Forty Years On The Pacific/Leper Settlement of Molokai

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Forty Years On The Pacific by Frank Coffee
Leper Settlement of Molokai

LEPER SETTLEMENT OF MOLOKAI, By A. P. Taylor[edit]

LIFE in the settlement of that little portion of Molokai which is devoted to the segregation of lepers is not so sordid and frightful as the world may have been led to believe, for much of the popular idea concerning unfortunates of this class was derived from the pages of "Ben Hur" and the affliction of lepers at Christ's time.

On the 4th of July, and on the llth of June, when the birthday of Kamehameha the Great, the Hawaiian conqueror, is observed, and on other holidays, everybody turns out to witness the horse-racing events. On these and other holidays the inmates have athletic displays. Their strong men build "human pyramids," and there are foot-races and other forms of holiday pleasures.

The settlement brass band is one of the features of life there, while glee clubs and other amusement societies are all composed of enthusiastic people. About twice a week in the evening everybody goes to the moving-picture theater. Reels are supplied regularly from Honolulu, and in this way the inmates learn much of the outside world.

The only time when the inmates are really ill is when they have a bad cold, or the mumps, or something like that. The government of the Territory of Hawaii provides a superintendent and physician and other administrative officers for the Settlement, and general food supplies are obtained through them. Many of the inmates, however, have their little "kulaeanas" of land belonging to themselves, where they raise taro, from which poi, the national dish, is made.

Kalaupapa is the little administrative town of the Settlement where steamers make landings. Six or seven miles beyond, across a neck of land, but upon the sea-shore, is the little town of Kalawao, where many activities for the benefit of the inmates are carried on, such as the Baldwin Home for boys, where Brother Joseph Button, one of the unique figures of the Pacific, makes his headquarters, to administer to the inmates.

Brother Dutton went to the Settlement from the mainland about thirty-four years ago. He went to Kalawao, and only once in this long third of a century has he left Kalawao, and visited Kalaupapa. He has never had the desire to leave this out-of-the-way but beautiful spot. He has enormous correspondence with people abroad, and does all his writing with pen and ink, refusing to utilize the modern typewriting machine. He says he has never seen a "movie" and hopes he never will. He hoped the same thing with regard to the automobile, but Dr. Goodhue, the Settlement physician, determined that Brother Dutton ought to see something modern, and drove his car directly into the Baldwin Home compound. Before Brother Dutton knew it, his eyes had beheld the modern juggernaut.

The inmates have their little dabble in politics about every two years. With good motion pictures and libraries, music and entertainments, horse-racing, baseball leagues, and other forms of amusements, the inmates of Kalawao and Kalaupapa have a reasonably good time.

The island of Molokai is not, as so many believe, entirely devoted to a colony of lepers. Only an infinitesimal part of the island, and that a shelving coast behind which precipices rise, forms the famous settlement, where government officials and citizens generally of the islands do everything to make life pleasing for these people set apart from the rest of the world. They have even had the thrill which comes to every one when an aeroplane flies overhead. The United States Army authorities of Honolulu, early in 1918, sent Major H. M. Clark, a pilot aviator, with his aeroplane to do "stunts" over the Settlement. This was the first time the majority of the inmates had ever seen an air machine. Much prominence has been given to leprosy in Hawaii, but I found it also prevails extensively in China, Japan and the Philippines.

The martyr priest, Father Joseph Damien, was a Belgian who volunteered, while stationed at Honolulu, to devote his life to the needs of the Leper Settlement of Molokai. He went there in 1873 and remained until his death from leprosy, in his fiftieth year, in 1889.

During his residence among these afflicted people, he was most self-sacrificing, and contributed much toward their pleasure, peace and contentment. Speaking of Father Damien, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote in 1890 at Sydney:

"It was his part, by one striking act of martyrdom, to direct all men's eyes to that distressful country. If ever any man brought reforms and died to bring them, it was he." Elsewhere in the memoir Stevenson refers to him as "this plain, noble human brother and father of ours," the word "plain" being a reference to Father Damien's peasant origin; and he spoke of the priest as one who, "crowned with glories and terrors, toiled and suffered a lingering death under the cliffs of Kalawao." This last quotation expressed Stevenson's horror of leprosy, as he had seen it on Molokai, and the condition of the Leper Colony when Father Damien began his labors there.