In May 2004, I visited Hawaii with my friend, Nauman. In addition to visiting friends on Oahu and sunning on the beaches of Maui, we visited the Kalaupapa National Historic Park on the rugged, north shore of Moloka’i. We had heard that this island was the most “Hawaiian” of the islands and thus wanted to have a special experience.
The Kalaupapa Peninsula is the location of the infamous, Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy) settlement you may have heard about. From about 1866 until 1969, the Hawaiian monarchy and the US government forcibly moved people who contracted Hansen’s Disease to live out the reminder of their lives on this isolated peninsula on the north shore of Moloka’i. King Kamehameha IV chose this area as there was no way anyone could leave this area without a boat. Sheer rock cliffs form the border between the peninsula and the main part of the island of Moloka’i and sharks infest the waters around the peninsula. Even today, there are no roads to this park. One can fly in, ride a mule or walk down. We wanted to walk, so we hiked down the very steep, switch-backed trail down the Pali cliffs and into the park.
When I visited the settlement in 2004, there were still about 28 patients living in this living, historical park. During that time, I had the great privilege of being able to stay overnight with Aunty Poona, a Kokua or helper of patients with Hansen’s Disease. She was married to a patient who was misdiagnosed with this contagious disease in the 1930s. This was before the invention of drugs used to treat this disease. Aunty Poona showed us all around the settlement – including the church that Father Damien built. He was the first priest to remain on the island and help the patients through their suffering. On Sunday, I attended a church sermon in a 19th century Protestant church with Aunty Poona and some residents who were still suffering from the disease. We even sang some hymns in Hawaiian!
Nauman and I became very close to Aunty Poona during our short stay at this park. We enjoyed her stories and felt very welcome in her home. It was an extraordinary experience – one that I will never forget.
And speaking of experiences, I decided to walk back up the steep trail to the main part of the island (Nauman flew out). Big mistake! It was unbelievably exhausting…
See my photo albums of Hawaii on my Gallery.