The Sakada Connection

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The other day while I was in the middle of seeing patients in our clinic, our office secretary notified me that a certain man called and left a message to relay to me that he has information about my maternal grandfather. I can hardly believe my ears!

My grandfather mystify me for I have very little knowledge of him except that I learned from my mother that he was a Sakada – a term used for migrant worker from the Philippines who worked in Hawaii’s sugar cane and pineapple plantation in the early to mid 1900’s. However he probably got so homesick in Hawaii that he came back to Ilocos and started a family. I wrote about him before and here’s the link again of that story.

My curiosity was quite piqued about the phone call that even though I was in the middle of work I just cannot wait to hear the rest of the details. Our office secretary had the name of the caller and his number, so I called him back while I was in between patients.

I was not disappointed from the information I got, and yet there was so much more.

The man told me that my grandfather most likely rode the same ship with his father. His father boarded the ship SS Maunawili that sailed in 1946 from the Port of Salamague, Ilocos Sur to Hawaii. They were among the more than 6000 men that were recruited from the Ilocos region to work in the plantations of Hawaii. His father was from Batac, while my grandfather was from the adjacent municipality of Sarrat, Ilocos Norte. It was said that they picked stoic, hard-working, and young Ilocano men, preferably from the barrios and seemingly uneducated, who were willing to leave their home but had dreams to try their fortune in a foreign land.

The caller also told me that his father was assigned to the island of Lanai, once the largest pineapple plantation in the world, and he thinks my grandfather was assigned somewhere else, perhaps one of the sugar cane or pineapple plantations on Kauai, Oahu, Maui or the Big Island of Hawaii. Their labor contracts with the HSPA (Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association) were for three years, to work 6 days/week, 10 hours/day and got paid 13 cents/day. Now I can see why my grandfather chose  to return to the Philippines when his contract was over, as the backbreaking, semi-slavery work was really brutal.

The intriguing part of this story is that I was given further information about my grandfather by somebody more than any of my relatives, including my own mother, who did not see him as he died before she was born. And that somebody just happen to read my blogs and somehow able to identify me (even though I try to maintain some anonymity here), and thoughtfully reached out to me.

The more intriguing part of this story is that the man who called was a retired doctor who also studied Medicine in University of Santo Tomas just like me, but he graduated a couple of years even before I was born. Though he lived in Hawaii part of his early life, they moved back to the Philippines and resided in Sampaloc Manila where I grew up, and in fact 2 streets away from where we lived. He came back to America after his medical school and he settled and worked most of his life, believe it or not, here in Iowa. Truth is, he is a Pinoy Transplant in Iowa just like me, though he came way, way before me. I can say that he paved the way for us, the newer wave of Filipino doctors, as he left a very good impression here. He made us proud to be Filipinos.

The doctor even told me where the word “Sakada” came from, a term my migrant grandfather and other workers were called. These barrio lads who came with bare feet caked with mud were given the moniker “naka saka-saka da” which in Ilokano means “the shoeless ones.” It was shortened to “sakada.”

As I walk with a nice pair of shoes on my feet, I would like to revere and celebrate the memories of my barefooted grandfather – who gave up on his American dream by returning home so I could chase mine.

(*Sakadas, photo from the web)


Post Note: calculating from the year my mother was born, my grandfather most likely arrived in Hawaii much earlier than 1946. If he did not board in SS Maunawili, could it be SS Maunana’ko (‘I’ll go first’ in Tagalog)? I’m kidding.


  1. Hindi ko po kayo kilala pero ako ma’y kinilabutan sa inyong kuwento ngayon, sa mga pagkakadugtong-dugtong ng inyong buhay at ng ginoo na tumawag sa inyo…. Purihin ang Diyos! Wala nga talagang aksidente sa buhay wika ng marami!

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