Moriso Teraoka
100th Infantry Battalion

Picking Pineapples

At age 12, boys of the camp are expected to spend summers working in the cane field hoeing weeds.

When pineapple pickers are needed on Lanai, Moriso signs up, despite being two weeks shy of the minimum age of 15 years.

Moriso goes by steamship and sampan to Lanai, then by truck to Lanai City. He picks pineapples, tops the crowns and packs them into crates.

Moriso spends three summers on Lanai, until work is suspended in 1941 when the U.S. declares war on Japan.

[The following text is excerpted from "My Legacy: The Inheritance of a Will" by Moriso Teraoka.]

Those never forgotten summer days lasted until the age of twelve. By then, Haaheo Elementary School was behind us. Hilo Intermediate School was our next level of education. Our summer was transformed from a fun time to a working summer in the cane field, hoeing hono hono, California grass, and other obnoxious weeds from between the sugar cane.

Picking Pineapples on Lanai

Yet, I began to see the world outside of the Big Island when I spent three summers picking pineapples on the island of Lanai from 1939 through 1941.

Moriso Teraoka in work clothes on Lanai where he spent the summer picking pineapples. Summer 1939.
Moriso Teraoka in work clothes on Lanai where he spent the summer picking pineapples. Summer 1939.

News that pineapple pickers were needed on the island of Lanai for the summer season quickly spread among the ninth graders at Hilo Intermediate School and to the students at Hilo High School across the street. From Wainaku, Yukio Naguwa, Haruo Hamasaki, David Ventura, Michael Pacheco, and I made the first trip to Lanai in the summer of 1939. Guys from Hilo town and other sugar plantations along the Hamakua coastline made up a group of about 50 who spent the summer on Lanai.

I had already spent three summers hoeing weeds between rows of sapling sugar cane of the Hilo Sugar Company throughout the summer vacation. Earning fifteen dollars for the summer was a generous amount for a twelve, thirteen, and fourteen-year-old boy to earn back in the mid-1930s.

Therefore, as speculative as one hundred dollars picking pineapples for a summer sounded, the urge to sign up was too provocative, and we could not ignore the opportunity to harvest this richness.

Mr. Ah You, principal of Papaaloa Elementary School and hired as a liaison officer for the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, was recruiting many of us from Hilo. He was our chaperone and responsible for our welfare during the summer. The only prerequisite was that we had to be in good health and above all be fifteen years old and older to qualify.

I was two weeks shy from my fifteenth birthday, but since I was the tallest among our group, I was accepted without a question.

A week after school was over on a Sunday afternoon, we all checked in with Mr. Ah You at Hilo Harbor and boarded the steamship that plied [between] the islands. The steamships Hualalai, Waialeale, Haleakala, and Humuula were the means of traveling for the majority of the people; the airplane was only for the rich.

Steamship in which Moriso Teraoka traveled to Lanai to pick pineapples. June 1939, 1940 or 1941.
Steamship in which Moriso Teraoka traveled to Lanai to pick pineapples. June 1939, 1940 or 1941.

We rode steerage class; our accommodation was the afterdeck. There was a deck below for sleeping, but nobody could endure the stench of the bilges, and wisely, we stayed on the open deck.

I’ll never forget that first boat ride. As soon as the steamship passed the protection of the Hilo Harbor breakwater, the boat started to rock. From port to starboard, fore and aft, we immediately started to throw up. It was a sleepless ride until midnight when the ship entered Lahaina Harbor in Maui. The ship anchored off shore. One of the ship’s lifeboats was lowered, and we were ferried to the pier.

An inter-island steamship with Moriso Teraoka on board en route to Lanai to pick pineapples for the summer.
An inter-island steamship with Moriso Teraoka on board en route to Lanai to pick pineapples for the summer.

At the break of dawn, we boarded a sampan named Naia and headed for Kaulamapau Harbor in Lanai. We all had breakfast at the restaurant on the pier, and we all had something to offer the fish as we resumed throwing up once we left the safe haven of Lahaina Harbor.

I’ll never forget that I was an unfortunate recipient of some partially digested breakfast. I was busily throwing up when someone from the deck above began emptying his breakfast on top of me. Mercifully, we arrived in Lanai after about two hours of misery, still intact but on empty bellies.

From Kaulamapau, we were trucked to Lanai City. As we headed towards our destination, we saw acres and acres of pineapple fields, neatly and uniformly separated by roads. The entire plateau between Kaulamapau and Lanai City was planted with pineapple in various stages of maturity. The green of the pineapple plants in neat rows and growing in the red dirt of Lanai was a contrast that is forever in my mind.

We were assigned cabins with four to a room - Haruo, Yukio, David, and I. Toileting and washing were done in a central community facility. The room was furnished with two double decker spring beds. Each bed came with a cotton stuffed mattress, a pillow, and two army blankets. Bed sheets were an option that we had to provide ourselves. All of us used one of our blankets to cover the mattress and pillow and the other to cover ourselves. This was to be a spartan life for all of us.

As we settled down in our assigned rooms, Mr. Ah You visited each cottage for assurance that everything was okay. From that day, Mr. Ah You dressed in the typical fashion of a luna. To protect his balding head, he always donned a Panama hat. He wore a denim jacket and tailored denim breeches, like that of a polo player and with leather leggings buckled around his legs. He carried his bugle wherever he went.

Later that same day, Mr. Ah You’s bugle call assembled all of us from Hilo in front of the mess hall to be welcomed by the plantation manager, Frank Klein. Mr. Klein explained the conditions of employment. We were to be assessed fifteen dollars a month for room and board and given three dollars for spending money for the month for snacks and movies.

After a week, our working days flowed into a routine. The crisp revelry call by Mr. Ah You’s bugle jump-started our day. Get up, wash up, breakfast at the mess hall, pick up our lunch pails, fill our canteens, change into our dusty work clothes, and report to our respective luna at the assembly field for trucking to the pineapple field. This routine was repeated throughout our summer.

There were two different working conditions. We were paid by the hour or were paid by the number of boxes of pineapple we picked. We topped the crowns and packed the crates. The number of pineapples that went into the container depended upon the sizes. I think only six first-year pineapples filled the space while about twelve second-year pineapples filled the same size crate.

On a contract basis, most of us were able to pick and pack enough crates to earn an average of three dollars a day. There were days when pineapples weren’t ready for picking and those were the days that we were put on an hourly pay scale hoeing weeds. Hoeing only paid twenty three to twenty five cents an hour and denied us our goal of a three dollar day.

After the work in the pineapple field was over, we were trucked back to Lanai City. We would run home, take our dust-filled shoes off and with only our underwear, rush to the bathhouse. First come first served; there would be no hot water for the latecomers.

After cleaning up, we returned the lunch pails and had supper.

All of us had to do our own laundry. I would wash my underwear the same time I took my daily shower. My after-work clothing was washed during the weekends. My working clothes were laundered only after three weeks of usage, and I was not alone in this practice. Ignoring the stench of our dust-streaked shirt and pants, we wore the clothes until the shirt became too stink. On the practical side, it never made sense to most of us because the clean clothes that we would wear on a Monday morning would be drenched with sweat and dust by lunchtime.

Sweat-laden and dust-covered working clothes were the least of our concerns.

Usually, our time after supper was indulged with a soda or ice cream at the Endo Store and long johns and doughnuts at the Okamoto Store. They were the country merchants who provided everything to the residents of Lanai City. The families charged everything they needed and at the end of the month, on payday, the debt was paid off.

Summer on Lanai came to an end in the middle of August.

We all checked in our wire mesh eye protectors and topping knives. We received our accumulated summer earnings and said good-bye to the lunas whom we worked for and friends that we made during the summer.

Going home was a little worse because the ride home started from Kaulamapau Harbor. We boarded the smaller steamship Humuula, sailed to North Kohala on the Big Island and then to Hilo Harbor, a trip that usually lasted more than 24 hours. Somehow we endured gut-wrenching seasickness, because home was just around the bend after sailing along the Hamakua coast.

Most of us were able to meet our summer’s goal of one hundred dollars, which we brought home. I was able to meet this goal three times. I was allowed to buy a bicycle after the second year on Lanai from the Western Auto Store in Hilo.

Picking pineapple during the summer time in Lanai was suspended in 1941.

"My Legacy: The Inheritance of a Will" was reprinted with the permission of Moriso Teraoka. Photographs courtesy of Moriso Teraoka.

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