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- The Hawaiian Archipelago - 48/63 -

In 1865, the Hawaiian Legislature, recognizing the disastrous fact that leprosy is at once contagious and incurable, passed an act to prevent its spread, and eventually the Board of Health established a leper settlement on the island of Molokai for the isolation of lepers. In carrying out the painful task of weeding out and exiling the sufferers, the officials employed met with unusual difficulties; and the general foreign community was not itself aware of the importance of making an attempt to "stamp out" the disease, until the beginning of Lunalilo's reign, when the apparently rapid spread of leprosy, and sundry rumours that others than natives were affected by it, excited general alarm, and not unreasonably, for medical science, after protracted investigation, knows less of leprosy than of cholera. Nor are medical men wholly agreed as to the manner in which infection is communicated; and, as the white residents on the islands associate very freely and intimately with the natives, eating poi out of their calabashes, and sleeping in their houses and on their mats, there was just cause for uneasiness.

The natives themselves have been, and still are, perfectly reckless about the risk of contagion, and although the family instinct among them is singularly weak, the gregarious or social instinct is singularly strong, and it has been found impossible to induce them to give up smoking the pipes, wearing the clothes, and sleeping on the mats of lepers, which three things are universally regarded by medical men as undoubted sources of infection. At the beginning of 1873, it was estimated that nearly 400 lepers were scattered up and down the islands, living among their families and friends, and the healthy associated with them in complete apathy or fatalism. However bloated the face and glazed the eyes, or however swollen or decayed the limbs were, the persons so afflicted appeared neither to scare nor disgust their friends, and, therefore, Hawaii has absolutely needed the coercive segregation of these living foci of disease. When the search for lepers was made, the natives hid their friends away under mats, and in forests and caves, till the peril of separation was over, and if they sought medical advice, they rejected foreign educated aid in favour of the highly paid services of Chinese and native quacks, who professed to work a cure by means of loathsome ointments and decoctions, and abominable broths worthy of the witches' cauldron.

However, as the year passed on, lepers were "informed against," and it became the painful duty of the sheriffs of the islands, on the statement of a doctor that any individual was truly a leper, to commit him for life to Molokai. Some, whose swollen faces and glassy goggle eyes left no room for hope of escape, gave themselves up; and few, who, like Mr. Ragsdale, might have remained among their fellows almost without suspicion, surrendered themselves in a way which reflects much credit upon them. Mr. Park, the Marshal, and Mr. Wilder, of the Board of Health, went round the islands repeatedly in the Kilauea, and performed the painful duty of collecting the victims, with true sympathy and kindness. The woe of those who were taken, the dismal wailings of those who were left, and the agonised partings, when friends and relatives clung to the swollen limbs and kissed the glistering bloated faces of those who were exiled from them for ever, I shall never forget.

There were no individual distinctions made among the sufferers. Queen Emma's cousin, a man of property, and Mr. Ragsdale, the most influential lawyer among the half-whites, shared the same doom as poor Upa, the volcano guide, and stricken Chinamen and labourers from the plantations. Before the search slackened, between three and four hundred men, women, and children were gathered out from among their families, and placed on Molokai.

Between 1866 and April 1874, eleven hundred and forty-five lepers, five hundred and sixty of whom were sent from Kahili in the spring of 1872, have arrived on Molokai, of which number four hundred and forty-two have died, the majority of the deaths having occurred since the beginning of Lunalilo's reign, when the work of segregation was undertaken in earnest. At the present time the number on the island is 703, including 22 children. These unfortunates are necessarily pauperised, and the small Hawaiian kingdom finds itself much burdened by their support. The strain on the national resources is very great, and it is not surprising that officials called upon to meet such a sad emergency should be assailed in all quarters of the globe by sentimental criticism and misstatements regarding the provision made for the lepers on Molokai. Most of these are unfounded, and the members of the Board of Health deserve great credit both for their humanity and for their prompt and careful attention to the complaints made by the sufferers.

At present the two obvious blots on the system are, the insufficient house accommodation, involving a herding together which is repulsive to foreign, though not to native, ideas; and the absence of a resident physician to prescribe for the ailments from which leprosy is no exemption. Molokai, the island of exile, is Molokai aina pali, "the land of precipices," in the old native meles, and its walls of rock rise perpendicularly from the sea to a height varying from 1000 to 2500 feet, in extreme grandeur and picturesqueness, and are slashed, as on Hawaii, by gulches opening out on natural lawns on the sea level. The place chosen for the centralization and segregation of leprosy is a most singular plain of about 20,000 acres, hemmed in between the sea and a precipice 2000 feet high, passable only where a zigzag bridle track swings over its face, so narrow and difficult that it has been found impossible to get cattle down over it, so that the leper settlement below has depended for its supplies of fresh meat upon vessels. The settlement is accessible also by a very difficult landing at Kalaupapa on the windward side of Molokai.

Three miles inland from Kalaupapa is the leper village of Kalawao, which may safely be pronounced one of the most horrible spots on all the earth; a home of hideous disease and slow coming death, with which science in despair has ceased to grapple; a community of doomed beings, socially dead, "whose only business is to perish;" wifeless husbands, husbandless wives, children without parents, and parents without children; men and women who have "no more a portion for ever in anything that is done under the sun," condemned to watch the repulsive steps by which each of their doomed fellows passes down to a loathsome death, knowing that by the same they too must pass.

A small stone church near the landing, and another at Kalawao, tell of the extraordinary devotion of a Catholic priest, who, with every prospect of advancement in his Church, and with youth, culture, and refinement to hold him back from the sacrifice, is in this hideous valley, a self exiled man, for Christ's sake. It was singular to hear the burst of spontaneous admiration which his act elicited. No unworthy motives were suggested, all envious speech was hushed; it was almost forgotten by the most rigid Protestants that Father Damiens, who has literally followed the example of Christ by "laying down his life for the brethren," is a Romish priest, and an intuition, higher than all reasoning, hastened to number him with "the noble army of martyrs."

In Kalawao are placed not only the greater number of the lepers, but the hospital buildings. Most of the victims are of the poorer classes and live in brown huts; but two of rank, Mrs. Napela and the Hon. P. Y. Kaeo, Queen Emma's cousin, have neat wooden cottages on the way from the landing, with every comfort which their means can provide for them. The hospital buildings are about twelve in number, well and airily situated on a height; they are built of wood thoroughly whitewashed, and are enclosed by a fence. Although it is hoped that a leper hospital is not to be a permanent institution of the kingdom, the soft green grass of the enclosure has been liberally planted with algaroba trees, which in a year or two will form a goodly shade, and water has been brought in from a distance at considerable expense, so that an abundant supply is always at hand. The lepers are dying fast, and the number of advanced cases in the hospital averages forty. In the centre of the hospital square there are the office buildings, including the dispensary, which is well supplied with medicines, so that in the absence of a doctor, common ailments may be treated by an intelligent English leper. The superintendent's office, where the accounts and statistics of the settlement are kept, and where the leper governor holds his leper court, and the post-office, are also within the enclosure; but the true governor and law-giver is Death.

When Mr. Ragsdale left Hilo as a leper, the course he was likely to take on Molokai could not be accurately forecasted; and it was felt that the presence in the leper community of a man of his gift of eloquence and influence might either be an invaluable assistance to the government, or else a serious embarrassment. In every position he had hitherto occupied, he had acquired and retained a remarkable notoriety; and no stranger could visit the islands without hearing of poor "Bill Ragsdale's" gifts, and the grievous failings by which they were accompanied.

Hitherto the hopes of his well wishers have been fulfilled, and the government has found in him a most energetic as well as prudent agent. "It is better to be first in Britain than second in Rome;" and probably this unfortunate man, superintendent of the leper settlement, and popularly known as "Governor Ragsdale," has found a nobler scope for his ambition among his doomed brethren than in any previous position. His remarkable power of influencing his countrymen is at present used for their well being; and though his authority is practically almost absolute, owing to the isolation of the community, and its position almost outside the operation of law, he has hitherto used it with good faith and moderation. He is nominally assisted in his duties by a committee of twenty chosen from among the lepers themselves; but from his superior education and native mental ascendancy, all immediate matters in the settlement are decided by his judgment alone.

The rations of food are ample and of good quality, and notwithstanding the increase in the number of lepers, and the difficulty of communication, there has not been any authenticated case of want. Each leper receives weekly 21 lbs. of paiai, and from 5 to 6 of beef, and when these fail to be landed, 9 lbs. of rice, 1 lb. of sugar, and 4 lbs. of salmon. Soap and clothing are also supplied; but, for all beyond these necessaries, the lepers are dependent on their own industry, if they are able to exercise it, and the kindness of their friends. Coffee, tobacco, pipes, extra clothing, knives, toys, books, pictures, working implements and materials, have all been possessed by them in happier days; and though packages of such things have been sent by the charitable for distribution by Father Damiens, it is not possible for island benevolence fully to meet an emergency and needs so disproportionate to the population and resources of the kingdom. Besides the two Catholic churches, there are a Protestant chapel, with a pastor, himself a leper, who is a regularly ordained minister of the Hawaiian Board, and two school-houses, where the twenty-two children of the settlement receive instruction in Hawaiian from a leper teacher. There is a store, too, where those who are assisted by their friends can purchase small luxuries, which are sold at just such an advance on cost as is sufficient to clear the expense of freight. The taste for ornament has not died out in either sex, and women are to be seen in Kalawao, hideous and bloated beyond

The Hawaiian Archipelago - 48/63

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