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The Conversation: Kalaupapa's Past, Present and Future

Miki’ala Pescaia

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the National Park Service’s presence at Kalaupapa on Molokai. COVID-19 has forced a change in plans to commemorate the milestone. Tours and access has been curtailed for most of the year. Today we hear from the park superintendent about what its presence in the historic settlement has meant as we plan for the day when the last resident leaves what has been home for so many.

We also hear personal reflections frome one man long exiled to the islands and we rebroadcast some stories about the island’s place names and important history about  the efforts to find a cure for Hansen’s Disease or leprosy.

Protecting the historic, cultural and natural resources in the Kalaupapa settlement

Kalaupapa National Historical Park was first established in 1980. It was meant to expand  the National Historic landmark of the Kalaupapa Leper settlement.

Those afflicted with  Hanson’s Disease were sent into isolation, separated from their family and friends. 40 years later we reflect on life there... we hear from the Superintendent Erika Espanola about the efforts to green the settlement and manage the very special place.


Kalaupapa NPS Superintendent Erika Espanola

Memories of a Kalaupapa resident

It was back in 2013 that HPR’s Noe Tanigawa  talked to Kalaupapa resident Makia Malo.  An award winning writer, storyteller, educator, Malo, was diagnosed with Hansen’s disease at age 12, and exiled to Kalaupapa in 1947. Makia Malo has been  featured at the  Hawai’i Book and Music Festival.  He wrote the book--  My Name is Makia: A Memoir of Kalaupapa. 

Kalaupapa resident Makio Malo

Remembering the history and names of Kalaupapa

Credit Djzanni, Wikimedia Commons

June of last year marked the 45th anniversary of the end of isolation in the Kalaupapa settlement for Leprosy or Hansen's disease. The residents who had endured permanent quarantine because of their contagious disease moved into the remote settlement and most died there.

We reached out to local historian and author John Clark to talk about the parallels with our seclusion due to COVID-19.

Author John Clark

The lasting legacy of  Alice Ball

We remember Alice Ball, the first black female chemist to obtain her degree at the University of Hawaii and her groundbreaking research on the Chaulmoogra tree one of the first treatments to cure Leprosy.


Master gardeners cultivate the chaulmoogra tree 

Credit ??????? ???, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0


We continue the story of  the chaulmoogra tree and its ties to Kalaupapa. You can find one growing at the UH Manoa campus next to Bachman Hall. We were there earlier this year with a Master Gardener group that set up an exhibit to draw attention to its storied past.

Master gardeners Julian Lipsher and Kapono Ryan

Remembering the people of Kalaupapa

The group Ka Ohana o Kalaupapa's mission is to make sure the history of the settlement lives on. Executive Director Val Monson is focused on raising money for a memorial that will list the names of thousands of  residents who lived there. The group is hosting an online fundraising concert honoring the music of Kalaupapa which is available to screen until January 3rd. The concert is available on Facebook ( and You Tube (

Valerie Monson, Executive Director of Ka 'Ohana O Kalaupapa


Catherine Cruz is the Host of The Conversation and a member of HPR’s news team. She has been a television reporter in Hawai‘i since 1983 and has won a number of awards and respect from a statewide audience. She spent more than thirty years at KITV, covering beats from government to education and health. Originally from Guam, Cruz is also a co-founder and former Board member and programming chair of Pacific Islanders in Communication (PIC). Catherine is a graduate of San Francisco State University with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.
Noe Tanigawa covers art, culture, and ideas for Hawai'i Public Radio. Noe began working in news at WQXR, the New York Times' classical station in New York City, where she also hosted music programs from 1990-94. Prior to New York, Noe was a music host in jazz, rock, urban contemporary, and contemporary and classic Hawaiian music formats in Honolulu. Since arriving at HPR in 2002, Noe has received awards from the Los Angeles Press Club, the Society of Professional Journalists Hawai'i Chapter, and an Edward R. Murrow Regional Award for coverage of the budget process at the Hawai'i State Legislature. Noe holds a Masters in Painting from UH Mānoa. She maintains an active painting practice, and has recently returned from a 2015 residency with the U.S. Art in Embassies program in Palau. Noe is from Wailupe Valley in East O'ahu.
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