Leper Colony Molokai: Unveiling its Rich History and Legacy

Kalaupapa, established in 1866 in Hawaii, was a leper colony formed during a Hansen's disease epidemic, and is now a historical park.

Exploring Kalaupapa’s Rich History

Origins of Kalaupapa Leprosy Settlement

Kalaupapa is an isolated area on the island of Molokai, Hawaii, that was established as a leper colony in response to an epidemic of Hansen’s disease, also known as leprosy.

King Kamehameha V founded the settlement in 1866, making it the first Hansen’s disease colony in American history.

The leprosy epidemic swept through the Hawaiian Islands, forcing the authorities to step up measures, leading to the creation of the Kalaupapa Leprosy Settlement.

The peninsula, cut off from the rest of the island by 1,600-foot cliffs, provided a natural barrier for isolation.

Father Damien and Mother Marianne Cope

Several important figures emerged during the history of Kalaupapa, most famously Father Damien and Mother Marianne Cope.

Father Damien, or Joseph de Veuster, was a Belgian priest who arrived in 1873 to care for the patients.

He worked tirelessly to enhance the living conditions, build homes, and provide medical care, eventually succumbing to the disease himself in 1889.

Mother Marianne Cope, a Franciscan sister, arrived in 1883 to continue the work that Father Damien started.

She established hospitals, improved hygiene, and advocated for the patients’ well-being.

Mother Marianne, who had experience treating tuberculosis patients, dedicated the rest of her life to caring for the residents of Kalaupapa until her death in 1918.

Both Father Damien and Mother Marianne Cope were canonized as saints.

Life in Isolation: Kalaupapa’s Community

Despite its isolation, Kalaupapa was a thriving community where residents carried on traditions, established a cemetery, and built churches.

Some notable residents included Brother Joseph Dutton, who arrived in 1886 after hearing about Father Damien’s work, and the famed author Robert Louis Stevenson, who visited Kalaupapa in 1889 and spent time with the ailing Father Damien.

After Hawaii became a state in 1959, the Board of Health lifted the mandatory isolation of the patients.

However, many chose to remain in Kalaupapa, considering it their home.

As of April 2024, eight people were still on the patient register at Kalaupapa.

Today, the Kalaupapa Peninsula is preserved as the Kalaupapa National Historical Park, ensuring the memories and lessons from this unique community live on.

Visitors are able to explore the historic park and reflect on Kalaupapa’s rich and inspiring history, while respecting the remaining patients’ peace and privacy.

Visiting Kalaupapa Today

The lush green cliffs of Kalaupapa overlook the tranquil blue waters, with small cottages dotting the landscape.</p><p>A sense of isolation and peace permeates the scene

How to Plan Your Visit

Kalaupapa, once a quarantine site for individuals afflicted with Hansen’s disease (leprosy), is now a National Historical Park on the island of Molokai in the Hawaiian archipelago.

The isolated community offers a unique glimpse into the lives of those who called this place home.

To visit Kalaupapa, you must first obtain a permit as access is strictly regulated to protect the site’s natural and cultural resources.

The Kalaupapa National Historical Park can be reached from Maui or Oahu, and you have several options for getting to the Molokai leper colony once you have your permit.

If you’re up for a challenging hike, you can take the 3.5-mile trail descending 2,000 feet with 26 switchbacks.

Alternatively, you can opt for a mule ride along the same trail.

Activities and Experiences in Kalaupapa

One of the most educational and engaging activities to partake in during your visit is a guided tour conducted by Damien Tours, which will give you a comprehensive understanding of the site’s history and significance.

Kalaupapa was home to many individuals, including Father Damien, a Belgian missionary who dedicated over a decade of his life to advocating for and caring for the community.

Additionally, author Jack London lived and wrote about his experiences here, which ultimately helped destigmatize the disease.

While exploring Kalaupapa, take the opportunity to appreciate the Pacific Ocean’s breathtaking views and learn about life in the community during the 20th century.

You can visit the Baldwin Home for Boys, a former medical facility that provided care to young patients with Hansen’s disease, and explore the Kalaupapa Leprosy Settlement’s remains.

Hiking and photography are also popular activities in Kalaupapa, as the surrounding landscapes lend themselves to stunning vistas.

But be sure to remain respectful of the site’s history and its significance for the people who once called this place home.