The Kalaupapa Names Project

“You have to hear the voices to feel the people. You have to know their names. If you don’t say the names, it’s like something has been lost.”

Bernard K. Punikai‘a, who was sent to Kalaupapa in 1942, at the age of 11 and whose vision led to the establishment of Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa. Mr. Punikai‘a died in 2009.

Bernard K. Punikai‘a (above)Honorary Chairman of the Board of Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa who was sent to Kalaupapa in 1942. Mr. Punikai`a was talking about the importance of establishing a Memorial at Kalaupapa that would list all the names of the people who were sent there.

The Kalaupapa Names Project

Since Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa organized in the summer of 2003, one of the priorities has been to establish a memorial on the peninsula that would list the names of the approximately 8,000 people who were taken from their families and forcibly relocated there. Fewer than 1,000 of those individuals have marked tombstones and their names are in danger of being lost from the landscape and the history that they helped to create.

After discussions with the Kalaupapa community, it was decided the best way to honor and remember all those sent to Kalaupapa would be to list on the Memorial the names of everyone who on were sent there because they were believed to have had leprosy.

At the urging of Bernard Punikai`a, the ‘Ohana began the task of compiling the names in the summer of 2007. Led by Anwei Law, the ‘Ohana historian who has been interviewing the people of Kalaupapa and studying the history for nearly 40 years, this effort has expanded beyond anything we anticipated. The Names Project has become one of the most successful programs of the ‘Ohana and has led to our equally successful program, The Restoration of Family Ties, where we are helping families reconnect with their Kalaupapa ancestors. Although the purpose of the Kalaupapa Names Project was to compile the names which will become the focal point of the Kalaupapa Memorial, we have already been using this information to assist hundreds of families searching for their relatives who were sent to Kalaupapa.

The Names Project began by compiling the names of the first 5,000 people isolated at Kalaupapa because they were thought to have had leprosy – these individuals were sent there between 1866 and 1895. Very few of these people have marked tombstones. As the years have gone on, Anwei has added the names of more than 2,000 others, now taking our list of those sent to Kalaupapa through 1934. Because of privacy laws, the ‘Ohana only has access to records that are more than 80 years old.



However, we have also been able to help descendents whose relatives were admitted to Kalaupapa after 1934 because of information in other books and Census Records and by tapping into the memories of current Kalaupapa residents.

Other ‘Ohana volunteers have added to our digital library by compiling marriage records, birth records and death records. The ‘Ohana also has compiled church records, petitions, letters written by the early residents of Kalaupapa that have been translated from Hawaiian and articles from the Hawaiian language newspaper articles. When a family member contacts the ‘Ohana for information about their ancestors, we have a wealth of sources to search.

To further help people, the ‘Ohana began digitizing and cataloging old and fragile photographs found in various public archives and collections. These photos are now part of the Kalaupapa PhotoBank with electronic scans of these pictures provided to family members, many of whom have never seen a photo of their ancestor before. The ‘Ohana helped two people who were born at Kalaupapa obtain a photo of their mother for the first time – neither of these individuals had seen a photo of their mother until they contacted Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa when they were in their 80s.

From 2011 through 2013, the ‘Ohana has provided family members with information on nearly 1,500 people who were sent to Kalaupapa or who were born there. About 95 percent of the time, the ‘Ohana has been able to find the names of those the families are asking about.

We have had some amazing stories:

*We met the descendent of Nahuina, one of the first three women who was sent to Kalaupapa on January 6, 1866, and who became a founding member of Siloama Church later that same year. Donna Sterling, who lives on Maui, has now become actively involved with Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa to make sure that her kupuna will always be remembered.

*We heard from the daughter of David Kamahana, who was sent to Kalaupapa in 1888 and who knew Father Damien. Emma Kamahana Dickerson, then 85, asked the ‘Ohana to make arrangements for her and her family to visit Kalaupapa and the graves of her parents and siblings to make sure that their family history will carry on through future generations. We had always hoped to meet a descendent of David Kamahana, who was an important businessman at Kalaupapa, but we never thought we would meet his child. Emma was also one of the descendents who had never seen a photo of her mother until she contacted Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa.

*We met Maika`i Kapahe`e Kaufman, then the 12-year-old descendent of Kapahe`e who was sent to Kalaupapa in 1893 from Kalalau Valley on Kaua`i at the age of 63 and died a few months later. Maika`i is proud that his ancestor’s name lives on through him.

The ‘Ohana is not only helping families – the families are helping the records of the ‘Ohana become more complete with the information that they have. We are able to double-check spellings and sometimes add a first or last name to the records – before 1900, many people were admitted under only one name. Families can also provide personal information about their loved ones or ancestors.

Once the Memorial is complete, the ‘Ohana hopes to establish a docent program of ‘Ohana family members who will help descendents visiting the Memorial find the name of their ancestor and then obtain additional information in our resource document that will continuously grow. The ‘Ohana family members will be the ideal docents as descendents visiting the Memorial will immediately relate to them and feel comfortable during what will undoubtedly be an emotional time.

We believe that the Kalaupapa Names Project and the Kalaupapa Memorial will guarantee that the legacy of the people of Kalaupapa will be passed down to future generations and reconnect family members to their past.

“Kalaupapa is growing again. Most of our kupuna are now part of the `aina and we are part of them. We will carry on for them.”

—Sol Kaho`ohalahala whose ancestors at Kalaupapa date back to the 1800s

You can be a part of preserving this very important component of the history of Kalaupapa. Send your tax-deductible contribution to Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa, PO Box 1111, Kalaupapa, HI 96742 or donate now through our Paypal account. Mahalo.

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