It’s been called that. Here’s Why.

In the mid 1800s leprosy (today called Hansen’s Disease) was brought to Hawaii by Chinese who came to labor in the sugar cane fields. Many Hawaiians were stricken with Ma’i Pake (the Chinese sickness). Since there was then no cure for the disease, strict isolation was the only means available to keep the disease from spreading.

In 1866 the first sufferers were abandoned on Kalaupapa, a small peninsula on the north side of Molokai. Surrounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean and with sea cliffs 2000 feet high on the fourth, Kalaupapa was a prison from which escape was impossible.

Father Damien, a Belgian priest, came to Molokai in 1873 to minister to the needs of the dying. Through his ministry and labors, order was created where there had been only suffering and chaos. He succumbed to the disease in 1889.

Sulfone drugs developed in the early 1940s, put the disease in remission and the carriers were no longer contagious. Today less than 20 residents call Kalaupapa home. The peninsula is now a National Historic Site administered by the US Park Service.