My maternal great-grandfather left his home and family in the Philippines and came to Hawai’i Island (The Big Island) to work as a sakada, a plantation worker, in the early 1900’s. I have always marveled at the courage my great-grandfather must have had, but only in the last few years have I tried to envision what his life must have been like.
His trip across the Pacific Ocean on a ship carrying recruits from the Philippines could not have been too comfortable. He likely spoke little English. I can only guess that he had little to no prior exposure to the Japanese, Chinese, and Portuguese cultures of his fellow plantation workers. And what exposure did he have to the Hawaiian culture while he toiled away and lived on the plantation? What I would give to have pictures and writings of my great-grandfather’s life on the sugar cane plantation.
It is probably my curiosity about my great-grandfather that made me wonder about my husband’s paternal grandfather, who also came from the Philippines in the early 1900’s. In all the time I have known my husband, I have never known his family to visit the grave of his grandfather. The grave is not far from my husband’s childhood home, but I never questioned the lack of interest until recently.
With some prompting from me, my husband and his older sister confirmed the name of the cemetery where my husband’s grandfather is buried. The cemetery has yet to call back with a plot location, because the records are not digitized and must be searched manually.
I hope to visit the grave of my husband’s grandfather in the very near future, and I would like my children to know more of their family history. Although they may not feel the need for it while they are still young, this might change when they are older, as I now feel the need to know my great-grandfather.
We look for heroes and inspiration in sports figures; celebrities; and spiritual, social, and political leaders. We search in the real world and in literature. How often do we search in our own family trees? It’s not nearly as easy as turning on a TV, reading an article or a book, or watching a movie. For most families, oral histories, written documents, and faded photographs are sparse at best. But the payoff is worth it. Knowing that great courage, determination, strength, and a sense of adventure run in your gene pool has to factor in somewhere when you wonder what you’re made of.
©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.