Cover of “Yours Faithfully - Ambrose Hutchison: Recollections of a Lifetime at Kalaupapa,”
The cover of “Yours Faithfully - Ambrose Hutchison: Recollections of a Lifetime at Kalaupapa,” newly published by Ka ʻOhana O Kalaupapa.

By Valerie Monson

January is “Kalaupapa Month.” Signed into law by former Gov. David Ige in 2021, it is a time to remember the people and the history of Kalaupapa. John Arruda, now 98, was sent to Kalaupapa in 1945 after being diagnosed with leprosy (Hansen’s Disease). “To me, Kalaupapa Month is a time to think about all our people who were sent here, all that we went through and who we are,” said Arruda. Like others at Kalaupapa, Arruda has been cured and is free to leave, but he chooses to live at Kalaupapa because it has become his home.

Nonprofit Ka ʻOhana O Kalaupapa (Ka ʻOhana) initially proposed the idea of establishing a month to recognize this resilient community. January was chosen because throughout Kalaupapa’s history many key events occurred during that month.

Kalaupapa Month: A Time to Remember

Perhaps the most important event happened on Jan. 6, 1866, when the first 12 people affected by leprosy arrived at Kalaupapa. Their names are: Kahauliko, J.N. Loe, Liilii, Puha, Kini, Lono, Waipio, Kainaina, Kaaumoana, Nahuina, Lakapu and Kepihe.

They were the first of nearly 8,000 men, women and children who would eventually be taken from their families and forcibly relocated to Kalaupapa by the government. Most of them remained there for the rest of their lives and never saw their loved ones again.

For Ka ʻOhana President Charmaine Woodward, Kalaupapa Month is a time to remember her great-grandparents, David Kamahana and Alana Ah Lo Kamahana, both of whom are buried at Kalaupapa. Despite being taken from their families and later forced to give up their children to be raised by relatives elsewhere in Hawaiʻi, they began a small business from a pushcart that blossomed into the Kamahana Store.

Photo: Charmaine Woodward with her ʻohana
Charmaine Woodward, her father Aaron Wong, and son, Nainoa, in the Senate Chambers of the Hawaiʻi State Legislature. Wong’s mother, Maihui Kamahana, was one of the children born to David and Alana Kamahana at Kalaupapa (pictured in the photo held by Nainoa Woodward).

“How can you not be proud that we come from these very strong people, so full of aloha?” Woodward remarked.

The first commemoration of Kalaupapa Month in 2022 garnered lots of media attention. However, due to the COVID-19 Omicron surge, there were no large gatherings.

Last year, on Jan. 6, (known as “Remembrance Day”) the Kalaupapa community gathered quietly at the harbor where prayers were offered and flowers tossed into the sea in honor of the 12 people who first arrived. Their names were spoken aloud and written on leaves that were also cast into the ocean.

This year, there are fewer restrictions so Ka ʻOhana has partnered with other organizations to provide exhibits about Kalaupapa that can be viewed at select locations on Molokaʻi, Maui and Oʻahu.

Additionally, a webinar will be hosted by Ka ʻOhana O Kalaupapa on Jan. 14, at 10:00 a.m., and essays about Kalaupapa’s many significant January dates will be distributed via e-bulletins (for details see sidebar).

Ka ʻOhana hopes that teachers and church leaders will remember the people of Kalaupapa in their classrooms and services. Their website includes a list of recommended books, downloadable educational materials, a five-minute video that summarizes Kalaupapa’s history, and a 90-minute virtual concert that pays tribute to the little-known musicians of Kalaupapa.

Ka ʻOhana is also unveiling a new book, Yours Faithfully – Ambrose Hutchison: Recollections of a Lifetime at Kalaupapa. It is based on the memoirs of Ambrose Hutchison who was sent to Kalaupapa in 1879, served as resident superintendent of the settlement for 10 years, and lived there until 1932. This limited-edition book includes research by Ka ʻOhana historian Anwei Law. Contact Ka ʻOhana at info.kalaupapa@gmail.com if you are interested in purchasing a copy.

Ka ʻOhana hopes that this is just the beginning of learning and sharing about Kalaupapa. There is a wealth of information about Kalaupapa’s history and people preserved through letters, newspaper articles and in-person interviews.

“Kalaupapa Month is a time of remembrance, of reflection, of celebration,” said Woodward.

“We want our kids to remember who their ancestors were; their strength runs in our blood. We mahalo them for their sacrifices, their perseverance, their perspectives, and their love that, even generations afterward, thrives as a result. We are of those who came before us, and the hope is that who we are today honors the sacrifices they made for us.”

If you are interested in seeing one of the Kalaupapa exhibits, information (dates, hours, entry fees) is available on the individual venue websites:

To register for the Kalaupapa Month webinar on Jan. 14 or to sign up to receive historical essays go to: info.kalaupapa@gmail.com

Events to commemorate Kalaupapa Month are still being scheduled. For details and updates visit: www.kalaupapaohana.org