Remembering the Exiled of Hawaii

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Moloka’i, Hawaii

I survived the mule ride and made it down into Kalaupapa Valley, looking out to the ocean could be one of the most beautiful places I have seen.

And yet so sad.


It’s the home to Kalaupapa Leper Settlement and the story is haunting. In 1865, people on the islands were alarmed by the outbreak of leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) and decided to separate and isolate patients to keep it under control.

That is a mild way of putting it, they were in essence banished and exiled, dropped off on ships with only as much as they could carry. There was no way out of this valley. No roads. No boats. Nothing but steep mountains that the sick could not climb. The government mistakenly thought that because they were Hawaiian they would be able to fend for themselves but because they were sick many could not and the last few years of their lives were miserable.


Over 8000 patients have been sent here over the years. People were sent on a ship at might to minimize commotion from family who would never see them again.


They were being sent somewhere to die alone.


But all of these numbers are meaningless until you hear the personal stories. Olivia was 18 in 1934 and about to get married she went to the doctor to get her tonsils out when the hospital discovered she had leprosy, everyone on the island knew what that meant, she said her life was over and unsuccessfully tried to kill herself.



It became a lawless land where the vulnerable were prey and people were terrified they would go there.

A Belgian missionary-priest, Father Damien, volunteered to go there to help bring order and faith. He was so close he eventually died of the disease as well (gravestone above, one of the handful that have a marked grave).

Say what you will about the Church but more came to help out on land that everyone was terrified to visit.

The Government also realized they needed to take care of the people and worked with the Church to build homes, schools, places for orphans and women.



In the 1940s Hansen’s Disease could be treated with an antibiotic and the people were no longer a threat to the greater population. But the law didn’t change until 1969 – people would no longer be sent here but anyone here could stay if they wished. And some did.

17 patients remain, the youngest is Boogey who is 70 but average age is 80.

Today it is also a state park. There are 30 people here from the Department of Health and 50 that work with the park. You can only stay here if you work here (no spouses) or a patient. You need to get permission to visit but there can be no more than 100 outsiders a day. No children under 16.

It will turn into a national park but they aren’t sure how it will be run or how open to the public. They say there will never be a time when the patients aren’t here as it is spiritually a significant place and the patients will always be here.

I can’t help but get chills knowing such a beautiful place was hell to so many.



Disclosure: I was a guest of the Moloka’i Visitors Bureau but they did not request any favourable reviews, all opinions of my own and I am happy to recommend this wonderful island.


Join the Conversation

  1. Roy Marvelous says:

    There seems to be a dark past wherever we look huh? I remember watching a movie about this years ago actually.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I heard there is a movie called Molokai, it’s supposed to be really good.

  2. cynthia says:

    Lovely photos. I read a book about (and called) Moloka’i a few years ago and have been intrigued by the whole thing ever since. (

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Was it about Father David, I’m starting to realize this is a very popular story.

  3. Giselle says:

    Hawaii is definitely a nice place and I am sure a lot of people would be more excited to visit this Park..

  4. Chrystal McKay says:

    There are so many things in the past that I would never hear about unless I was to go there. This is a terrible past, but it seems they have learned from it. Thanks for the post – that shoreline DOES look stunning.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I know it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in Hawaii.

  5. Matthew Karsten says:

    What a great story, if a sad one. I guess there are worse places to grow old & die though.

    It’s incredible that there are still some patients living there. Did you get to meet them?

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Well in the beginning it was pretty bad, there were no buildings at all they were just dropped up and expected to build shelter but because they were so sick they couldn’t.

  6. Stephanie - The Travel Chica says:

    It is incredible what people do to each other.

  7. Ava Apollo says:

    I remember learning about Father Damien in church as a kid and having an incredible amount of respect for him for risking his health to help exiles in need. The story of those poor people has haunted me since childhood.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      When a time so many people were fearful he went ahead and built the community, sharing everything with the people. Unfortunately as Hansen’s disase is bacterial it is eventually why he contacted it and died.

  8. It’s difficult to imagine such cruelty in such a beautiful place, which I’m sure didn’t seem so beautiful to the people with leprosy stranded there.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      No people ripped from their families and sent to die alone with sick strangers, not something I would want to endure.

  9. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures says:

    This is so heartbreaking. On a positive note, your pics are gorgeous.

  10. Wow – what an incredible story.. Your pictures really paint a positive image of the place today. You always hear about this type of place existing (or having existed) but I never really thought much about it or sought it out when I was there. Almost unbelievable.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I would have never known without going to Moloka’i and even then I wasn’t entirely keen on visiting but it actually ended up being really interesting.

  11. I remember reading about a similar fate for lepers in Japan in that era. Very sad.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I would imagine every country has their own dark story to tell.

  12. Such a sad history for such a beautiful place..

  13. Certainly they were not treated well, but they were not treated especially badly for the times. This wasn’t the only leper colony in the world, and most of them were pretty horrific places. Not the least because of the untreated disease itself.

    It’s fascinating to encounter unexpected bits of history. Not unlike the time I met an elderly man in Germany who had been a POW in Saskatchewan in the 2nd world war. It was as surprising as if I’d met a velociraptor. I remember thinking “Wow.. that guy was alive in a war that was history before I was born…”.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Well in the beginning before the church came it actually was an awful place to be. The government thought because they were Hawaiian they would be able to take care of themselves and build shelters but didn’t realize that they were too sick to do it.

      Children and women were subjected to things people allude to but never come out and say – just that they needed separate shelters because they were vulnerable.

      Certainly in the 60s they were much better equiped but in the beginning it was considered to be a place that many feared to go.

  14. What an amazing story. So well written.

  15. In Canada there was a leper colony for Chinese immigrants on D’Arcy Island until 1924 just off the coast of Vancouver Island; now its a highly desirable place to go sea kayaking now.
    Hard to believe how brutal conditions were for people back in the day.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      We definitely have our own fair share of stories, I remember David Suzuki talking about what happened to the Japanese during the war.

  16. Mark Wiens says:

    Wow, beautiful place… but a sad story to go with it. It’s tough to visit and think about a place with such natural beauty but a dark history.

  17. Wow – had no idea about this history…how sad. I find it interesting how certain diseases have caused groups like these, even still today.

  18. Emily in Chile says:

    Your last line sums up what I was thinking – it’s hard to imagine such cruelty in a place that looks so much like paradise.

    1. crazy sexy fun traveler says:

      Right, this place does look like a paradise! Such a sad story!

  19. Now I remember why Molokai sounded familiar… because of father Damien.

    How strange, I knew this, but I never think about this when I think about Hawai.

    If you like watching movies, I recommend the movie, it’s been ages since I’ve seen it, but it does impress you, and I guess you’ll be able to relate more after seeing the place!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      They told me about the movie, it would be interesting to see how the story compares.

  20. Cole @ Four Jandals says:

    Whoa that is really sad! Amazing that there are still people living there though. Would love to visit when it becomes a National Park.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I`m not sure how they will transition it as they need to be really sensitive of its history, until then the mule ride and tour is a great way to spend a day.

  21. The Time-Crunched Traveler (Ellen) says:

    That’s so horrible. Great to see that missionaries/priests came to help out. It’s always encouraging to see the Church caring for the most vulnerable and those who have been outcast, especially when they do say at risk to their own life. Thanks for including that aspect of this story.

  22. Carolyn Jung says:

    I bet it was really chilling to be there, to step back into a part of history that we so wish could have been handled differently. It’s amazing there are still survivors there, too. What a haunting reminder that we do well to remember the past and to learn from it.

  23. That had to be an intense trip. I’ve never heard those stories, thanks for writing about them and sharing.

  24. Gosh, thank you for sharing this with us, Aynge. It’s so sad that people with leprosy were isolated from people and had no help for so many years. 🙁

  25. Mary @ Green Global Travel says:

    It’s hard to believe that something so horrible could happen in a place as beautiful as this. Thanks for sharing these stories.

  26. Wow, I had no idea. It’s amazing that some of the patients are still around. What a beautiful place with a haunting history.

  27. I would so like to go to Hawaii one day. I hear it is awesome. It is top of my wishlist so hopefully I will get there one day!

  28. Wow.. what an interesting and sad story. I’m going to have to check out that movie.

  29. I’d never heard of this island before – thanks for sharing its story with us. It just goes to show you that, even in “the land of the free,” we do horrible things to people.

  30. I love that you post historical facts and personal stories as well. As beautiful as Hawaii is, it does have a chilling history, like this one. I’m sure there were so many other heartbreaking stories, especially the ones that involved young children being sent away. 🙁

  31. lara dunston says:

    Beautiful images. Reminds me of another Pacific island, Lord Howe. Must explore more of the Pacific.

  32. Jeremy Branham says:

    Wow, such a beautiful place with a history of tragedy. It’s so sad to read the personal stories of the people that lived here. I have a lot of admiration and respect for that priest who gave his life to care for these people. This place should be a paradise. Instead it’s history is trafic.

  33. D.J. - The World of Deej says:

    I remember as a kid my parents had a huge photo framed of this spot, and they shared the story with me. Granted, I was a kid, but I remember thinking how sad that was. You’re right, terrible to see such a beautiful place attached to such a sad history…

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It’s really so shocking but I think it was fairly commonplace way to deal with things like this.

  34. This is incredibly tragic! I have the utmost respect for the priest who went there to help these people.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Really tragic and reading some of the other comments I think this kind of practice was fairly common, I guess it’s what people do when they are afraid.

  35. Thanks for this story – its very important to see also the other side of the coin of a country!
    Sad but also beautiful…

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It is important to see that a history isn’t always perfect, everyone makes mistakes.

  36. I love these stories of yours from Hawaii. This is one I knew a little about, but had no idea there were still patients there.

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