Chinese cemetery is private affair


Tong Wo Tong Cemetery

This Chinese cemetery is marked by an ornate archway that reads in English and Chinese “Tong Wo Tong Cemetery.” The gate was built in 1903 by Yoshisuke Sasaki, the builder-owner of Sasaki Store, now named the Keauhou Store. The Kona Chinese Cemetery is private property, and visitors are asked not to trespass.

Ancestors of Kona’s Chinese community are buried in this cemetery. Although it now looks abandoned, in the past there was a pavilion on the grounds called Bow On Sheh, or Protect Peace Club, where families could meet for meals. At annual Ching Ming ceremonies in April, families gathered to sweep the graves and make memorial offerings of flowers, food and incense to departed ones. After the pavilion burned, a caretaker’s cottage remained on the property until it also burned down years later.

The first Chinese laborers arrived to work on Hawaian sugar plantations in 1852, although a few Chinese lived in the islands before that date. By the mid-1860s more Chinese men lived in the islands than Caucasian men.

In Kona, Chinese were the first successful small storekeepers. Wong Yuen Store, Kim Chong’s and Fong Lap’s in Kailua-Kona and Lee Hop’s in Keauhou mauka sold general merchandise, as well as Chinese specialties such as cookies and delicious crack seed. Other Chinese men worked for wealthy immigrant families as cooks or houseboys. Some married Hawaiian women and raised a new generation of Chinese-Hawaiian children to enhance Kona’s growing multiethnic population.

Copyright 1988 Kona Historical Society. Reprinted by permission.