A tour of the settlement of Kalaupapa where people afflicted with leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) were isolated in the Hawaiian Islands. Sent to be quarantined, to live and die there.
The Pacific Ocean on three sides and 1,600 foot cliffs make this one of the most remote places in Hawaii.
The tour (one cannot roam freely on the peninsula, and must be part of a tour group) was incredibly moving on so many levels. The beauty is breathtaking, and knowledge of the history brings such feelings of spirituality that is almost palpable. Feelings of sadness arose as we drove past hundreds of graves, some 5,000+ graves are on this peninsula of those who perished from leprosy and its complications.
I will quote here a passage on a pamphlet I picked up on Molokai prior to this visit. A Kalauapapa resident, Richard M. Marks, writes: “They took my family away one step at a time, leaving my mother at home. One by one, she lost almost everybody close to her. As a little girl, her mother, brother and sister were sent to Kalaupapa. Then her husband got sent away. Then she lost every one of her kids in just a few years. Thank God, one of them got to come home. She just experienced all this loss, and still, the love was there.”
The photos of these graves are right next to Father/Saint Damien’s church, St. Philomena. The tour stopped at no others.
Father Damien came to Hawaii from his native Belgium, and arrived at Kalaupapa in 1873 and began ministering and caring for the patients there. It was in January of 1866 that the first 12 men and women became the first of thousands forced into exile on this peninsula. Until Father Damien arrived, those who had been sent here had no one to help them, nor anyone in the government that sent help of any kind.
Father Damien contracted leprosy after 12 years and died on Kalaupapa; his remains were exhumed in 1936 and sent to his native Belgium; a relic, a piece of his hand, was returned to his grave on Kalaupapa in 1995.
Looking out from the windows of the church truly made me feel like getting on my knees to give thanks for the beauty here
There were others who came to help Father Damien, most important was Sister/Saint Maryanne Cope of the Sisters of St. Francis. Our tour was honored by meeting a Sister who carries on the work here on Kalaupapa, and also in Honolulu, Sister Alicia.
Sulfone drugs were discovered in the 1940s that cured leprosy. Patients were finally allowed to leave in 1949 , but some opted to stay; this was their home. Our tour was also honored to meet one of the patients, “Boogie” who was manning the cash register in the little bookstore/gift shop.
Our tour was indeed lucky to have a guide who is Hawaiian, and a shaman. Keahi made this tour of the settlement more than inspirational, chanting in Hawaiian in one of the grassy groves that brought me close to tears, and he sang for us inside St. Philomena. Incredible!
Next week The Sunday Traveler will show you around a couple of the little churches built by Father Damien on Molokai prior to his going to Kalaupapa.
Until then, aloha.