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Kalaupapa has thousands of unmarked graves. A proposed memorial would honor all who lived there

Ka 'Ohana O Kalaupapa

Exactly 156 years ago on Thursday, the first dozen people diagnosed with leprosy, or Hansen’s disease, landed at Kalaupapa on Molokaʻi.

Nine men and three women arrived there on Jan. 6, 1866, after being sent away from their homes.

Hawaiʻi State Archives via Ka ʻOhana O Kalaupapa

They would live in isolation at the remote settlement and be joined by some 8,000 others sent there in an effort to curb the spread of a disfiguring disease that had no cure.

In honor of their memory, members of Ka ʻOhana O Kalaupapa worked to have January designated as Kalaupapa Month. Gov. David Ige signed the bill into law last year and 2022 marks its first commemoration.

Kehaulani Lum, who is on the board of directors, can trace her roots to three residents of the settlement. She has been focused on making sure the stories of Kalaupapa are not forgotten.

"We're just carrying the lineage in deep gratitude to our ancestors, and to hopefully bring light to the stories that are so important and pertinent to us all today," Lum told The Conversation.

The group is fundraising in hopes of building a memorial to honor those sent to Kalaupapa. Many were buried in unmarked graves.

A conceptual design of the memorial.
Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa
A conceptual design of the memorial.

"8,000 people were sent there, but only over 1,000 graves are actually marked today," Lum said. "The majority of people who were sent there do not have the benefit of a sacred space where descendants can go and place offerings."

The memorial would permanently honor and display the names of thousands of men, women and children sent to Kalaupapa.

"In my family situation, while three were sent there, only one has a headstone. Two of them are not marked," Lum said. "Today you find many families still having to address that need to heal, to recover from all of that, and to transform shame into pride."

The first step, Lum said, is to commemorate January as Kalaupapa Month and draw attention to the vision to keep the settlement stories alive.

Today, there are about half a dozen patients at Kalaupapa.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Jan. 6, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
Sophia McCullough is a digital news producer. Contact her at news@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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