An historical exhibit developed by Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa opened this week at Saint Damien Church in downtown Kaunakakai where it will remain through February 3. The exhibit, “A Source of Light, Constant and Never-Fading,” emphasizes the strong relationship between the people of Kalaupapa and the Royal Family of Hawaii, a chapter of the history of Kalaupapa not often told.
The exhibit will be open in the Kamalo Room at the front of the church complex. It will be open on Mondays-Fridays, 3-6 p.m. and on Saturdays, 11 a.m-4 p.m., except for January 26 when the exhibit will be moved for the day to Mitchell Pauole Center in Kaunakakai for the annual Makahiki Games.
A blessing was held on January 9 that attracted 35 people who joined in song and prayer. The Rev. William Petrie, priest at Saint Damien Church, blessed the exhibit and offered remarks. On the next night, about 75 people – including 25 students – attended a Powerpoint presentation about the work that Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa has been doing to reconnect families to their ancestors.
Between 1866 and 1969, an estimated 8,000 people were taken from their families and places of their birth and sent to Kalaupapa because of Hawaii’s leprosy isolation policies. About 5,200 of these individuals were sent to Kalaupapa prior to the Annexation of Hawai‘i by the United States, approximately 97% of whom were Native Hawaiian.
Members of the Royal Family were deeply moved by the situation facing so many of their “beloved people” who were sick. They visited Kalaupapa, read petitions, wrote letters, mourned friends who had been taken from their midst and did what they could to make life better for those afflicted with the disease. Leprosy was not an abstract problem, but a very real presence in their lives.
At the same time, the people of Kalaupapa were a source of inspiration through their letters, actions, songs and poetry that reflected a deep love for their country and those who they looked to for support in their attempts to find justice and hope.
The exhibit contains historical and contemporary photographs, excerpts from letters and petitions from the people of Kalaupapa together with the words of members of the Royal Family, including diary entries from Queen Lili‘uokalani when one of her close friends, Kapoli Kamakau, was sent to Kalaupapa. Many of the letters were originally written in Hawaiian. There are also panels devoted to the deep bonds that Father Damien and Mother Marianne – both now Saints – formed with the people of Kalaupapa and the Royal Family.