspects. Like today, you couldn’t do that.
We had two horses and a cow, and the cow produced milk. My brother and I used to do the milking every morning and night. In those days, there wasn’t such a thing as pasteurizing. It’s amazing we never got any disease, but I guess a healthy cow will produce good milk.
In those days, even our pets, the cat, used to come around and we used to squirt it in their mouth. We did it naturally, and the animals loved it, and we loved it.
Most of the food were provided and raised by ourselves. Each family did that.
[The garden] was under my custody, so to speak because, through 4-H, I used to have lettuce, daikon [turnip], onion, spinach. They really grew well. I guess the soil was really good. As far as vegetables were concerned, my mother never bought any from a store. It was either given to us, or we’d raise our own.
My father planted avocado. And it really produced. That avocado, we called butter pear because it was so smooth. When it’s ripe, you couldn’t beat it. It was really good. We had papayas, pears and peach. The peach is not the type of peach grown in the Mainland. These peaches were small, not as sweet, but very fleshy and crunchy. And, we used to love it.
We used to raise our own [sweet] potato. It’s one of the easiest plants to raise. You can just plant it anywhere and it will grow. And pretty soon, if the soil is good, you’ll find nice sweet potatoes. But, every now and then, when we used to give our neighbors fruits, they’d, in turn, reciprocate by giving us their potatoes. One Okinawa family was the Isa family. They had lot of kids, and they used to do a lot of raising of potatoes. Fields of it, about half an acre. They used to share a lot. They never used to sell.
You know, that’s one thing neighbors used to do is give. We shared with each other what we had, and we exchanged. They give, we give. It was a wonderful feeling. Plantation life was wonderful. It taught us to share things. Today, it’s me first and you second. The sharing is done only with intimate friends and close neighbors, relatives.
Dick Hamada's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Dick Hamada.