Years ago, before I started this blog, I was having a conversation with a friend about leprosy in the Bible and we got to talking about how you never hear about lepers anymore. So I did some digging and found that there were roughly 400,000 people living with Hansen’s Disease, the clinical term for what we call leprosy.* It shouldn’t be particularly surprising that most of these cases are found in rural India and sub-Saharan Africa. Well, it turns out that America still has its very own leper colony.
On the Hawaiian island of Molokai, there’s a small village that is populated entirely by people who had leprosy. The colony was set up on the orders of King Kamehameha V in 1866, who, after leprosy arrived on the Hawaiian islands from China, issued an edict banishing anyone diagnosed with leprosy to the Kalaupapa peninsula. Over the course of a hundred years — the law was repealed in 1969 — Kalaupapa was home to about 8,000 exiled patients who were diagnosed with leprosy. As of 2008, there were only 24 remaining residents, all of whom have since been cured.
Today, you can tour Kalaupapa National Park, which contains the village of Kalaupapa, but you are still required to obtain a permit before you visit.
Fun fact: the only other animal on the planet that can contract leprosy is the aardvark. Do not ask me why I know that.
*For the WHO fact sheet on leprosy, see here.