National Historical Park
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Don't desecrate what happened here, not because of my lifetime, but because of those who came before me...I would really like to see this place stay sacred...sacred in honor of those who died here because of the disease, those who fought for allowances, fought for their clothing, fought for their medication, fought for their freedom.

—Henry Nalaielua, Kalaupapa resident

Surrounded mostly by ocean and cut off from the rest of Moloka'i by 1,600-foot cliffs, the Kalaupapa Peninsula has always been one of the most remote places in Hawaii. Native Hawaiians lived here for many centuries, but in the mid-1800s Kalaupapa's remoteness secured its role as the setting for two powerful—and tragic—human sagas.

The first was the displacement of well-established indigenous Hawaiian communities in 1865 and again in the mid-1890s. This cleared the way for another tragic set of events—the forced exile of those afflicted with or suspected of having leprosy. The Hawaiian government's removal of people from where their ancestors had lived severed 500 years' worth of cultural ties to the 'āina (land). The establishment of isolation settlements, first at Kalawao and later at Kalaupapa, tore apart Hawaiian society as the kingdom (and later territory) of Hawaii tried to control a feared and largely misunderstood disease.

The broken connections with the 'āina and the impact of nearly 8,000 family members "lost" to Kalaupapa are still felt in Hawaii today. And yet a remarkable sense of community endures through the countless stories of love, compassion, support, faith, and perseverance among the afflicted as well as those kōkua (helpers) who came to serve.

Long-known worldwide for its astounding story, Kalaupapa achieved formal recognition in 1976 when it was designated a National Historic Landmark. In 1980 Kalaupapa National Historical Park was established to preserve the natural and cultural aspects of the peninsula and to maintain the home of the remaining residents.

Occupied by former patients who wish to live out the rest of their lives in peace and quiet, Kalaupapa's residential community lies within the Moloka'i North Shore National Natural Landmark. There are spectacular north shore sea cliffs, narrow lush valleys and vital watersheds, a volcanic crater, remnant verdant rainforest, and lonely offshore islands. This forms diverse habitat for native flora and fauna, some found nowhere else in the world. These lands are also home to one of the richest intact archeological landscapes in the Hawaiian Islands.

Blanketed in natural splendor from mauka to makai (mountain to the sea), Kalaupapa today is revered as a peaceful and sacred place. People come here for education, quiet contemplation, and spiritual renewal. In this setting you can learn about the strength of treasured kupuna (elders) who, in the face of adversity and stigmatization by a disease society did not understand, had the courage and will to survive, make the most of what little they had, and lead happy, productive lives. In the words of author Robert Louis Stevenson, Kalaupapa is truly a land of "beauty springing from the breast of pain."

They took my family away one step at a time, leaving my mother at home. One by one, she lost almost everybody close to her. As a little girl, her mother, brother and sister were sent to Kalaupapa. Then her husband got sent away. Then she lost every one of her kids in just a few years. Thank God, one of them got to come home. She just experienced all this loss, and still, the love was there.

—Richard M. Marks, Kalaupapa resident

Enduring Spirit, Sacred Ground

Early in 1865 King Kamehameha V faced an agonizing decision. Leprosy was spreading throughout the islands and there seemed no way to stop it. Pressured by the western-influenced Hawaiian board of health, Kamehameha signed the "Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy." In a desperate attempt to control the disease, the act authorized forced isolation of those who showed symptoms.

On January 6, 1866, 12 men and women became the first of thousands forced into exile on the Kalaupapa Peninsula. Over the years, many Hawaiians resisted the isolation policy by hiding. Others protested by making the journey with their loved ones as kōkua, or helpers. One of the most notable of these was Jonathan Napela, who accompanied his wife Kitty in 1873 and went on to become one of Kalaupapa's most respected leaders.

The plight of those exiled also drew the attention of religious communities. The most famous individual was Joseph DeVeuster, a 33-year-old Belgian priest who arrived in 1873. Known as Father Damien, he was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 2009. In promoting the dignity of those afflicted and improving conditions for the afflicted, Father Damien worked with Queen Kapiolani, Mother Marianne Cope, Joseph Dutton, the Catholic Brothers and Sisters, and many others.

Leprosy—Hansen's disease—affects the nerves, skin, upper respiratory tract, and eyes, often causing changes in one's physical appearance and permanent damage if left untreated. For centuries past and well into the early years of Kalaupapa, a leprosy diagnosis amounted to a death sentence. Today leprosy is easily curable with proper diagnosis and treatment. Moreover, about 95 percent of the world's population has a natural immunity, making leprosy one of the least contagious of all modern-day communicable diseases.

With the advent of a cure in the 1940s, life at Kalaupapa changed dramatically. Patients could now hold jobs and attend sporting events, theater, dances, and arts-and-crafts programs. Organizations emerged like the local Lions Club, historical society, and scout troops for girls and boys. On holidays there were donkey races, parades, and apple-eating contests. Music was ever-present with bands and choirs. Kalaupapa's people have habitually displayed generosity toward the outside world. During WWI they were lauded as an example to the rest of Hawaii for their sizeable contribution to Red Cross relief efforts in Europe.

Although Hawaii's isolation policy was not officially abolished until 1969, forced isolation at Kalaupapa ended in 1949. Celebrities like Shirley Temple, John Wayne, and the Von Trapp Family Singers came here to perform at the settlement, an acknowledgement that public attitudes about leprosy were changing. Patients began traveling to other islands, and in later years to other countries including Spain, Belgium, China, and Japan, where they have served as international human rights advocates and goodwill ambassadors.

Current residents have been free to leave Kalaupapa for decades, yet choose to remain. Once a prison, now a refuge, Kalaupapa is their home. As you tour the national historical park, please respect their privacy.

Your Visit to Kalaupapa

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Kalaupapa National Historical Park is administered by the National Park Service in cooperation with several Hawaii state agencies. One of the park's primary missions is to protect the lifestyle and privacy of the aging resident community. In accordance with residents' wishes and State of Hawaii Department of Health regulations, Kalaupapa is a closed community.

There are no visitor restrictions for the Kalaupapa overlook on "topside" Moloka'i. However, there is limited public access to the peninsula proper. Entry by the general public requires a reservation with the locally owned and operated Damien Tours. Your reservation includes the mandatory Department of Health access permit required of all outside visitors and guests of residents. Reservations can also be made by contacting Moloka'i Mule Ride, Inc. www.muleride.com). Space on the 3-4 hour tour is limited, and days of operation may vary. The maximum number of visitors allowed is 100 per day.

With a confirmed reservation, you can also hike down the Kalaupapa Trail and join the tour at the bottom. The trail is accessed off Hawaii 470 near Pālā'au State Park and the Kalaupapa overlook. The three-mile trail down the cliff face has a 1,600-foot elevation change with 26 switchbacks. Hiking is not recommended unless you are in very good physical condition, carry plenty of water, and have appropriate sun protection and footwear.

There are no medical services available to the public at Kalaupapa, nor is there vehicle access to the peninsula. No overnight stays are allowed. Camping in Kalawao County is strictly prohibited. Additional information on visitor access, including access by plane, may be found at www.nps.gov/kala.

Things to See
Escorted tours are by bus, often over rough roads. The tour includes the Kalaupapa Settlement's points of interest; The Bishop Home for Girls, the old hospital ruins, the boat landing and Visitors' Quarters, St. Francis Church, and the bookstore. On the east side of the peninsula you can see the original Kalawao Settlement area, St. Philomena Church, Siloama Church, the site of the old Baldwin Home for Boys, and the remains of the U.S. Leprosy Investigation Station. There are spectacular views of the coastline and valleys.

Source: NPS Brochure (2009)


Kalaupapa National Historical Park — Dec. 22, 1980

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Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards expand section


A Proposal for the Establishment of the Kalaupapa National Historical Preserve, Island of Moloka'i, State of Hawai'i (April 1980)

A Strategic Plan for Transition at Kalaupapa Settlement (Carolyn K. Imamura, October 1990)

Architectural Evaluation, Kalaupapa Leprosy Settlement, Molokai, Hawaii (Laura E. Soullière and Henry G. Law, July 1979)

Assessment of Natural Resources and Watershed Conditions for Kalaupapa National Historical Park NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/WRD/NRR-2010/261 (Fung Associates Inc. and SWCA Environmental Consultants, October 2010)

Kalaupapa Building Inventory, Kalaupapa, Hawaii: Volume I (Laura E. Soullière and Henry G. Law, March 1977)

Kalaupapa Building Inventory, Kalaupapa, Hawaii: Volume II (Laura E. Soullière and Henry G. Law, March 1977)

Kalaupapa Building Inventory, Kalaupapa, Hawaii: Volume III (Laura E. Soullière and Henry G. Law, March 1977)

Coral Bleaching, Mortality and Benthic Community Assemblages on the Reefs within the Pacific Island Network National Parks NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/PACN/NRR-2021/2322 (Amanda L. McCutcheon and Sheila A. McKenna, November 2021)

Coral Reefs in the U.S. National Parks: A Snapshot of Status and Trends in Eight Parks NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/NRR-2009/091 (Nash C. V. Doan, K. Kageyama, A. Atkinson, A. Davis, J. Miller, J. Patterson, M. Patterson, B. Ruttenberg, R. Waara, L. Basch, S. Beavers, E. Brown, P. Brown, M. Capone, P. Craig, T. Jones and G. Kudray, April 2009)

Cultural Landscape Report: Kalaupapa and Kalawao Settlements, Kalaupapa National Historical Park, Hawai'i — Volume 1 (Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc., June 2020)

Cultural Landscape Report: Kalaupapa and Kalawao Settlements, Kalaupapa National Historical Park, Hawai'i — Volume 2 (Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc., June 2020)

Description and Map of the Plant Communities of the Northeast Coastal Spray Zone of Kalaupapa National Historical Park Pacific Islands Cooperative National Park Resources Studies Unit Technical Report No. 71 (J. E. Canfield, November 1990)

Exile in Paradise: The Isolation of Hawaii's Leprosy Victims and the Development of Kalaupapa Settlement, 1865 to the Present, Historic Resource Study (Linda W. Greene, September 1985)

Forest Bird Inventory Kalaupapa National Historical Park Pacific Islands Cooperative National Park Resources Studies Unit Technical Report No. 154 (S. Marshall and K. Kozar, April 2008)

Foundation Document, Kalaupapa National Historical Park, Hawai'i (August 2017)

Foundation Document Overview, Kalaupapa National Historical Park, Hawai'i (January 2017)

General Management Plan, Kalaupapa National Historical Park (December 1980)

Geologic Resources Inventory Report, Kalaupapa National Historical Park NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/GRD/NRR-2010/243 (T.L. Thornberry-Ehrlich, September 2010)

Historic Structure Report: Moloka'i Light Station, Kalaupapa National Historical Park, Moloka'i, Hawai'i (William Chapman, November 2001)

Historic Structure Report: St. Philomena Catholic Church, Kalaupapa National Historical Park, Molokai, Hawaii (Robert L. Carper, H. Thomas McGrath, Paul C. Cloyd, Linda W. Greene, Catherine H. Blee and Gary F. Somers, January 1985)

Inventory of Marine Vertebrate Species and Fish-habitat Utilization Patterns in Coastal Waters Off Four National Parks in Hawai'i Pacific Islands Cooperative National Park Resources Studies Unit Technical Report No. 168 (Jim Beets, Eric Brown and Alan Friedlander, February 2010)

Kalaupapa 2002-2005: A Summary Report of the Kalaupapa Ethnographic Project (Charles Langlas, Ka'ohulani McGuire and Sonia Juvik, 2008)

Kalaupapa, More than a Leprosy Settlement: Archeology in Kalaupapa National Monument Western Archeological and Conservation Center Publications in Anthropology No. 30 (Gary F. Somers, 1985)

Ka'uhako Crater Botanical Resource and Threat Monitoring, Kalaupapa National Historical Park, Island of Molokai, Hawaii Pacific Islands Cooperative National Park Resources Studies Unit Technical Report No. 110 (A. C. Medeiros, C. G. Chimera and L. L. Loope, December 1996)

Museum Management Plan, Kalaupapa National Historical Park (Jonathan Bayless, Susan Buchel, Kent Bush, Carola DeRooy and Brigid Sullivan, July 2006)

National Register of Historic Places Nomination Forms

Kalaupapa Leprosy Settlement (Russell A. Apple and Edmund J. Ladd, September 5, 1975)

U.S. Coast Guard Molokai Light (J.D. Lindgren and Thelma L. Yuen, January 12, 1977)

Newsletter (Environmental News for Kalaupapa): Issue 1, Oct. 28, 2009Issue 2, Dec. 3, 2009Issue 3, Feb. 1, 2010Issue 4, Mar. 10, 2010Issue 5, Apr. 7, 2010

Newsletter: Rehabilitate and Upgrade the Existing Electrical System Environmental Assessment December 2020)

Predicting Impacts of Sea Level Rise for Cultural and Natural Resources in Five National Park Units on the Island of Hawai'i Pacific Islands Cooperative National Park Resources Studies Unit Technical Report No. 188 (Lisa Marrack and Patrick O'Grady, June 2014)

Shoreline Bird Inventories in Three National Parks in Hawaii: Kalaupapa National Historical Park, Haleakala National Park and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Pacific Islands Cooperative National Park Resources Studies Unit Technical Report No. 149 (K. Kozar, R. Swift, and S. Marshall, September 2007)

Small, Non-native Mammal Inventory in Kalaupapa National Historical Park Pacific Islands Cooperative National Park Resources Studies Unit Technical Report No. 158 (S. Marshall, G.D. Hughes and K. Kozar, June 2008)

State of the Park Report, Kalaupapa National Historical Park, Hawaii State of the Park Series No. 21 (2015)

The Lands of Hina: An Archaeological Overview and Assessment of Kalaupapa National Historical Park, Moloka'i Pacific Islands Cooperative National Park Resources Studies Unit Technical Report No. 135 (M.D. McCoy, 2005)

Vascular Plant Inventory, Voucher Collections, and Electronic Herbarium, Kalaupapa National Historical Park Pacific Islands Cooperative National Park Resources Studies Unit Technical Report No. 159 (M.L. Wysong and G.D. Hughes, August 2008)


Mule Ride to Kalaupapa Leper Colony, Molokai

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Last Updated: 11-Nov-2023