Kalaupapa needs monument to honor Hansen’s patients
Hawaii's Congress members are co-sponsoring legislation to authorize a monument for Hansen's disease patients on Molokai.
THE only markers for the leprosy patients who were banished to Kalaupapa are 1,300 or so marked gravestones -- less than one-sixth of those actually laid to rest on the Molokai peninsula. Congress needs to enact legislation authorizing a memorial carrying the names of all patients exiled to Kalaupapa over a period of more than a century.
Paul Harada, one of the last generation of Hawaii patients who contracted what is now known as Hansen's disease, suggested more than a decade ago that a marker equivalent to the veterans' eternal flame be erected at Kalaupapa, a national historical park established by Congress in 1980. Aside from the gravestones, the only monument at Kalaupapa is a statue of Father Damien DeVeuster.
Authorization for a memorial bearing the names of nearly 8,000 patients exiled to Kalaupapa from 1866 to 1969 was proposed in Congress near the end of last year's session by then-Rep. Ed Case, whose district includes the four-acre park. The forced exile was not abandoned until more than 20 years after the development of medication that brought the disease under control. The names of those exiled to the peninsula are listed in state archives.
Rep. Mazie Hirono, who succeeded Case, and Rep. Neil Abercrombie introduced a similar bill last month. "Families that have visited Kalaupapa and (nearby) Kalawao searching in vain for the graves of their family members will find comfort in seeing those names recorded on a memorial," Hirono said in introducing the bill.
Patient residents, family members and friends established a nonprofit organization, Ka Ohana O Kalaupapa, four years ago to promote the dignity of those who had been exiled. At least 90 percent of the patients were Hawaiian, and the ohana presented a demonstration of names and old photographs recently at the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement conference in the Hawaii Convention Center.
"We want this part of Hawaiian history to be remembered with honor and dignity," historical patient and ohana president Kuulei Bell, 74, told the audience.
The ohana has been involved this year in a project to collect names from the handwritten Board of Health ledgers in the archives and entering them into a computer database for eventual placement on the memorial. The list, which begins with the names of a dozen people sent by boat to the peninsula on Jan. 6, 1866, also will allow families to trace lost ancestors.
While the federal legislation would authorize placement of a monument in the park, the ohana has the task of collecting enough donations to pay for the monument. The ohana's address is P.O. Box 1111, Kalaupapa, HI 96742.