Recovering Voices From the Distant Past

The Oath I Swore Before God Shall Continue

Kaluaikoolau and his wife, Piilani

Some 8,000 people, at least 90% of whom were Kanaka Maoli, native Hawaiians, were isolated on the remote Kalaupapa peninsula in Hawaii between 1866 and 1949.  Separation from family was not the Hawaiian way and family members would often keep loved ones at home or else accompany them to Kalaupapa as a kokua (helper).  The most well-known act of resistance against the isolation laws was by Kaluaikoolau, who hiked deep into the remote Kalalau Valley on the island of Kauai in 1893, with his wife, Piilani, and his son, Kaleimanu (who also had leprosy).  Piilani watched both her husband and son die and in 1896, she climbed out of Kalalau Valley and returned to her family.

In 1906, Piilani wrote her account of their love, deep faith and determination to keep their family together.  Her book, written in Hawaiian, stands in stark contrast to the more well-known depictions of Kaluaikoolau as an outlaw by the media and writers, including Jack London, who chose to sensationalize the story.  Piilani’s words have been beautifully translated from the Hawaiian by Frances N. Frazier and published by the University of Hawaii Press in 2001 under the title The True Story of Kaluaikoolau as Told by His Wife, Piilani. 

Kaluaikoolau:  “I am denied the helping hand of my wife, and the cord of my love for her is to be cut, and I am commanded to break my sacred promise before God and live alone in a strange land; the power of man has severed the blameless ones whom the power of God has joined as one . . . . The love that is implanted in my heart for my wife shall never be extinguished and the oath I swore before God shall continue until I die . . .”

Piilani:  “His eyes flashed and his breast heaved as he stepped back, standing straight and expressed his firm determination not to allow himself while alive to be taken by the wrongful law of the land, which would not allow his wife to accompany him.  The leprosy, said he, was a catastrophe in the life of a man, thus it was not wrong for a man to oppose the law . . . . At sunset on a certain day when the wings of darkness spread over the ridges and rows of cliffs of our beloved land . . . . we loaded ourselves and our belongings on horseback and in the loneliness and awesomeness of the night turned towards the trail which would descend into Kalalau, leaving behind our 'birth sands', without knowing when we would see them again or breathe the comforting air of our birthplace . . . .

“You must remember, reader friends, from our departure from home we were absorbed in prayer, asking with humbleness and hearts truly repenting, that the Three Heavenly Spirits regard us with love, sprinkle their Holy Spirit over us and spread their wings as a refuge . . .”


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