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Man banished to Kalaupapa made most of life


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POSTED: Sunday, April 19, 2009

Henry Nalaielua was a Renaissance man who turned his experiences in a dark chapter of Hawaiian history in Kalaupapa into an enlightening legacy for later generations.

Nalaielua was 10 when he was diagnosed with leprosy and taken from his family in 1936. He was banished to Kalaupapa in 1941.

The small-town boy from Ninole, Hawaii, and Molokai participated in the 1995 beatification of Father Damien De Veuster in Brussels and was planning to join local pilgrims in an October trip to Rome for Damien's canonization.

Death ended his travel plans. Nalaielua, 83, died Friday in Kalaupapa.

He told the story of his life in “;No Footprints in the Sand,”; a 2006 autobiography co-authored by Sally-Jo Bowman.

“;He would acknowledge things that befell him as if he were walking past them,”; said Bowman. “;He lived such a marvelous, long and interesting life, and a lot of it was because he had an upbeat attitude.”;

A self-taught artist, Nalaielua sketched Kalaupapa landmarks and also painted.

Dr. Emmett Aluli said: “;From topside Molokai he is known as a poet, composer, genealogist, storyteller, guitarist, singer, craftsman and painter; a scholar and philosopher.

“;He helped us organize Na Pu'uwai, the Native Hawaiian Health Care System for Molokai and Lanai, and we are appreciative of his work with us.”;

The National Park Service had recently hired Nalaielua to help identify people and events recorded in old archived photographs.

He also entertained visitors as a Damien Tours guide in Kalaupapa. In more recent years he told the stories through the Office of Hawaiian Affairs kupuna program.

Once medication was developed to arrest the disease, Nalaielua worked for Hawaiian Electric Co. on Oahu for several years. He moved to the federal leprosy treatment center in Carville, La., in the 1970s and married a nurse there. On his return to Hawaii, Gov. George Ariyoshi appointed him to the state Board of Health.

Hawaiian musician and filmmaker Eddie Kamae interviewed Nalaielua and others for a documentary film that will focus on the role music and the arts played in life there. In addition his other interests, Nalaielua sang in several choirs, played in bands and jammed with visiting professional musicians.