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The Restoration of Family Ties

Phil Hatori visits the graves of the Kalaupapa ancestors he learned about from Ka 'Ohana O Kalaupapa.

Photo: Valerie Monson

“I wanted my family to come with me so they could learn about my mother and father and their lives here at Kalaupapa. I want them to always remember our Kalaupapa family and to pass that down to their children and grandchildren.”

born at Kalaupapa to David Kamahana and Alana Ahlo Kamahana, and taken away from her parents at birth. Emma is shown sitting at their graves with her daughters, a granddaughter and Kalaupapa mail carrier Danny Hashimoto who remembered David Kamahana.

Emma Kamahana Dickerson and her family visiting Kalaupapa where Emma was born.

Photo: Wayne Levin

Because of the forced separation of families and the difficulty in communication, people often lost touch with their loved ones who were sent to Kalaupapa between 1866 and 1969.  Descendants often know nothing about their relatives or have only a name of someone who was sent away.


Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa developed “The Restoration of Family Ties,” a living preservation program, to assist families in learning more about their Kalaupapa ancestors and restoring their legacies. The ‘Ohana has provided more than 900 family members with information on their ancestors who were sent to Kalaupapa or who were born there. The ‘Ohana has not only reconnected descendants to their past, we have helped people born at Kalaupapa obtain photographs of their parents for the first time in their lives and arranged for overnight visits while creating a vibrant network for the families of Kalaupapa.


“The Restoration of Family Ties” utilizes the extensive digital library built by Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa as well as the vast knowledge of ‘Ohana leaders. This library now includes information on more than 7,300 people who were sent to Kalaupapa or who were born there. This information was compiled from Admissions Registers, Marriage Records, Birth Records, Death Records, Cemetery Records, Church Minutes and Rolls, petitions, Census Records, Hawaiian language newspaper articles, letters and other documents. The ‘Ohana also has preserved more than 1,000 photographs of the people of Kalaupapa. Additional records are located and digitized each year so the library continues to grow.


Through the descendants, the program has evolved into “living preservation” where the people of Kalaupapa are being brought back to life and living on in their descendants who now believe that Kalaupapa is part of their kuleana. Many of these families — including younger generations — have become part of the ‘Ohana leadership and are deeply committed to being involved with making sure the future of Kalaupapa is planned with the wishes of the residents in mind.


“The Restoration of Family Ties” brings the people of Kalaupapa back into the history they helped to create.  This program preserves the history of Kalaupapa and the lives of the people through their descendants, which will ensure that Kalaupapa will live on for generations to come.


“Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa has been the source by which I have reconnected with my family in Kalaupapa. Through their efforts, the wishes of the remaining residents at Kalaupapa will be carried out,” —  the Rev. Dennis D.K. Kamakahi, slack-key legend, who visited Kalaupapa through the arrangements of Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa and participated in other events sponsored by the ‘Ohana. Dennis was the cousin of Kalaupapa musician and leader Henry Nalaielua.


Stephen Inglis (left) and Dennis Kamakahi attend the opening ceremony of the historical exhibit developed by Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa at ‘Iolani Palace which includes a panel about Kapoli Kamakau, a friend of Queen Lili‘uokalani, who was sent to Kalaupapa in 1888.

Photo:  Wayne Levin

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