Kalaupapa: What the future holds for Kalawao County

Local News

KALAWAO COUNTY, Hawaii (KHON2) — The Department of Health (DOH) is the legal authority of Kalawao County on the island of Molokai, better known as Kalaupapa.

The future of the isolated community hangs in the balance with only 11 living patient residents.

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Visiting Kalaupapa’s untouched shores is like taking a trip back in time, but the remote area is at a crossroads. Clarence Kahilihiwa, better known as Uncle Boogie, passed away on Friday, March 5. He was one of just a dozen remaining residents with Hansen’s disease.

Kahilihiwa was the President of Ka Ohana o Kalaupapa and a tireless advocate for the patients of Kalaupapa.

Sen. Kalani English, who represents Molokai, said Kahilihiwa’s passing represents the end of an era.

“I’m deeply saddened by the news on the passing of Uncle Boogie Kahilihiwa,” Sen. English said. “He was a dear friend and I’m fortunate to have known him for over twenty years.”

Kahilihiwa was one of thousands afflicted with Hansen’s disease (leprosy) who were forced into isolation on the remote northern peninsula of Kalaupapa between 1866 and 1969 before a cure for the illness was discovered.

Many wonder what will happen down the road now that the remaining residents are getting older.

Kalawao County is a non-self governing county. Its mayor is DOH director Dr. Libby Char.

“Mayor Libby Char’s role as the mayor is to protect and provide for the people living in Kalaupapa,” Sen. English said. “The promise that the state made to the remaining patients was that we would take care of them till the very last patient. So we are honoring that.”

Sen. English said, the plan after that is for DOH to shift management of the area to the National Park Service (NPS).

Kalaupapa National Historical Park was established on December 22, 1980.

“That’s why there’s a huge National Park presence there,” he explained.

According to Sen. English, the NPS lease ends in 50 years.

Molokai Rep. Lynn DeCoite said, that is not set in stone, however.

“Community meetings have been held, whether or not national parks will continue to carry the lease and continue to maintain it,” Rep. DeCoite said.

The land is owned by the Department of Hawaiian Homelands (DHHL).

Rep. DeCoite said, descendants of those who owned land there prior to 1850 hope to get it back. There is also talk about homesteading but no one knows what the future holds.

“I don’t think you’ll ever see some kind of million-dollar hotels popping up,” DeCoite said. “I think you’d have a lot of fight on your hands. If you’ve ever saw protesting. I think you’ve probably seen huge protests if that was to occur. “

Will it continue as Kalawao County or become a part of Maui County?

“I think that it should remain as Kalawao County,” Sen. English explained. “We should restore the buildings. We should try and bring some life and commerce into the place that keeps it going.”

The hope is it will be protected and preserved.

“Make it a place where we go to rejuvenate ourselves,” Sen. English said. “It’s a very healing and peaceful place.”

“Remember the past, perpetuate the future,” Rep. DeCoite said. “And never forget.”

Kalaupapa remains closed to visitors at this time.

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