The history of Kalaupapa starts around the year 650 when the first Polynesians (Hawaiians) began settling this peninsula. For more than 1200 years they lived peacefully fishing from outrigger canoes with spears and hand made nets. They also raised pigs and grew taro and sweet onions. The traded with neighboring settlements for other items they did not have. Today the peninsula still has remnants of Heiaus and other rock formations from these early settlers. This peninsula is very isolated, being surrounded on three sides by the pacific ocean and cut off from the rest of Molokai by 1600 - 1700 foot sea cliffs. In 1848 the first case of Leprosy (Hansen’s disease) was reported in Hawaii. The disease is thought to have been brought to the islands by Chinese immigrants. The disease was at that time incurable and it spread quickly. The only way to stop the disease from spreading was to completely isolate it’s victims. Since this peninsula was such an isolated area, the Leprosy victims were “Relocated” to this peninsula. In 1866 the leprosy victims were taken by boats close to the shore of Kalaupapa to be dropped off. They were often told to jump from the ship and swim ashore. The nicer captains would run a rope from ship to shore and allow the sick to pull themselves along the rope to the shore. Supplies were dropped off in the ocean and the sick leprosy victims had to hope they would drift ashore or the least sick would have to try to swim out to retrieve the supplies. The Leprosy victims had no houses, shelters, food or drinking water. The victims were just left on the island to die. Many lived among the rocks trying to survive. Others built shelter from sticks and leaves.
In 1873 a 33 year old Catholic missionary from Belgium arrived at Kalaupapa. His name was Father Damien De Veuster. Father Damien did not just preach Catholicism to these sick people, he built them homes, churches, a medical facility and even built coffins for the dead. Father Damien loved these people and did whatever he could for them. He lived and ate among them with disregard of the “plague” that was all around him. He cared for the sick and dying for 16 years. During that 16 years, Father Damien contracted the disease himself and in 1889 he died from Hansen’s Disease. Today this area is a National Historic Site and still home to a handful of former Hansen’s disease survivors. Kalaupapa is well worth the visit and can only be reached by hiking in, riding a mule in, or by small aircraft. In order to visit this region, you must take a tour , as visiting the area is strictly regulated. Hiking is free, but you must have a permit. The town is small with a Post Office, bookstore, town meeting hall, hospital, fire station and a jail that has never been used. The people who live here are about the friendliest people you will ever meet.
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