Frequently Asked Questions
What causes Hansen’s disease (leprosy)?
This peninsula, surrounded on three sides by ocean and on the fourth by steep sea cliffs, was inhabited for at least 900 years by Hawaiian people. The peninsula and its valleys supported a population that was known for its sweet potatoes, fishing grounds, salt deposits, and varieties of kapa (tapa, bark cloth). Under Kamehameha IV, Liholiho, the Kingdom's Board of Health acquired three land divisions. In 1865 they began removing people who lived there. Archeological evidence of this habitation includes house sites, agriculture walls and terraces, religious heiau (temples), and burials. Kalaupapa National Historical Park contains rich and undisturbed archaeological preserves.
When did Father Damien arrive in Hawai`i?
Joseph de Veuster arrived in Honolulu on March 19, 1864. He was ordained on May 31 in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Honolulu.
When did Father Damien arrive at Kalawao?
Father Damien arrived on May 10, 1873 on board the steamer Kilauea with 50 leprosy patients and a cargo of cattle.
Hawaii State Archives
The first Calvinist meetinghouse was built in the Hawaiian fishing village of Kalaupapa in 1839. It was replaced by a second church in 1847, and by a third structure, built in 1853 which is still standing. During the first year of patients arriving at Kalawao in 1866, church members came together and formed a Congregational church they named Siloama, Church of the Healing Spring. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints also had a congregation at Kalawao. Joseph H. Napela, a Mormon elder, came to Kalaupapa sometime after 1871 as kokua (helper) for his wife, a patient. In October 1873 he was appointed president of the Kalaupapa Branch of the Maui, Moloka`i, and Lana`i Conference. He eventually contracted Hansen’s disease and died at Kalaupapa.
Which Catholic religious orders worked at Kalawao and Kalaupapa?
Mother Marianne Cope (Barbara Koob) and Sisters Leopoldina Burns and Vincentia McCormick of the Third Order of St. Francis, Sisters of Charity arrived on November 14, 1888. They managed the Charles R. Bishop Home for Unprotected Leper Girls and Women, which opened at Kalaupapa in 1888. This religious order is still represented in Kalaupapa today.
National Park archives
When did Father Damien die?
Damien’s leprosy was diagnosed in 1884; he died on April 15, 1889 from effects of the disease.
Where is he buried?
At Father Damien’s death he was buried next to his church, Saint Philomena, at Kalawao. In 1936 his body was exhumed and taken to Belgium where he was reburied in Louvain. In 1995 the relic of Damien’s right hand was returned to Kalawao and reburied in the original grave.
When was the isolation settlement moved from Kalawao to Kalaupapa?
People and facilities moved to the west side of the Kalaupapa Peninsula by the 1890s where the weather was warmer and drier. In 1895 the last of the non-patient Hawaiian residents living in the village and on the peninsula of Kalaupapa were removed.
When were the isolation policies in Hawai`i abolished?
Hawai`i’s isolation laws, dating back to 1865, were abolished in 1969. Thousands of people in Hawai`i were separated from their homes and families and sent to Kalawao and Kalaupapa during these years.
Where were the facilities for treating and researching Hansen’s disease in Hawai`i?
The Kalihi Hospital and Detention Station on O`ahu opened in 1865 for the admission of Hansen’s disease patients. Operating until 1875, it served as a hospital for people with milder cases of the disease, and as temporary detention for people with advanced cases. The latter were usually sent eventually to Kalawao and Kalaupapa on Moloka`i. The Branch Hospital at Kaka`ako on O`ahu opened in 1881 as a "receiving station" for people suspected of having the disease. This hospital closed in July 1888. In 1885 the Kapi`olani Home for Girls opened in Honolulu as a home for disease-free children whose parents were in Kalawao. The Kalihi Hospital reopened in 1889. From 1909-1913 the US Leprosy Investigation Station, the first hospital authorized by Congress for research on a specific disease, operated at Kalawao. In 1949 Hale Mohalu, in Pearl City, replaced Kalihi Hospital and emphasized rehabilitation. Hale Mohalu closed in 1978, and today people receive medical treatment at the Hale Mohalu wing of Leahi Hospital in Honolulu.
How was the Kalaupapa Peninsula formed?
The peninsula was formed much later than the rest of the island of Moloka`i. A small shield volcano named Pu`u `Uao formed a relatively flat triangle of land through continuous flows of pahoehoe lava. The volcano's Kauhako Crater contains a lake more than 800 feet deep.
Does the park provide habitat for any native species of plants and animals?
Within the park boundary are a range of habitats, including ocean waters, a coastal spray zone, off-shore islands, lava tubes and caves, a perennial stream, and rain forest on top of the sea cliffs. Nearly 20 federally-listed threatened and endangered species of plants and animals have been identified within the park. Species lists (illustrated) are available at the Nature and Science section of this website.
Are there any non-native plants and animals in the park?
Invasive, non-native plants and animals are a severe problem at Kalaupapa and throughout the state of Hawai`i. These aliens threaten the remaining native and endemic vegetation and animals. Vegetation such as Christmas berry, koa haole, and lantana predominate, and axis deer, feral goats and pigs, mongoose and rats threaten what remains of Hawai`i's natural heritage at Kalaupapa.
Where do I go for further research?
Please see the Bibliography.
How do I arrange for a visit to Kalaupapa National Historical Park?
Please visit Planning Your Visit.
Where do I write or call for more information?
Kalaupapa National Historical Park
Kalaupapa, HI 96742
Email: e-mail us
Did You Know?
The Kalaupapa peninsula and nearby valleys are extremely rich in archeological resources. Most of the sites are intact and very well preserved due to the lack of development as seen on other neighboring islands.