Kalawao, encompassing the Kalaupapa Peninsula (also known as the Makanalua Peninsula,) is midway along the North Shore of Molokai.
Archaeological evidence suggests the earliest settlers in the peninsula probably lived in the Waikolu Valley in the A.D. 1100-1550 timeframe. At that time, people had been living in the windward Hālawa Valley for hundreds of years.
The Kalaupapa Peninsula, however, was probably not occupied until slightly later, perhaps around 1300-1400 A.D.
On the peninsula where it is dry and there are no permanent streams, people built field walls to protect crops like sweet potato (‘uala) from the northeast tradewinds. The remnant field walls can be seen from the air as one arrives at Kalaupapa Airport.
In wetter areas near the base of the cliffs, people built garden terraces. True pond field agriculture may have only been practiced in the Waikolu Valley or at the mouth of the Waihanau Valley.
The first peoples of Kalaupapa also collected marine resources along the shore, the reef, and offshore except when strong winter storms prevented it. People visited other parts of the island both by canoe and by trail over the cliffs.
In 1905, the Territorial Legislature passed a law that formed the basis of modern government in Hawaii, the County Act, forming local County governance.
While we easily recognize the four main Counties in Hawai‘i: Kauai, O‘ahu, Maui and Hawai‘i; we often overlook the County of Kalawao, Hawai‘i’s 5th County (encompassing the Kalaupapa Peninsula and surrounding land.)
The four main Counties are governed by elected County Councils. Kalawao is under the jurisdiction of the state’s Health Department; the director of Health serves as the Kalawao County ‘Mayor.’
State law, (HRS §326-34) states that the county of Kalawao consists of that portion of the island of Molokai known as Kalaupapa, Kalawao and Waikolu, and commonly known or designated as the Kalaupapa Settlement, and is not a portion of the County of Maui, but is constituted a county by itself.
This area was set aside very early on as a colony for sufferers of Hansen’s disease (leprosy.) The isolation law was enacted by King Kamehameha V; at its peak, about 1,200 men, women and children were in exile at Kalaupapa.
The first group of Hansen’s disease patients was sent to Kalawao on the eastern, or windward, side of the Kalaupapa peninsula on January 6, 1866.
The forced isolation of people from Hawaiʻi afflicted with Hansen’s disease to the remote Kalaupapa peninsula lasted from 1866 until 1969. This is where Saint Damien and Saint Marianne spent many years caring for the lepers.
On January 7, 1976, the “Kalaupapa Leprosy Settlement” was designated a National Historic Landmark to include 15,645 acres of land and waters.
On April 1, 2004, the NPS renewed its cooperative agreement with the State of Hawai‘i, Department of Health for an additional twenty years, entitled “Preservation of Historic Structures, Kalaupapa.” The NPS is maintaining utilities, roads and non-medical patient functions and maintenance of historic structures within the park.
Access to Kalaupapa is severely limited. There are no roads to the peninsula from “topside” Molokaʻi. Land access is via a steep trail on the pali (sea cliff) that is approximately three miles long with 26 switchbacks.
Air taxi service by commuter class aircraft provides the main access to Kalaupapa, arriving and departing two to four times a day, weather permitting.
Mail, freight, and perishable food, arrive by cargo plane on a daily basis. The barge brings cargo from Honolulu to Kalaupapa once a year, during the summer months when the sea is relatively calm.
While at DLNR, I had the opportunity to visit Kalaupapa on two occasions: once on a visit to the peninsula to review some of its historic buildings, the other as part of a planning retreat/discussion with the National Park Service.
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