When the first Europeans arrived on Hawai’i, the native population had no resistance to their diseases. Without vaccines, a highly contagious condition like Hansen’s disease (leprosy) could quickly become an epidemic, threatening both local people and visitors.
Quarantine seemed the best solution. But the lasting effects of this policy have been felt by Hawaiians for generations.
People had lived on Molokai’s isolated northern Kalaupapa peninsula for more than 900 years. They built homes and temples, cut terraces into the land, grew sweet potatoes, caught fish, and made fabric from bark cloth.
They had a deep affinity with land, or ‘aina. It was severed forever when these people were forcibly removed from their homes in 1865 and 1895 to make way for the “leper colony.”
Over the next century, more than 8,000 new residents would move in. These individuals were torn from their families and relocated to this remote ribbon of land, just because they contracted a disfiguring disease.
In 1980, Kalaupapa National Historical Park reopened contact for the families of those who were “lost” and those who were forced to leave. Educational exhibits dispel the myths long associated with Hansen’s disease, and remind visitors what can happen when society gives in to ignorance and fear.
If You Go:
Tours of the park are operated by a commercial vendor. You can also learn about Kalaupapa through interpretive exhibits in the Molokai at Pala’au State Park overlooking the peninsula.