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Learn about Kalaupapa

An incredibly special place on the island of Molokai

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Kalaupapa is best known as the site for the isolation of people from Hawaii with Hansen's Disease (Leprosy). This isolation took place between 1866 and 1969. This incredibly beautiful, remote northern peninsula became a national park in 1980. Today it is dedicated to preserving the memories of those who suffered there.

In 1865 the Kingdom of Hawaii instituted "An Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy" to seperate people believed to be contagious. The disease reached epidemic proportions and threatened to wipe out the entire native Hawaiian population. With no knowledge, no treatment, and no cure, the government felt isolation was the only solution.

Kalaupapa was chosen as the site for the Leper Colony primarily for its remoteness and inaccessibility. It is cut off to the south by a 2,000 foot high cliff. The ocean surrounds the rest of the peninsula. It was also chosen because it was thought the land could support people with fruits, taro, and vegetables. The ocean also provided food and fresh water came from Waikolu Valley and Waihanau Valley.

Unfortunately, most patients were too sick or too demoralized to work the land and support themselves. Housing and supplies were scarce. The living conditions were deplorable. Hearing of these conditions, Hawaiian families began to hide their loved ones, hoping to save them from certain death. Some went into isolation with their family members.

In 1873 help arrived. Father Damien, a Catholic missionary priest from Belgium, saw the suffering of the people and his heart went out to them. Not only did he minister to them, but he built houses, churches and coffins. He arranged for medical services and funding from Honolulu. And, he stayed at Kalaupapa for 16 years caring for the patients until his death from Hansen's Disease in 1889.

With the coming of sulfone drugs in the 1940s, Hansen's disease went into remission and its vicitims are no longer contagious. There are less than 100 former patients still at Kalaupapa. They are free to travel anywhere they choose but most have chosen to stay as it is their home.

Even though Kalaupapa is now a National Historic Site, access is restricted by law to protect the privacy of those who still live there. Unless you are invited by one of the residents, you must take the tour offered by Damien Tours of Kalaupapa. The peninsula can only be reached by air or by the trail from upper Molokai. Visitors can hike in or ride by mule.

For more information go to the Kalaupapa National Historic Park web site.

Kalaupapa Photo



Kalaupapa Photo



Father Damien Photo


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