At McGregor Point on Maui, close to the lighthouse, on Route 30, about one mile from Maalaea Bay, there exists a monument commemorating the spot where 600 Scandinavian immigrants arrived on February 18, 1881 aboard the Norwegian bark “Beta.”
Sometimes called “the forgotten immigrants” more than 600 Norwegian men, women and even some children shipped out from Drammen, Norway in 1880, having signed up to work in ‘paradise’ on the booming sugar plantations in the Sandwich Isles, Kingdom of Hawaii. After a brutal six-month voyage, they went mostly to the island of Maui.
Captain Christian L’Orange, an early plantation owner, was commissioned by King Kalakaua to bring the Norwegians to the islands. But there was discontent and controversy from the very start when they found that the labor contracts they signed in Norway, written in Norwegian, were fundamentally different from the contracts presented on arrival, written in English. Many felt they had been misled and staged one of the first labor strikes in the islands.
The Norwegians went out on strike, frustrating the plantation owners who had only dealt “with meeker races.”
~ Eleanor Davis, Norwegian Labor in Hawaii
As soon as their contracts expired the majority of Norwegians left for the U.S. mainland. A small number of Norwegians remained in Hawaii working as skilled tradesmen, craftsmen or merchants.
Although the emigration to Hawaii was a failure, the Norwegians who stayed left a lasting legacy. Today there are many Hawaiians who are immensely proud of their part Norwegian ancestry and feel it an honor to trace their heritage to the ‘Beta’.