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Photo Essay: Kalaupapa Memories, Molokai, Hawaii


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One of the Hawaiian words for Hansen’s disease is mai hookaawale—the disease that separates. In the 19th Century, it did just that. Sufferers were quarantined on Kalaupapa, not only isolating them geographically, but separating husbands from wives, and children from their families. The quarantine was lifted in 1969, but by that time Kalaupapa had become home, and many patients chose to stay. A new book, Ili Na Hoomanao o KalaupapaCasting Remembrances of Kalaupapa, tells the town’s story in detail. Here, we’ve selected images from renowned photographer Wayne Levin, who contributed to the book. All were taken between 1984 and 1987. Quotes from patients in the following pages are taken from videotaped oral histories collected by Anwei Skinsnes Law in the 1980s, and later selected for this book. At the time Levin shot the photos, about 100 residents still lived in Kalaupapa; today, it’s fewer than 20.

Resident William Malakaua in 1986, in his workshop with a photograph of himself in earlier years. 

“Kalaupapa, it’s a big space. You could go hunting. You could go fishing. You could go hunting for shells. You could always think of a hobby. ... Eventually I took all kinds of jobs over here. I worked as janitor in the hospital, yard boy, mechanic’s helper ... And in ’49 I landed one of my best jobs ... to help build the Quonset huts over here. They gave us a wage of $1.03 an hour. For us it was good wages. I saved a lot from that because I was planning to get married in 1950 ... March 25, 1950 we got married.”
 

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