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William Kawaipu’aikawahaokahaku Malo


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Bill Malo with a relative at the Quest for Dignity Exhibit on Maui.  Mr. Malo has acted as the official interpreter for this Exhibit as it has traveled around the world. 
Photo Courtesy IDEA

I still remember. I was diagnosed the week before Christmas in December, 1939. Then I was given time with my family before being sent off. I was taken to Kalihi Hospital in Honolulu on the 8th of January 1940. About three or four days later, I was confined to the hospital for tests and examination. I came down with the mumps. On the 14th, which was my birthday, when I was finished with the mumps, I turned 17.

Around April or May, they were sending out letters that said that you can no longer be treated and we can no longer do anything more for you, so we are sending you to Kalaupapa. Because of my being AWOL three times (I learned how to run away from the Hospital from the old-timers), I received one of those letters. I went to Kalaupapa on June 28 -- I remember those dates –1940. There were 38 of us sent there at that time. There are only two of us alive today. At my diagnosis and sometime soon after, I learned that my life span was reduced to seven years. I should have been dead at age 24 or 25. But I’m still here.

In those days they had a “bounty hunter” who would go around and look for people who had leprosy. I was living with my tutu-lady (grandmother) and my tutu-man (step-grandfather). The bounty hunter came to get my tutu-man and reported him to the health department. She came to pick him up and my tutu-lady and I said goodbye to him and he walked away from the house. We watched him walk until he was down to the highway. He was taken away, never to come back.

Because of my long association with him, not realizing what was happening to me, I came down with the disease. After my grandfather left we stayed on in Laie, just my grandma and I and my Daddy and Mom would come down every weekend to visit and bring us some groceries and go to the taro patch -- because my tutu-man was gone.

About a year later my grandma got sick. I had no way of caring for her or knowing what to do. So my parents came and got the two of us and took us back to where they were living. I don’t recall how long, maybe six months or a little more than that, my tutu-lady survived, but not long after that she passed on. I went to middle school, then I went to McKinley High School. No signs showed up on myself until I was in the 11th grade, about half way through my Junior year. And you know in those days they had the ROTC program in the High Schools and ROTC was three days a week. You’d have to wear a uniform and have drills and march and all of those things. On the other two days it was physical education and we had to go to the locker room and strip down to shorts and a t-shirt. Not realizing I just stripped down to shorts, I didn’t have a t-shirt. I was in the front row and there were boys standing behind me and they were snickering and laughing and pointing. I turned around, wondering why they were laughing and I could see them pointing and whispering to each other. I asked what they were laughing at and finally one of the boys said, “All the white spots on your back.”

In those days, families of people who were diagnosed had to – whether you consent or not – you were forced to submit to a yearly physical with Dr. Chung Hoon. After that High School incident, then I think I told my mother what was happening and then, too, I noticed my fingers. Although they weren’t very swollen, they were getting swollen. My mother, knowing what happened to my tutu-man, was aware that I was going to be taken away. She kept me home and I didn’t go to school. Maybe she wanted to extend the time that she could have me at home, knowing that once I was sent to Kalaupapa, I would never return.

For the Hawaiian people, I think love was stronger than fear. The people in those days probably never realized that the spread of the disease was by contact. They would keep family members at home. The health authorities had no inkling or knowledge of how the disease was transmitted so their attitude to stop the transmission was to isolate. The Hawaiians were neighborly, loving each other and helping each other in times of need and suddenly a different kind of lifestyle was thrust on them. There really was no treatment at that time and nothing that showed that people had returned from being isolated, so people got to understand that if they let them go, gave up their relatives, they would never see them again.

-- Excerpted from an interview with William Malo conducted by Anwei Skinsnes Law in April, 2005. Copyright 2005 William Malo and Anwei Skinsnes Law

[Note: William Malo was one of the first six people to use the sulfone drugs in Hawaii, starting on September 1, 1946. He left Kalaupapa in 1965, became a cattle rancher, married a woman who did not have leprosy, and continues to live on the island of Maui, where he is now 83 years old.]