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  • Kalaupapa: A Collective Memory by Anwei Skinsnes Law
  • Colette J. Higgins
Kalaupapa: A Collective Memory. By Anwei Skinsnes Law. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2012. xxi + 575 pp. Illustrated. Notes. Bibliography. Indexes. $28.99 paper; $45.00 cloth

There have been many books written about Kalaupapa as a place where those with Hansen’s Disease (a.k.a. leprosy) were isolated. Previous books have typically focused on Kalaupapa’s notable mea kōkua (helpers), such as Father. Damien, Mother Marianne, and Brother Dutton, but Kalauapapa: A Collective Memory by Anwei Skinsnes Law is unique in that it tells the story of this place from the perspective of those being sent there by the government’s isolation policy. Law’s objective in writing this book is to bring back the voices of the people themselves. She is able to do this by using extensive quotes discovered after decades of archival research and after collecting over 200 hours of oral history interviews. For anyone interested in leprosy, Kalaupapa, or Hawaiian history, this is a must read.

This book is appropriately subtitled A Collective Memory. While its chronological organization and easy-to-read prose make it an ideal textbook for a college course about Kalaupapa or leprosy in Hawai‘i, it does not read like a typical textbook. It is in fact a collection of many memories over many years. More than 300 photographs and long excerpts from primary sources allows readers to immerse themselves into an experience that feels like it is part photo album and part memoir. Additionally, this book contains seventeen pages of endnotes and a comprehensive bibliography that will assist future researchers who want to dig deeper into specific events or people. For those doing genealogical research about family members who were sent to Kalaupapa, the Index of Names will serve as a useful tool. Concerning the Hawaiian language style, the author notes that diacritical marks, i.e. the ‘okina (glottal) and kahakō (macron), are “not generally used in this book” because the names and quotes are “primarily from the time period before these symbols were used” (p. xxi).

Considering that over 8,000 people were sent to Kalaupapa between 1866 and 1969, this book attempts to resurrect as many stories of individuals as possible. To connect these individual stories, Law provides some consistent themes throughout her book. She highlights their individual identities by focusing on their unique abilities. This is possible because she has had more than 300 pages of letters and documents translated from Hawaiian to English. The letters to the Board of Health and the Hawaiian language newspapers show a prolonged nonviolent resistance by the people themselves. They refused to accept the unjust isolation policy that separated them from their families, they insisted on their rights as human beings and to be treated [End Page 204] with dignity, and their writings reveal no shame or stigma associated with leprosy within the Hawaiian community.

Law provides a very clear contrast of the two cultural responses to leprosy (foreign vs. Hawaiian). The Board of Health represents the foreign view that sought to isolate those with the disease, while the Hawaiian cultural response was to care for their sick family members. The letters reveal numerous requests to the Board of Health seeking permission to serve as mea kōkua for their sick relatives sent to Kalaupapa. Law’s use of so many primary sources reveals a clear contrast in cultural responses when comparing English vs. Hawaiian sources.

This book includes chapters on Father Damien De Veuster, Mother Marianne Cope, and Joseph Dutton, but from the perspective of the residents they served. Also included are the early leaders in the Kalaupapa community (i.e. William Humphreys, Jonathan Napela, Peter Kaeo, Ambrose Hutchison, Thomas Nathaniel). Of these, Ambrose Hutchison deserves a special mention. He lived in Kalauapapa from 1879 to 1932, served in an official leadership capacity for ten years, and has largely been left out of Kalaupapa’s history, until now, thanks to Law’s extensive use of his unpublished manuscript.

A student looking for a research paper topic might want to dig deeper into one of the following: the inoculation of Keanu and whether he could...


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pp. 204-206
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