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Kalaupapa hailed as 'beautiful natural prison'

By Catholic Online
August 2nd, 2010
Catholic Online (

Of the splendor found in Hawaii, Kalaupapa, Molokai, is a naturally beautiful prison. Cut off from the rest of the world by 1600-foot cliffs on one side and ocean on the other, the area formerly served as a leper colony - for those afflicted with what we call today as Hansen's disease.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - IN he 19th Century, Hawaii sought to isolate trade-borne eastern diseases, and moved large numbers of those affected with disease into quarantine.  

In 1866, nine men and three women were allegedly tossed overboard and told to swim for shore. The survivors built a colony that eventually housed more than 8,000 people. Despite medical advances that eliminated the contagious effects of Hanson's Disease in the 1940s, Kalaupapa remained a forced quarantine site until 1969, over a century after its formation.

The arrival of Belgian missionary Father Damien de Veuster in 1873 saved the island's reputation. De Veuster lived and worked in the colony, and eventually contracted the disease himself. Dying in 1889, his work at Kalaupapa has been recognized as a model of compassionate care, and there are statues of De Veuster in the U.S. and Hawaiian Capitol buildings.

Jack London wrote about his visit in 1908, saying that, from a distance and thanks to its reputation, it seemed "the pit of hell, the most cursed place on earth." But after landing and spending time with the residents, he found himself to be "having a disgracefully good time along with eight hundred of the lepers who were likewise having a good time."

Now a US national park, the colony is home to a dwindling population of fewer than two dozen voluntary exiles, workers, and family members.

Visitation to the colony is strictly limited, and unless you are invited by a resident, tours must be arranged through Damien Tours or the Hawaii Department of Health. People without pre-arranged reservations will be denied access to the park.

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