Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, has been widely misunderstood and stigmatized for millennia. During the 19th and 20th centuries, thousands of people believed to have leprosy were ripped away from their families and sentenced to live in isolation in Kalaupapa, a remote peninsula on the Hawaiian island of Molokai.
At the time, many wrongly believed you could catch it from a casual interaction such as a handshake, when in fact close, prolonged contact with an untreated person is needed to contract the disease. A cure was developed in the 1940s, but before then people sent to Kalaupapa had little chance of survival.
Ninety percent of the people forcibly relocated to Kalaupapa were Native Hawaiian, and the separation policy disrupted and erased thousands of family ties. Doug Carillo and Linda Mae Lawelawe are both connected to this history. They came to StoryCorps to talk about how their lives were shaped by the disease, and the policy of family separation.
Linda Mae Lawelawe, aged 10, during a visit to the Big Island in Hawaii. Photo courtesy of Linda Mae Lawelawe.
Top Photo: Doug Carillo and Linda Mae Lawelawe at their StoryCorps interview in Las Vegas, NV on Oct. 5, 2022. By Jo Corona for StoryCorps.
This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Originally aired Oct. 28, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
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