Lei Hali`a O Kalaupapa: Honoring the memory, Healing the land
Kalaupapa National Historical Park is generally remembered as a place for the sick. Between 1866 and 1969, people in the Hawaiian Islands who had become sick with Hansen’s disease were isolated to the remote peninsula on the north shore of Molokai. During the era of isolation more than 8,000 people were separated from their families and made to live in exile. Despite Kalaupapa’s long history of suffering, the emotional scars to the land and social memory are beginning to heal.
Monday, June 30th marked the 45th anniversary of the ending of Hawaii’s isolation policy for Hansen’s disease patients. The anniversary was celebrated with the placing of lei on all the known burial sites within the park, through an effort called Lei Hali`a O Kalaupapa. The Lei Hali`a O Kalaupapa project was initiated by Kerri A. Inglis, Associate Professor of Hawaiian and Pacific History at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. For the past few years, Kerri has brought university students to Kalaupapa National Historical Park. During their visit they have placed lei on select grave markers. The participants found it to be a moving and powerful experience, but often felt it wasn’t enough. In November 2013, Kerri and her students discussed the possibility of placing lei on every grave marker. In February 2014, Kerri approached the park with the idea for Lei Hali`a O Kalaupapa and she and her students have spearheaded the organization of the event since.
The group held lei making gatherings, solicited for donations from around the Hawaiian Islands, and coordinated transport and shipping of lei to Kalaupapa. As well, many lei were provided by community members from “topside” Molokai and Kalaupapa Settlement. Even 80 ti leaf lei were sent to Kalaupapa from park-friends in California. More than 1,400 flower and ti leaf lei were constructed for the event. On the morning of the event community residents, National Park Service and Department of Health staff, and members of the Lei Hali`a O Kalaupapa team gathered at Papaloa Cemetery. Traditional Hawaiian protocols and blessings were made, followed by comments from the Kalaupapa National Historical Park superintendent, settlement administrator, and kūpuna. Participants then began to pick up lei and place them on the more than 1,000 grave markers in the cemetery. By the end of the day, every known grave marker on the peninsula had received a lei.
While Kalaupapa is the final resting place for approximately 8000 people but only approximately 1,200 grave markers exist today. Some markers deteriorated over time, some washed away in a tsunami in 1946, and many burials were never marked. Lei Hali`a O Kalaupapa recognized that not all those who died at Kalaupapa have a marker. To honor those people, a 2,200 foot long ti leaf lei was constructed to be encircle the fields of Mokupuakala, the site of a mass burial of approximately 2000-3000 people. At sunset, the group gathered at the fields and offered chants while unrolling the nearly half-mile long lei. For many of those who participated the event was extremely powerful.
The event was such a success that the Lei Hali`a O Kalaupapa project may turn into an annual undertaking. While Kalaupapa may have been a place to isolate the sick and suffering people of the past, the aloha shown through the Lei Hali`a O Kalaupapa project honors those sent here and helps to heal the wounds of the past