The Norwegians Achieved Some Improvement (Book Excerpt)

When Grip arrived in Hilo on the island of Hawaii, he met with Sheriff Severance who told him that 50 of the Norwegian workers from the Hitchcock Plantation were in prison because they had refused to work.

The situation was resolved through negotiations and investigations, and all but one went back to work.

Grip and Hitchcock discussed a number of solutions to the problems that had arisen between the workers and plantation owners. In the end they agreed upon the radical proposition that the contract time should be shortened from three to two years! The workers must have considered this to be a great victory.

Grip did a thorough investigation by interviewing 256 Norwegian and Swedish workers. They were quite anxious to hear his conclusion.

When it came they were disappointed. The King’s envoy had concluded that they had little reason to complain. The food and housing seemed to be adequate. The work was tiring in the tropical sun, but that was something they surely must have expected when they applied.

However, Grip did admit that it was wrong for the non-working wives to be denied free board. He insisted that the Hawaiian Bureau of Immigration pay them, and they did. During the course of a little over a year, twenty-four women received between $11 and $99 each.

Grip’s visit did produce some improvement, even though the workers were disappointed in his overall conclusion. After being awarded Knight Commander of the Order of Kalakaua, Grip returned to Norway.

In reality, the workers and their families did not attain any great relief until they had completely fulfilled their contract time. When that time did come, the little colony of Norwegians and Swedes on Maui had a great celebration. The women made a flag to symbolize their freedom.

Most of the workers left the plantations after completing their contract time. Five years after the arrival of the Norwegians and Swedes on Maui, there were fifty men and two women who remained working on the plantations. But they were now receiving higher wages. And they were free – free men and women.

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“Aloha from Forgotten Norwegians in Hawaii”

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