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The Kalaupapa Memorial:

Long an Idea of the Kalaupapa Residents

Kalaupapa residents, descendants and friends gather at the future site of the Memorial. Photo: Wayne Levin


“All the people who were here, you can feel their spirit. They don’t want to be forgotten. The Memorial is the most important thing.”

—Kuulei Bell, 

postmistress, first President of Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa, sent to Kalaupapa in 1956 

Photo: DeGray Vanderbilt

“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 Punikai‘a, 

musician, composer, human rights activist, sent to Kalaupapa in 1942

Photo: Valerie Monson

“I want to see a monument honoring the people of Kalaupapa before I die. I want to see all the names.”

— Olivia Breitha, 

author and human rights activist, sent to Kalaupapa in 1937

Photo: Valerie Monson

“When you see the names on the Memorial, it will be like everyone from Kalawao and Kalaupapa is standing right there in front of you. It will bring tears to my eyes.”

—Clarence “Boogie” Kahilihiwa, 

President of Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa, admitted to Kalaupapa in 1959

Photo: Wayne Levin

“I hope that the Memorial is something everyone will want to see so they can read the names. Once we’re gone, we’re gone, but the Memorial will be here forever.”

Gloria Marks, businesswoman and Chairwoman of the Kalaupapa Patients Advisory Council, admitted to Kalaupapa in 1960

Photo: Valerie Monson

The Kalaupapa Memorial will display the names and permanently honor the nearly 8,000 men, women and children who were taken from their families and forcibly isolated on the remote peninsula known as Kalaupapa because of government policies regarding leprosy (now also called Hansen’s disease).


Ninety percent of those sent to Kalaupapa were Native Hawaiians. Their ages ranged from 4 to 105. Most of these individuals never saw their loved ones or homes again.


Because only about 1,000 graves can now be identified, the names of many of the people of Kalaupapa are no longer part of the landscape and are often left out of the history.  The Kalaupapa Memorial will return these names to the history of Kalaupapa that they helped to create, to their family histories, to the history of Hawai‘i and to the history of the world.


The Memorial will serve as a lasting symbol of justice while providing a place of healing and pride for descendants.


Thanks to our professional consultants and many volunteers, Ka ‘Ohana hopes to dedicate the Memorial in October, 2020.


The Memorial has long been a dream of Kalaupapa residents. Paul Harada, a longtime leader of Kalaupapa, first proposed a Memorial in 1985 as a way to acknowledge everyone sent to Kalaupapa for their sacrifices and to make sure they were always remembered. A few years later, Ed Kato said: Wouldn’t it be great if Kalaupapa had a Memorial like the Vietnam Memorial that would list all the names?


The idea of a Memorial continued to come up over the years and finally began to take shape about 15 years later when Pi‘olani Motta, who had spent years searching unsuccessfully for the graves of her grandparents, revived the issue.


In the summer of 2003, Pi‘o and Kalaupapa leader Kuulei Bell circulated a petition that was signed by nearly every Kalaupapa resident and worker in support of a Memorial. When Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa organized later that summer with both Pi‘o and Kuulei among the 70 founding members, the Kalaupapa residents in attendance asked the ‘Ohana to establish the Memorial.


Ever since, the residents of Kalaupapa have been passionately and eloquently advocating for the Memorial to be built during their lifetimes. Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa went to Washington DC to urge the passing of a bill authorizing Ka ‘Ohana to establish the Memorial. As part of the package presented to Congress, Kalaupapa residents signed another petition of support. Of the 33 residents listed on the Department of Health registers, 29 signed the petition or gave statements of support for the Memorial. Two individuals were too ill to sign and another two were not available at the time.


In 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the legislation passed by Congress that authorized Ka’ Ohana to establish the Memorial within the boundaries of Kalaupapa National Historical Park. The law also stated that the Memorial shall display the names of the nearly 8,000 people who were sent to the original settlement of Kalawao and the current settlement of Kalaupapa.


With the Hawai‘i State Legislature approving $5 million for construction of the Memorial, this long-awaited dream of so many at Kalaupapa seems closer than ever. Unfortunately, so many of those strong advocates for the Kalaupapa Memorial — Paul Harada, Ed Kato, Bernard K. Punikai‘a, Kuulei Bell, Oliva Breitha and Boogie Kahilihiwa among them — have passed away, but we continue to feel their presence — and their guidance — every day.

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