Uncle Jack Gushiken

This article has been updated upon Uncle Jack’s passing on March 18, 2022. Uncle Jack was a valued member of our team, and we are honored to have had the opportunity to work with him over the years as our Irrigation Systems expert. In September 2021, we celebrated Uncle Jack’s retirement and his 60+ years of managing the water resources and irrigation systems of the area in various capacities— from Kilauea Sugar Plantation to Guava Kai to Common Ground.

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Born and raised on the north shore of Kauaʻi, “Uncle Jack” Gushiken is intimately familiar with Kīlauea, Kalihiwai, Kalihi Kai, and the surrounding areas.

I was lucky to grow up in an era when most of our food was found in the natural environment. The rivers, ocean, and mountains provide most of the food to support all of our community. What we could not get from our natural resources, we grew.

For more than 60 years, he has been managing the water resources and irrigation systems for the area where the Common Ground campus is currently located. There are few people today who hold deep historical knowledge of the various environmental patterns, cycles, and behaviors of this area.

            Before it was the Common Ground Campus, the land was home to the Guava Kai Plantation and before that, the Kīlauea Sugar Plantation, and Jack was there, managing the irrigation systems. When Kīlauea Sugar closed in 1971, C. Brewer & Co, owners of the plantation, offered Jack a new position installing and overseeing irrigation systems, posted in Iraq. He took the job and left his home of Hawaiʻi for the first time. Jack returned in 1975 and began irrigation work for the Guava Kai Plantation. During this period, he also patented his own variety of guava: “Gushiken Sweet.”  

            The Kīlauea that Jack remembers from the plantation days is not the same Kīlauea of today. So many were employed to work the plantations during their operation height that there were many structures, systems, and a strong sense of community that no longer exists in the same way. Jack remembers celebrating holidays with the whole community at the Kīlauea Gym, fishing in the reservoir and upstream for ʻoʻopu, the abundance of mokihana and maile in the mountains up Kalihiwai Valley, and swimming in the clean water of the irrigation ditches and Kīlauea’s various waterfalls and rivers.

            The Plantation-era is a significant part of the history of Kauaʻi. While Kīlauea town continues to evolve and grow, the community will have to do the same. Common Ground strives to be part of the strengthening of regenerative communities within Hawaiʻi.         

     There is so much to be learned from Jack’s observations, experiences, and understanding of the Kīlauea area. In addition to his work managing irrigation systems around the world, Jack was also a Kīlauea historian and record-holding fisherman.
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