Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Manuel Ferreira, Hawaiian Lightkeeper

Manuel Ferreira and his family in 1926. Photo courtesy of Lighthouse Digest, via Coast Guard Compass, Official Blog of the U.S. Coast Guard.

During most of the first half of the 20th century, Manuel Ferreira served as a lighthouse keeper in the then-U.S. territory of Hawaii. Ferreira’s dedication and achievements in this role earned him a great deal of renown alongside such estimable contemporaries as Samuel Apolo Amalu, who was widely considered to be the dean of Hawaii’s lighthouse keepers.

Ferreira, who was born in 1885 on the Hawaiian island of Maui, joined the U.S. Lighthouse Board in 1908. (This agency was replaced in 1910 by the U.S. Lighthouse Service, which in turn was merged into the U.S. Coast Guard in 1939.) During the course of his longtime career helping to protect the vessels and lives of seafarers near the shores of Hawaii, Ferreira served as the keeper of seven lighthouses altogether. These lighthouses included Kauiki Head Light on his native Maui, Molakai Light on the island of Molokai, Barbers Point Light on the island of Oahu, and – likewise on Oahu – Makapuu Point Light.

One of Ferreira’s notable lifesaving actions occurred in 1919 while he was the keeper at Barbers Point Light. After a 60-foot Japanese fishing trawler ran aground on a reef at this location, Ferreira helped rescue the seven members of the crew. Ferreira also provided the crew with much-needed food and dry clothing.

Another noteworthy episode took place in the vicinity of the same lighthouse four years later, when the four-masted schooner Bianca was battered during a fierce storm. The ship’s sails were torn to shreds, and the vessel began drifting slowly but steadily towards the razor-sharp rocks of a reef. While unable to get out into the water in his lifeboat due to the high surf, Ferreira did manage to run more than three miles in the stormy weather and through a thick jungle to get to the nearest telephone and call for help. Ferreira’s call resulted in the U.S. Navy tugboat USS Sunnadin quickly coming to the rescue and towing Bianca and her crew to safety.

Ferreira retired in 1946 after nearly four decades of distinguished maritime service.

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