Kalaupapa Today

Sister Alicia Damien Lau, OSF and Sister Barbara Jean Wajda, OSF

Summer 2020

During World War II, like the rest of the Islands, Kalaupapa’s windows were darkened and lights were off during the night. Children afflicted with Hansen’s Disease at Kalihi Hospital, not far from Pearl Harbor, were very frightened. Six months after the bombing, thirty-five of the fifty-five patients including all the children, were transferred to Kalaupapa. Morale was high and with the war bonds they had ample fruit, vegetables, poultry and pork. Medical supplies and equipment were transferred from Kalihi Hospital to Kalaupapa.

During World War II, like the rest of the Islands, Kalaupapa’s windows were darkened and lights were off during the night. Children afflicted with Hansen’s Disease at Kalihi Hospital, not far from Pearl Harbor, were very frightened. Six months after the bombing, thirty-five of the fifty-five patients including all the children, were transferred to Kalaupapa. Morale was high and with the war bonds they had ample fruit, vegetables, poultry and pork. Medical supplies and equipment were transferred from Kalihi Hospital to Kalaupapa. Looking down from the cliffs of the north shore of Molokai or flying in on a small plane, one sees a peninsula called Kalaupapa which means “flat plain”. Cliffs as high as 1664 feet on one side and surrounded by the ocean on three sides made this a perfect place of isolation for those with leprosy, now called Hansen Disease, who were “exiled” here. One of the patients once said: “This is worse than a prison.... in prison there is a possibility of parole; you were sent to Kalaupapa to remain until you died.”
Now, with Covid-19, Kalaupapa is a safe haven for those patients who call this home. The Department of Health and the National Park Service’s primary focus is the safety of the remaining patients, a “reverse isolation" with only the essential workers on site. On March 10, 2020, the settlement was closed to all visitors and remains closed to this day.
Saint Marianne Cope, a progressive thinker, arrived in 1883 with six sisters, who came to care for those with leprosy. A sister, dressing a patient’s wound, was frightened when the physician said to her that she would contract the disease. Mother Marianne said to her: “God has called us to do this work and He will protect us. Not one of our sisters will ever get the disease.” And to this day, since 1883, none of our sisters has ever contracted the disease. Mother Marianne was very prudent to ensure cleanliness by insisting on hand washing.
Through a Partnership with the National Parks Service, Pacific Historic Parks keeps the history of the settlement alive through the patient’s memories and experiences published in the books at the Kalaupapa Bookstore. In the past, the Bookstore was operated by a patient.
Life will not be the same after Covid-19 in Kalaupapa. Once the settlement is opened for visitors, they will learn the life experiences of the thousands of patients who were exiled here. The Ohana (family members) will continue to arrive, looking for records and burial places of their relatives/families or friends. Most people experience the mana, that is the spiritual energy of power and strength of the people and the aina - land, of this special place. For many, Kalaupapa is a life-changing experience which cannot be described, but has to be experienced.
For additional information, go to: https://www.nps.gov/kala/index.htm

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