Hanapepe Massacre documentary has $75K fundraising goal

  • Raymond Catania (right) and Christopher Ballesteros check out a site they believe to be a mass grave containing the bodies of 16 Filipino workers killed in the Hanapepe Massacre 95 years ago. (Caleb Loehrer / The Garden Island)

HONOLULU — An Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and her team recently set up a GoFundMe account to raise funds to go toward film production costs for a documentary on 16 Filipino plantation workers and four sheriff deputies killed in the 1924 Hanapepe Massacre on Kauai.

The account with a targeted goal of $75,000 for “The Hanapepe Massacre Mystery” documentary is one way the community can show support, said independent filmmaker Stephanie Castillo.


The fundraising team is also seeking additional funding via grants, corporations, private foundations and the state Legislature. Support from those entities, however, is a lengthy process which could take months before money is allocated for the not-for-profit project.

Castillo aims to uncover the full story of the massacre through oral history told by surviving family members.

The narrative of the massacre long told by newspapers is that two Ilocano boys or men were on their way to a store when Visayan strikers abducted them.

There was a rift between the two Filipino ethnic groups when Visayan workers went on strike to fight for better wages and working conditions and Ilocano workers opted not to join them.

Tensions rose involving some 100 to 200 strikers armed with pistols, knives and clubs when a deputy sheriff accompanied by about 40 police officers and deputized hunters armed with pistols retrieved the two Ilocano men from a defunct Japanese school occupied by the strikers on Sept. 9, 1924, according to a Honolulu Star-Bulletin story.

As law enforcement were leaving the site with the two men, a gunshot went off during a confrontation between the strikers and police. Multiple gunshots and fights followed, resulting in 20 fatalities. It remains unclear who fired the first shot.

In the aftermath of the massacre, many surviving strikers were either jailed or deported. A number of strikers returned to the Philippines or moved to California.

Filming for the documentary began in September when Castillo, 71, and her crew followed community researchers in their search for a grave site of the 16 strikers at the Hanapepe Filipino Cemetery.

The crew in October filmed two men assisting the research team locating “anomalies” in a trench believed to be the grave site of 12 strikers killed in the massacre. Ground-penetrating radar equipment detected the anomalies lined parallel to one another.

Researchers believe the four other strikers are in an area where newer graves were built on top of the remaining part of the trench.

The documentary on the massacre will be Castillo’s 11th documentary.

Castillo plans to complete the film in 2023 and aims to premiere it on PBS in 2024, the 100th anniversary of the massacre.


“They fought for our workers’ rights, and they deserve to be acknowledged,” she said.

Castillo won an Emmy in 1993 for her first documentary, “Simple Courage,” which focused on the leprosy epidemic in Hawaii in the late 1800s when patients were sent to Kalaupapa, Molokai.

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