Lepers Get Long-Awaited Apology

Father Damien's church in Kalaupapa, Molokai, Hawaii on August 12, 2008. The state of Hawaii passed a resolution apologizing to the residents of Kalaupapa, who are victims of Hansens Disease, on how unfairly they have been treated.
AP PHOTO
The state delivered a long-awaited apology to former leprosy patients forcibly confined to a remote peninsula on the Hawaiian island of Molokai.

"We're sorry. We're sorry for the treatment. We're sorry for the suffering that you've been through," state Sen. J. Kalani English told about a dozen former patients gathered Tuesday at a meeting hall. "The entire state is with me today as I say this."

English then read aloud a resolution the Senate and House passed in April apologizing to the former patients.

It said many patients were torn apart from their families when they were sent to Kalaupapa Peninsula. It acknowledged the sacrifices the patients made, noting they thought of the public more than themselves, and gave up freedoms and opportunities the rest of society takes for granted.

The Hawaiian Kingdom, and then later the republic, territory and state of Hawaii, together banished 8,000 people with leprosy, also known as Hansen's disease, to Kalaupapa for over a century after 1866 in an attempt to control the illness. Drugs to cure the disease were first administered in the 1940s.

Patients were no longer required to remain at Kalaupapa after 1969 but many have chosen to live out the rest of their lives there because it had become their home.

Former patient Gloria Marks told English the apology was way overdue but she appreciated it.

"We're very grateful for you to come here and give us this message," Marks told English.

But she was sad that Paul Harada, her brother-in-law and former patient who pushed hard for an apology resolution, was not alive to witness the event. Harada died Jan. 4.

After English spoke, Makia Malo visited the grave of his younger brother, Earl D.K. Malo, who died at Kalaupapa in 1968 when he was 35 years old.

Malo, who is blind, held his cane on top of his brother's gravestone while a health aide read the resolution. Malo, 73, said he thought everyone buried at Kalaupapa heard the statement.

"I know they're watching and nodding. All of these people. They're all agreeing. They're just saying 'at last,"' Malo said.

Edwin "Pancake" Lelepali, 80, said he believed the apology should be made to the earliest residents of Kalaupapa more than anyone because they had to scrounge for shelter and food and were given little medical care.

But by the time Lelepali arrived in 1941 at the age of 14, he said patients received food rations, allowances and health care. Then in 1969, patients were given the opportunity to leave if they wanted.

"Those people up there, they had nothing," Lelepali said. "They really suffered."