Kalaupapa National Historical Park

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Father Damien

and the Forgotten Leper Colony

The sandy beaches, tropical forests, and volcanic mountains of Hawaii provide a beautiful scene that often distracts from the darker periods of the island state’s history. The native population was ravaged by disease during its colonization, and among those illnesses was leprosy.

Cut off from the rest of the world by 1600-foot cliffs on one side and ocean on the other, Kalaupapa, Molokai, is a naturally beautiful prison. When Hansen?s Disease, historically known as leprosy, struck Hawaii in the mid-1800s along with other trade-borne eastern diseases, the government of Hawaii followed what was then common practice: they formed an isolated quarantine and moved the affected population there.

When Father Damien first arrived at the Kalawao leper settlement on the isolated Hawaiian island of Molokai in 1873, he caught the attention of the press almost immediately. As the first western religious missionary, Catholic or Protestant, to live within the leper settlement despite being free of the disease himself, Damien was something of a sensation. He was praised for his Catholic sense of self-sacrifice and even dubbed a ?martyr,? particularly towards the end of his life when it became clear that he had contracted a severe and ultimately fatal form of Hansen?s disease.

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