The soul of Kalaupapa

By Aldine Amiel

A piece of land trapped between cliffs and the Pacific Ocean, a part of our Earth full of history where Easter eggs are substituted with painted coconuts: Kalaupapa. Only accessible by air, ocean or by a steep hike through a green forest attached to sea cliffs dropping from about 3,315 feet (1,010 m) into the Pacific Ocean, the Kalaupapa peninsula is one of the hidden treasures of the Hawaiian island Molokai. Kalaupapa’s history is intense and full of strong characters. The peninsula remains today a peaceful part of Earth where wildlife and landscape are breathless.

The Kalaupapa peninsula has a volcanic origin and appeared by erosion a long time ago when the lava immerged from the Pacific Ocean floor, after the formation of the surrounding high cliffs. The peninsula formed around the currently dormant Kauhako Crater in which a lake formed that is more than 800 feet deep (240m), making it the deepest fresh water lake of Hawaii. A small community is living down there in calm and wonderful natural landscapes.

Because in 1866, the Hawaiian governmental policy decided to isolate anyone diagnosed with Hansen’s disease (leprosy) and send down to the Kalaupapa peninsula, some authors like Robert Louis Stevenson described the peninsula as a “prison fortified by nature”. This turn in the Hawaiian history marks a painful period for the Hawaiian population and leads to broken connections between the ‘aina (the land) and the ohana (the family). There were over 8000 people sent to the Kalaupapa peninsula from 1866 to 1969, living in extremely harsh conditions. In those times, belgian missionary priests, including the recently canonized Father Damien, came to help the community and devoted they entire life’s to fight against the disease and to assist the inhabitants of Kalaupapa in their tragedy. During 140 years, Belgian missionary priests continued to perpetuate this support and the last priests including Henri Systermans and Fr. Joseph Hendricks, died in 2008, marking the end of this old tradition.

The initial settlement was at Kalawao, at the eastern side of the Kalaupapa peninsula. Today, this abandonned settlement adorns the Saint Philomena and Siloama churches, wonderful jewels of Hawaiian history that have been elevated at the border of the sea in front of an amazing landscape of tiny isolated islands and deep valleys. Early in the morning, when the sun rises and the sunbeams enlighten the cliffs surrounding the penisnula, the spirit of this sacret place is much more present than ever. The entire settlement, including the catholic and protestant churches, the old black stone walls from the ancient housing, hawaiian sacred side, the wide fields of green grass and lava rocks full of history, cliffs and the big dark blue Ocean are shining with their entire soul.

The second and current settlement is now located on the west side of the peninsula. A small and peaceful community is still living there, enjoying the nature around Kalaupapa: yellow sand beaches with micro-shells and monkseals, dark green cliffs and deep blue water, cozy housing, little gardens, coconut trees, quiet roads, and stones to remember the inhabitants and history of Kalaupapa.

Sailing the giant Ocean near the rocky north shore would be difficult without the presence of the big white lighthouse drawn up at the tip of the peninsula. Like a guardian of the peninsula it is constantly fighting the wind in a place where everything seems out of time. Every second you have the pleasure to spend at Kalaupapa, is a moment of amazing and intense human experience.

In a last goodbye spinner dolphins take their time on a Sunday evening to perform acrobatic tricks in front of the black sand beach during hours, accompanying the visitor on its way back up along the high cliffs.

“Don’t desecrate what happened here, not because of my lifetime, but because of those who came before me… I would really like to see this place stay sacred…. sacred in honor of those who died here because of the disease, those who fought for allowances, fought for their clothing, fought for their medication, fought for their freedom.” — Henry Nalaielua, Kalaupapa artist, musician, author and visionary who was sent to Kalaupapa in 1941.

Special thanks to Kim!

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