Last Days of a Leper Colony

Between the tears and memories of hundreds of funerals, Paul Harada finds some comfort in the feeling that his dead friends and neighbors are now free.

“In fact, I think these are the lucky ones – they’re not going to suffer any more,” he said.

Stricken with leprosy as a teenager, Harada was torn from his family and banished to this isolated peninsula on the island of Molokai to die. Today, Harada, 76, is one of the last 40 elderly patients of Kalaupapa, where thousands from the Hawaiian islands were quarantined from society over the last century.

Harada has had the option of leaving this place of exile for decades. Yet, he chooses to stay.

“I’m all crippled. What am I going to do outside?” said Harada, raising his nearly fingerless hands to his aged, tanned face. “How am I going to live?”

Kalaupapa was once a sprawling and lively community with a population of more than 1,000. Now graves outnumber patients nearly 200 to 1.

After being diagnosed with leprosy, now known as Hansen’s disease, Harada was forced by the Territory of Hawaii from his home on Kauai to Honolulu before being shipped to Kalaupapa on June 29, 1945, with five other young men and two middle-aged women.