Hometown Tales Podcast

Monday, December 29, 2008

Kalaupapa, HI - The Leper Colony

For decades, the names “Kalaupapa” and “Molokai” were synonymous with sorrow, banishment, disease and the living damned. Surrounded on three sides by the Pacific ocean and cut off from the rest of Molokai, the village of Kalaupapa was void of all amenities: No buildings, shelters nor potable water. It was the perfect place to hide away community of people that the rest of us feared and loathed. It was the perfect place to make them disappear and remain forgotten.

They hadn’t committed a crime, yet they were sentenced to a life of banishment. They were lepers.

Because of the deformities, the absence of treatment (until the last 60 years) and mystery of causes, Leprosy has been feared in almost every culture for centuries. Places like Kalaupapa were felt by many to be necessary.

The first shipments of leprosy victims came to Kalaupapa 1866, sometimes having to swim through the surf when the sea ran too high for a boat to land. Occasionally a strong rope was run from the anchored ship to the shore, and they pulled themselves painfully through the high, salty waves, with legs and feet dangling below like bait on a fishing line. The ship’s crew would then throw into the water whatever supplies had been sent, relying on currents to carry them ashore or the exiles swimming to retrieve them.

In 1873, Catholic missionary Father Damien arrived at Kalaupapa to help serve the leprosy patients. He built homes, churches and coffins, as well as, arranging for medical services. Damien contracted the disease and after 16 years of service died in 1889. Source: Visit Molokai.