Hawaii and pineapple simply seem to go together. If you’ve ever sipped a pina colada or eaten a bite of sweet and sour shrimp, then you understand the tangy allure of this tropical fruit. A Blue Hawaii just isn’t the same without a chunk of delicious pineapple. For many years, it has been Hawaii’s largest crop, especially on the island of Lanai, also known as “Pineapple Island.” Lanai is one of the smallest occupied Hawaiian islands, measuring just 140.5 acres. It lies in the rain shadow of neighboring Maui. Because of its location, Lanai offers one of the more arid climates in the Hawaiian island chain.
In the early 1900’s, ambitious farmers attempted to grow cash crops (sugar cane and beets) as well as raising sheep for their wool. Unfortunately, there was little success here because there was too little fresh water to grow these crops or feed livestock.
Despite these failures, the idea of farms on Lanai actually dates back much earlier, and is even found in ancient Hawaiian legends. Legend has it that the son of a chief angered his father by accidentally wiping out a crop of breadfruit. As a punishment, he was banished to the island of Lanai, which was considered to be haunted by evil spirits. The man worked the land, eventually making it his home after discovering that indeed, there were no evil spirits on the island.
In 1922, James Dole purchased the entire island and began to farm it for pineapple. Eventually, Dole began to can this popular fruit. Soon, more than three quarters of the pineapple grown on Lanai was exported off the island to the U.S. mainland and abroad. For many years the Dole company was the primary producer of pineapple in the world. At this time, the idea of getting pineapple in the grocery store was still new, drawing people all over the world to this tropical treat. Lanai was overtaken by dozens of acres of pineapple plantations. Eventually the market started to decline as the interest in pineapple began to wane, although large quantities of pineapple are still grown in Lanai to this day.
For the years that Dole was in control of Lanai, the Dole pineapple plantations were a major provider of employment for native Hawaiians as well as many others internationally. Chinese and Japanese farm workers were brought to the islands because of their ability to work the fields quickly and efficiently. On Lanai, these cultures mixed with that of the native Hawaiians, creating a unique blend. Today, those with Chinese and Japanese ancestry are now a part of Hawaii as much as the native Hawaiians.
Once the production of pineapple started to slow, the island of Lanai turned to an interest in tourism. In 1985 Rupert Murdock bought the island and further developed it as a favorite tourist destination. Pineapple is still produced in a small amount on Lanai and the other Hawaiian Islands. While it is no longer the island’s primary industry, it continues to contribute to that special flavor of Hawaii.