Molokai's Kalaupapa peninsula seems like a peaceful haven. But it is home to a painful legacy — that of thousands of people with Hansen's disease, or leprosy, who were once banished there to live and die in exile.
"A Source of Light, Constant and Never-Fading," an exhibition at the University of Hawaii — West Oahu, tells their stories.
They were sent to Kalaupapa in an era when the bacterial disease was not well understood. For centuries, leprosy had been thought to be a punishment from God, and people hated and feared those whose bodies were marked by the disease.
Beginning in the 1830s, the illness spread rapidly through the native Hawaiian population. In response, Hawaii's legislature passed a quarantine law in 1865 and exiled all people with leprosy to Kalaupapa.
The exiles were subjected to stigma and, sometimes, neglect. At the settlement's peak, 1,100 people with Hansen's disease lived there.
Today, the disease is better understood: It doesn't spread easily, and it can be treated with antibiotics.
The exhibition includes historical photographs, testimonies and fragments of songs and letters, along with information about current and recent residents of Kalaupapa. The peninsula, now a national historical park, is still home to some who were once quarantined. (The mandatory quarantine was abolished in 1969.)
"A Source of Light" is the work of Ka 'Ohana o Kalaupapa, a nonprofit dedicated to memorializing and upholding the dignity of those who were exiled. It's open through March 10.
You can read testimonies of people who were once isolated on Molokai at nps.gov/kala/learn/historyculture/words.htm.