A past nearly forgotten
By Christie Wilson
Neighbor Island Editor
By Christie Wilson
MA'ALAEA, Maui — The 630 Scandinavian contract workers who sailed to Hawai'i 125 years ago have been called "the forgotten immigrants," and their arrival in 1881 is marked by a largely forgotten monument on a rugged hillside by the McGregor Point lighthouse.
It is hidden below a rocky clearing frequented only by fishermen and a few tourists looking for a good spot to watch for humpback whales.
Since the "bautastein," or stone monument, was installed 25 years ago during a centennial observance of the Scandinavian migration, it has been worn down by the elements, defaced and used as a target for people throwing beer bottles and other trash.
Even Patty Mazingo of Kula, whose great-grandfather came to Hawai'i from Norway in 1887, was unaware of its existence until she began researching her genealogy after a family visit to that northern country in June.
The Maui-born woman said she came upon a Web posting that mentioned the monument and began a search for the marker's location. She and her husband, Steve, also of Scandinavian descent, were able to identify the Ma'alaea site from a photograph.
The Maui monument is perhaps more well-known in Norway than in Hawai'i, thanks to historical and news accounts and a recent book about the Scandinavian migration by Norwegian journalist Torbjorn Greipsland that stirred interest in the marker.
The author and a small group on O'ahu, called the Friends of the Bautastein, had already raised concerns about the deteriorating monument when Mazingo started to lead the project to replace it.
Audun Davik, 75, a retiree from Norway and a member of the Friends group, said he had been in Hawai'i 10 years before hearing about the bautastein about seven years ago.
"It's largely unknown because there are so few Scandinavians here," he said.
Honolulu entertainer Keith Haugen, who helped secure funding for the original monument, said it was a Viking tradition to place a stone marker at the spot of first landfall. Haugen's grandparents are from Drammen, Norway, the port that launched the two ships that carried the immigrants to Hawai'i.
"It's been ignored for so long. It should be treated better than that because it is a historical event," Haugen said.
Mazingo said state and county officials she contacted had never heard of the monument. She was unable to find any documentation but eventually discovered that the stone sits on a 1.3-acre parcel owned by the Coast Guard.
She also discovered from her numerous discussions with government officials and others that although there aren't a lot of "Johansens" or "Christiansens" in the phone book, many people in Hawai'i — even some with Hawaiian and Asian surnames — have Scandinavian roots.
Once she started inquiring about the bautastein, Mazingo said she was surprised by the amount of interest in the monument from Scandinavians here, on the Mainland and around the world. Supporters include the U.S.-based Sons of Norway.
Donations have been pouring in to cover the $10,000 to $15,000 cost of buying a replacement bronze plaque and relocating the 5-ton rock about 35 feet downslope from its current location, where it will be more visible and less vulnerable to vandals.
Mazingo got Coast Guard permission to move the monument and just yesterday received final state approval enabling the work to begin. She hopes to finish the job by mid-February, when a delegation from Nordmans Forbundet (Norse Federation) of Norway is planning to visit Hawai'i to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Scandinavian arrivals.
The Mazingos said they considered establishing a new monument in a more easily accessible location, such as the McGregor Point lookout or Ma'alaea Harbor, to make more people aware of the Scandinavian migration. But they figured such a move would involve a complicated and lengthy approval process, and ultimately decided the rough terrain and dramatic vista where the monument now sits is a more fitting tribute to the hardiness of the Scandinavian people — and more historically accurate.
The bautastein overlooks the spot where the Norwegian ship Beta anchored on Feb. 18, 1881, after a brutal six-month voyage from Norway. The 400 contract workers aboard the ship — mostly Norwegians plus some Swedes and Danes — were recruited by sugar planters and the Hawaiian government to work in the fields and mills.
A second ship, the Musca, followed in May with about 230. Most of the immigrants went to work on sugar plantations on Maui and the Big Island.
According to various accounts, there was discontent and controversy almost from the very start. Capt. Christian L'Orange, who went to Norway to recruit the contract workers, was accused of falsely promising "paradise" and of signing up riffraff unaccustomed to field work when he couldn't find enough farmers to fill the ships.
The immigrants suffered from climate and culture shock, and many felt they had been misled about the harsh living and working conditions. Some of the Scandinavians developed reputations as troublemakers, staging one of the first labor strikes in the Islands and landing in jail.
When word of the situation in Hawai'i reached home, few others were willing to enlist for plantation work, and the sugar planters decided they'd be better off importing labor from Asia.
"Had it worked out, we would have seen a completely different face to Hawai'i," said Haugen.
It is reported that only about 100 of the original 630 Scandinavian contract workers stayed in Hawai'i, many earning a living as skilled tradesmen, craftsmen or merchants.
Reach Christie Wilson at email@example.com.