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  • Kalaupapa Place Names: Waikolu to Nihoa by John R. K. Clark
  • Christine Thomas
Kalaupapa Place Names: Waikolu to Nihoa. By John R. K. Clark. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2018. xix +377 pp. Bibliographic references. Index. $28.00 paper; $75.00 cloth

In his newest book, meticulous researcher John Clark explores the place names of Kalaupapa and the lives of leprosy patients exiled there from across the Hawaiian kingdom in the late 1800s. Unlike histories delivered through the lens of St. Damien or St. Marianne, Clark’s book instead elevates the residents through inclusion of more than 300 original letters printed in Hawaiian language newspapers of the time, many never before translated. “They spoke and wrote in their native language, and they brought their regional customs, skills and traditions with them, including their love of place names,” Clark writes.

Clark sets a personal tone from the start, dedicating the book to his great-great-grandmother, who was sent to Kalaupapa in 1884. The comprehensive place names section reveals that many were shaped by those who lived and died in the settlement. The translated newspaper letters—by government officials, Hawaiian royalty, visitors and patients—further lend an intimate texture. [End Page 167]

As the letters reveal patient reports on settlement food rations, visits from monarchy and even political views after the overthrow, readers gain an insider view into life in this enigmatic place. “The articles show an active community with its members trying to live their lives as normally as possible in the face of a debilitating disease,” Clark says.

They wrote to amplify their voices throughout the Islands, and as seen in the included section of kanikau (emotional poetic dirges expressing deep feeling for someone who has died) also used print to memorialize loved ones. For Clark, these are now a treasury of information and place names.

While there is a lot to digest here, the book’s deliberate structure helps readers navigate by highlighting overall themes and details and making it simple to find information of particular interest. This is a title to keep on the shelves and return for leisurely exploration or specific reference. It’s a book that exemplifies everything one expects from Clark—careful research, readable prose with thorough organization, and empathy for his subject and readers.

Christine Thomas
Reprinted from the Punahou Bulletin Winter 2018


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pp. 167-168
Launched on MUSE
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