Three new books of Kalaupapa memories

Memoir / There are countless stories about Hawaii that have not been shared with the rest of the world. Thanks to Anwei Skinsnes Law, the history of Kalaupapa is no longer one of them. This deeply-researched book is more of a memoir, shedding light on the residents of Kalaupapa, who were sent away by the Board of Health because they were believed to have leprosy. 90 percent of these people were native Hawaiians, and they lost their homes, family and even their rights as citizens. Filled with archival images, letters, songs and quotes, this book finally shares the true voices of these individuals.

Law visited Kalaupapa for the first time when she was 16 years old. She returned often, and spent time with the residents, who welcomed her and allowed her to begin conducting oral-history interviews. Law uncovered layers of historical and archival evidence, proving that these afflicted individuals did not simply remain on the Molokai peninsula. They were not inactive and unconcerned with life beyond Kalaupapa. Rather, they were actively involved with the Hawaii Legislative Assemply, petitioning for justice in 1984, supported Queen Liliuokalani and the Hawaiian Kingdom before the annexation and even contributed to Europe’s relief efforts after World War I. Life on Kaluapapa was not uncivilized; they had neighborhoods, schools and [churches.In] 2007, the Hawaii State Legistlature officially thanked and apologized to the people of Kalaupapa and their families.

“Those who wrote the letters referred to themselves by using phrases like, ‘We the people sick with leprosy,’…they would refer to themselves as ‘people’ first,” writes Law. “However, translations done in the past tended so imply use the word “leper,” and thus the ‘people’ was lost.” Kalaupapa residdents were always human beings, never lepers. The book makes it clear that despite the injustices of starvation, banishment and even marriage annulments, Kalaupapa residents remained true to themselves.

Kalaupapa: A Collective Memory, Anwei Skinses Law

(University of Hawaii Press, 2012)

Paperback, 575 pages, $28.99