(from “The Separating Sickness: Ma’i Ho’oka’awale: Excerpts from Interviews with Exiled Leprosy Patients at Kalaupapa Settlement, Molokai, Hawaii” by Ted Gugelyk and Milton Bloombaum, Ma’i Ho’oka’awale Foundation, Honolulu, HI, 1979)
46 years at Kalaupapa
Leave Your Bones at Kalaupapa
I was born on Maui, in the little community of Hana. I was twenty-seven when my mother noticed red spots on my body. I was married; I had two children. My family sent me to the doctor in Wailuku to look at the spots. Right away he knew. He said, if you go to Kalihi Hospital in Honolulu, they will cure you in three months. He promised me a cure for this disease. But my mother knew of this illness, and after the doctor examined me, she looked at me with sad eyes. She said, you have the “ma’i hookaawale” (the separating sickness). I think she knew I had the sickness before I went to see the doctor.
When I arrived at Kalihi Hospital, right away they put me into isolation on the women’s side of the place. The next day they gave me a physical examination. My body was covered with red lesions — round rings with lumpy spots in the center, bumpy little spots. The doctors said they would give me the treatment. In those days, the only treatment was chaulmoogra oil. After three months, the chaulmoogra oil helped me. The red spots went down, but I never went home again. Even though the spots went down, they would not release me. Since they would not let me out of Kalihi, and because they were so strict there, I volunteered to go to Kalaupapa where there was more freedom. I found a new life at Kalaupapa, and my old life broke apart.
I remained in Kalaupapa for thirty years. I was finally paroled in 1966. My mother was still alive, so I wrote to her and told her I was finally cured. I could come home. After a long while, her letter came. She said, “Don’t come home, You stay at Kalaupapa.” I wrote her back and said I wanted to just visit, to see the place where I was born. Again, she wrote back. This time she said, “No, you stay there.” You see, my mother had many friends and I think she felt shame before them. I was disfigured, even though I was cured. So, she told me, her daughter, “Don’t come home.” She said, “You stay right where you are. Stay there, and leave your bones at Kalaupapa.” I don’t blame her. I am more happy at Kalaupapa. This place is finally my real home. They take good care of me here.
Mahalo nui & God Bless you and your ‘Ohana,
Fr. Brian, ss.cc.