House of Comfort

Hansen’s disease patients
and supporters recall the stand
they made 20 years ago

Twenty years ago, Hansen's disease patient Clarence Naia was one of 18 people arrested in a pre-dawn raid at Hale Mohalu, carried from the deteriorating buildings of the former treatment facility.

But for Naia, now 75, the arrest is overshadowed by other memories of the place.

"When I came here, remind me when I used to live here," Naia said yesterday. "We never forget the old Hale Mohalu. When I look at the place ... reminds me the years we were here, Bernard and I and many more."

Naia and Bernard Punikaia held their ground in a five-year standoff to remain at the Pearl City hospital for Hansen's disease patients. The state condemned the deteriorating buildings in 1978 and cut off water and electricity. In 1983, the state ordered the arrests, then immediately razed the buildings.

Seventeen of the 18 arrested were acquitted.

Bernard Punikaia, center, jammed with old friends yesterday at the "new" Hale Mohalu, including Gigi Cocquio, left, Wally Inglis on trumpet and Imaikalani Kalahele, far right. Twenty years ago, Punikaia and others were arrested in their struggle for the rights of Hansen's disease patients. At top, Clarence Naia looks at photos in 1996, including one of himself in pain as police removed him from Hale Mohalu in 1983.

Naia and Punikaia, along with eight of the supporters who were arrested that day, greeted one another with hugs and kisses at an anniversary luau yesterday on the grounds of the new Hale Mohalu, a senior citizens housing development on the site of its namesake.

Hansen's disease patients from Kalaupapa and Leahi Hospital, along with scores of others, joined the commemoration.

Naia and Punikaia are grateful to and share a close bond with the supporters who stood together with them on that day 20 years ago.

"They was helping us in this struggle," Naia said. "I remember the guys, even their wives."

Punikaia addressed the crowd, thanking then-Mayor Frank Fasi, who provided a generator and water to the residents, and all those who helped.

Naia would often pass by Hale Mohalu after the buildings and Quonset huts had been torn down. Although he and other patients were given the first opportunity to live at the new facility, he said, "We refuse to come because Kalaupapa is the best place to stay."

Naia refused to be taken to Leahi Hospital, where a "Hale Mohalu" sign had been tacked up. He returned to his birthplace, Kalaupapa. Naia was diagnosed with the disease in 1953 while working on Oahu, and moved to Hale Mohalu in the 1960s.

"Bernard and I was last ones out," he said. "We fight for Hale Mohalu. We lost, but we still think about Hale Mohalu."

Bernard Punikaia, sitting in left chair, and Clarence Naia, right chair, were among those arrested 20 years ago in their struggle for the rights of Hansen's disease patients. A luau was held for patients and supporters at the new Hale Mohalu yesterday to honor those who fought for rights.

For the 73-year-old Punikaia, it was one of many times he's had to take a stand for his rights, and he urges audiences to do likewise.

"I can't change everything in the world, but I'll try my best to do the things I can do," he said.

Punikaia and other members of the Hale Mohalu band sang for the audience "Hale Mohalu," the song he wrote in 1978. All the supporters and patients know it. Two decades ago, it was one of the songs they sang when armed officers came to take them away.

Land of joy.

Land of pain.

We are one.

"This is one victory," said Peter Kealoha, a member of the band. "It (the land) didn't go to the other guys." The land had been eyed for sports fields.

Supporter Holly Henderson recalled how hard it was to believe the parcel was intended for "something so trivial to counter the rights of people whose dead were buried next to them."

Henderson, 61, said the arrest and subsequent years of fighting in the courts and in the Legislature were painful. But like many of the other activists and patients, Henderson is pleased with the senior housing.

"Even in the old termite-ridden building, there was a feeling -- a tranquility and rightness," she said. "You can still feel it."


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