The Brothers Camarinos: Hawaii Pineapple Entrepreneurs Pre-Statehood


Published in The National Herald, August 8-14, 2015 Issue
Authored by Steve Frangos
TNH Staff Writer


We are excited to announce that The National Herald has given Hellenic Genealogy Geek the right to reprint articles that may be of interest to our group. 


CHICAGO- The Camarinos brothers were among the first Greeks to settle in Hawaii in the 1880s. Originally from the village of Tsintzina near Sparta the Camarinos family relocated to nearby Goritsa. What might seem a minor point of family history becomes a prominent factor in this clan’s future business interests. Three Camarinos brothers eventually traveled to Hawaii, Demetrius (1856- 1903), Panayiotis (later Peter) (1862-1942) and John. 

Understanding the collective actions of these brothers can serve several historical purposes. First, given the leadership role of the Camarinos brothers we learn more about the collective impact of the Greeks in Hawaii. Next, the Camarinos brothers’ business advancements inform the success of many Greek immigrant confectioners in North America that until very recently was not known. And finally even a casual review of the experiences of the Camarinos brother’s lives confronts the reader with a case study in the manner by which American history can gloss over terrible crimes. 

Demetrios Camarinos is credited with attending the University of Athens where he was studying to be a priest. 

However, by 1877, Demetrios abandoned his theological studies and traveled to New York City looking for work.  Displeased with the city, Camarinos moved westward, ending up in San Francisco. Like the vast majority of Greek immigrants Camarinos’ first job was a dishwasher. In 1879, using savings and money sent by his father Camarinos purchased a fruit store on East Street near Clay. In 1887, Peter Camarinos joined his brother. Once together the brothers decided to start a fruit company in Hawaii and from there to export fruit to California markets.

In 1884, the twenty-two year old Peter Camarinos traveled to Hawaii to establish just such a business, the California Fruit Market. While this move would only seem logical, today, it must be recalled that the first commercial Hawaiian pineapple plantation was only established in 1886. With Peter in Hawaii and Demetrios in San Francisco the brother’s business interests grew with incredible leaps and bounds. Each brother began to take advantage of the local business situations to increase their collective interests. By March 25, 1890, Demetrios Camarinos purchased the Emerson, Butler, and Co. Fruit Company in San Francisco. Focusing on farmers and wholesalers in California and Mexico Demetrios secured store fronts and packing houses. Peter focused on fruit available from Hawaiian growers as well as those from Australia and New Zealand which he saw shipped to his San Francisco offices.

Critical to our understanding of the role the Camarinos brothers played in the history of Greeks in North America is their complex association with Christos Tsakonas. Tsakonas helped establish literally hundreds of Greek immigrants in the fruit and confectionery businesses. Tsakonas like the Camarinos clan was born in Tsintzina and it was from that village and those in the immediate area from which Tsakonas drew his work force.

Tsakonas arrived in Chicago not long after the Great Fire of 1871. Moving to Milwaukee Tsakonas by 1882 he started a fruit and confectionery store with a handful of young men from Tsintzina and/or the Tsintzina area. Once the store was established Tsakonas moved on to start yet another store only to hand it over (sometimes completely/sometimes retaining a partnership) to yet another group of young male immigrants from his village and/or district (such as the villages of Vasara, Goritza, Arahova and others). Tsakonas continued moving eastward founding one store after another until his retirement in upstate New York.

Speaking about Demetrios Camarinos historian Peter W. Dickson writes in his article The Greek Pilgrims: Tsakonas and Tsintzinians: “There can be little doubt that Camarinos was in close contact with the Tsintzinians in Chicago because he supplied them with bananas and pineapples from Hawaii through his own export –import firm— the California Fruit Market— based in Honolulu. This enterprise in Honolulu was managed by Camarinos’ brother and nephews, several of whom worked for Tsakonas in Chicago in the early 1880s before heading to the West Coast.” In the spirit of the Greek proverb of “one hand washes the other,” Camarinos had a ready market for his goods and his fellow Tsintzinians scattered across the United States had a bulk wholesaler from which they could collective purchase goods at a discount.

By the 1880s, Hawaii was the center of trade in the Pacific. By 1892, at the latest, the Camarinos brothers owned one of the two largest pineapple plantations in Hawaii. As we read in the Hawaiian Planter’s Monthly November 1892, “Mr. Camarinos of the California Fruit Market has a plantation at Kalihikai of 50,000 plants, all of imported varieties, and intends to put in 100,000 plants during 1893.” Augmenting this plantation was the fact that the Camarinos brothers had built the first refrigerator storage compartments aboard ship capable of transporting 2,000 lbs. of fresh fruit exports per shipment. It is roughly at this point that politics and personalities enter the lives of everyone on the Hawaiian Islands

Two political factions existed on the islands at this time the European and the Missionary. As their names suggest these two groups were formed of European immigrants on the one hand and the other by descendants of the Protestant missionaries and later other AngloSaxon arrivals. From 1810 onwards Hawaii was recognized as an independent kingdom.  Nonetheless, the Missionary class wanted annexation of the islands to the United States while the native Hawaiians (backed by the Europeans) maintained their right to independence. The result of this conflict was gunboat diplomacy.

“The 1887 Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii was a legal document by anti-monarchists to strip the Hawaiian monarchy of much of its authority, initiating a transfer of power to American, European, and native Hawaiian elites. It became known as the Bayonet Constitution for the use of intimidation by the armed militia which forced King Kal kaua to sign it or be deposed. The document denied the King most of his personal authority, empowering the legislature and cabinet of the government. These anti-monarchists, known as the Hawaiian League, were mainly white males of American origin, and they quickly appointed themselves as government officials, providing themselves with almost complete control of the government” Omitted from this quote was the fact that an American gunship was in Honolulu port to ensure the success of this “annexation.” On January 17, 1893, the Kingdom of Hawaii was overthrown and annexed to the United States

Not only are these events cited as the beginnings of American imperialism abroad, it is credited with informing nativist attitudes that led to the Spanish-American War in 1898 and then the subsequent 7 year undeclared war in the Philippines. A long ignored aspect of American Labor history is that it was veterans from this undeclared war that would eventually serve as militia against striking workers in the United States during the 1900s. Louis Tikas and the other twelve adults and children killed by the Colorado State Militia were killed by such veterans.  

From our perspective in history it is easy to agree with General Smedley’s assessment that "War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small 'inside' group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes. War Is a Racket is the title of two works, a speech and a booklet, by retired United States Marine Corps Major General and two time Medal of Honor recipient Smedley D. Butler. In them, Butler frankly discusses from his experience as a career military officer how business interests commercially benefit (including war profiteering) from warfare. Butler’s speech "War is a Racket" was so well received that he wrote a longer version as a small book with the same title that was published in 1935 by Round Table Press, Inc., of New York.”

Peter Camarinos and various other Greeks in Hawaii were aggressively in favor of the counterrevolution in open opposition to the Missionary class. Camarinos was a major planner and sponsor of the insurgency and he is credited with saying, “I will give half that I am worth to see the damned Missionary sons of bitches hung.”

A four year lawsuit from roughly 1890 to 1893-4 between the two largest pineapple growers in Hawaii Kidwell and Camarinos ended in Camarinos’ favor but not until the long drawn out affair destroyed his business interests. After the annexation of the Islands in 1893, the entire extended Camarinos family was deported from Hawaii. While Demetrios Camarinos would later return, Peter died in California and their firm would never be reestablished.

As we can see, the American military and even unintentionally I am assuming the courts have been used for purposes well beyond what the average citizen would allow. For those who would dismiss Greek-American history as nothing more than a “ghetto literature” of little consequence, I would say the limitations they see does not exist within the literature but its interpretation(s).