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Living as an Outcast

February 24, 2010

Young boys suffering from Hansen’s Disease at the Kalawao settlement in what is now Kalaupapa National Historical Park.

What would it be like to be forcefully removed from everything you knew, including your home and your family, and then exiled to spend the rest of your life in an isolated settlement, separated from the outside world? Approximately 8,000 individuals had this experience, when, having contracted Hansen’s Disease (leprosy), they were forced to the Kalaupapa Peninsula on the Island of Moloka`i. Farmers, clergy, Hawaiian royal family members, men, women, the old and the young, no matter what their ethnicity, they lived and often died far from all that they had known because they were “lepers”.

Begun in 1866, the colony on the Kalaupapa Peninsula was where Hansen’s Disease patients were sent in order to limit the spread of the disease.  Although the Kingdom of Hawai`i did more to care for Hansen’s Disease patients then all other governments up to that time, the terrible conditions of the settlement have become legendary.

“Deaths occur quite frequently here, almost daily. Napela [Mormon elder and assistant supervisor of the Kalaupapa Settlement] last week rode around the beach to inspect the lepers and came on to one that had no Pai for a week but manage to live on what he could find in his Hut, anything chewable. His legs were so bad that he cannot walk, and few traverse the spot whare his hut stands, but fortunate enough for him that he had sufficient enough water to last him till aid came and that not too late, or else brobably he must have died.”
Peter Kaeo, cousin of Queen Emma, in a letter to Queen Emma, August 11, 1873

Talking about his arrival to the settlement during the 1900’s, one Kalaupapa patient said,

“One of the worst things about this illness is what was done to me as a young boy. First, I was sent away from my family. That was hard. I was so sad to go to Kalaupapa. They told me right out that I would die here; that I would never see my family again. I heard them say this phrase, something I will never forget. They said, ‘This is your last place. This is where you are going to stay, and die.’ That’s what they told me. I was a thirteen-year-old kid.”

Statue of Saint Damien, who spent his life to help the people of the Kalaupapa Settlement.

The State of Hawaii did not remove confinement laws until 1969. Now, only a handful of patients choose to remain on the Peninsula. In 1980, Kalaupapa National Historical Park was established to preserve the legacy of the patients’ lives and to tell the stories of those that gave up their lives to help them, including Saint Damien.