• Start Here
  • Shop

The Hawaiian Denim – All About Palaka Check

It’s winter in Maui. As surfers flock to Hawaii to catch the swells crashing on northern shores, your work enters a sea of rolling, purple-and-green sugarcane. The harvest season is about to wrap up.

Warm breezes carry a smoky trace from nearby burnt fields—fires were set regularly during the season to burn off extra leaves and other foliage. Even with winter approaching, the Pacific winds are still balmy. To keep the sun and soil off of your back, you pick a garment that is as cool as it is durable: the storied palaka.

Raising Cane


This 1960 Kodachrome shows the Kilauea volcano erupting. Hawaii was created–and continues to grow–by molten rock. Image via Shorpy.com

While sugar cane has been a part of native Hawaiian culture for about 1400 years, the palaka arrived in more recent times with commercialized production. There are two major cultural epochs of history in the islands; the first is the story of those that have thrived in the archipelago for centuries, while the most recent is the modern era of forced Euro-American colonization and displacement of the native peoples.

Prior to any human inhabitants, a series of eight major volcanic islands, with minor islands and shoals sprinkled throughout, was formed by undersea volcanoes. Like the mighty calderas that created them, the population and demographics have experienced incredible changes.

In 1848, Kamehameha III, the native king of Hawaii initiated the “Great Mahele”, which was intended to solidify native land rights (native Hawaiians had no concept of land ownership), but ultimately had the opposite effect in allowing foreigners to own Hawaiian land. This kicked off continuous sugar production on an international scale thus fostering the palaka as a practical garment and ultimately the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom and annexation by the United States.


Join Heddels+ to Keep Reading

This article is part of our membership program, Heddels+ that includes exclusive content, discounts, giveaways, an online chat forum, and much more. Your memberships help keep our mission alive.

Join today and get instant members-only access

  • Exclusive Heddels content
  • 2 product giveaways per month
  • Ongoing 20% off at Heddels Shop
  • Access to Heddels+ Discord community
  • Exclusive bonus podcast feed
  • Heddels+ discounts at brands and retailers across the industry
  • No ads on Heddels
Join today! or contact us.

Join today and gain instant access to:

2 product giveaways per month
Exclusive Heddels+ articles and podcast episodes
Heddels+ Discord community
No ads on the entire Heddels site
Up to 20% off at the Heddels Shop, STAG Provisions, Blue in Green, Clutch Cafe, and more!