Beneath the highest sea cliffs in the world lay the remnants of Kalaupapa. A handful remain of the thousands that once had no choice to leave. Shortly after the 1866 establishment of the settlement on the shores of Moloka’i, the first Mormons came. Lepers.
Leprosy, now typically called Hansen’s disease, causes fear for the stories of disfigurement and suffering. For over 100 years, those who suffered from the disease where forcibly contained in Kalaupapa and its twin Kalawao. The stories of human tragedy are heart breaking.
The mode of transmission of Hansen’s disease remains uncertain, but most investigators think that the causative bacterium is spread from person to person in respiratory droplets. Historically, it was thought that any contact could transmit the disease. One treatment was developed in the 1940’s, but it wasn’t until the 1960’s that an effective therapy became available.
One missionary journal describes administering to one individual who had been released to the hospital:
16 February 1956
Elder Childs & I administered to a Mrs (Sister) Malo at St. Francis Hospital today. She is a leper, and is undergoing surgery tomorrow morning. She is particularly eaten away, but has great faith. We took all rings, etc. off, took off our coats, and put on a white robe. The only things showing were our hands, which we washed twice afterward.
The devotion of the Mormon inhabitants, especially the recent converts is moving. After meeting with the Mission president in April 1957, several of the new converts confessed “their gratitude for being lepers for it was in the colony that they first heard the gospel.”
After the theatrical release of Cecil B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments in 1956, the mission asked President McKay if he would ask the director if they could have a copy to show at the colony. Mr. DeMille furnished his personal 35 mm copy and equipment to present it. One missionary alumnus described the experience:
The result was overwhelming! During the first showing, every eye, whether whole or blind, was full of tears. Every person in the colony was given the opportunity to see it as many times as they wished while it was on the Island, and there was a full house for each showing It was shown on the Island for a week, after which the film and all of the equipment was returned to Mr. DeMille. President Haycock came with the film and equipment when it first arrived, but did not stay past the first day.
The forced quarantine of people at Kalaupapa ended in 1969. The settlement is now a National Historic Park and some have chosen to stay.