Saturday, September 3, 2011


Sunset Of Kalaupapa by Sammy Kuahine

The Sunset of Kalaupapa
Smiles through the evening rain;
The tradewinds of Kalaupapa
Sing like an old refrain
There's music of romancing,
Moonlight and stars above;
Your magic charms, your dancing
Fill every night with love...

This snippet of lovely song is printed in Alan Brennert's 2003 novel, MOLOKA'I, a heartfelt and beautiful book, and although a traditional historical and sentimental fiction, far superior to most American novels of the past decade.

It is clearly well-researched, and uses as partial source material, an anthology of interviews with patients, THE SEPARATING SICKNESS (1979); and a wonderful autobiography: OLIVIA - MY LIFE OF EXILE IN KALAUPAPA (1988), by Olivia Robello Breitha, which moved me to tears when first I began reading it many years ago in Kaunakakai, and whose author is the dedicatee of W.S. Merwin's great and magisterial 300 page poem THE FOLDING CLIFFS.

There is still no vaccine to prevent Hansen's Disease, although antibiotics, now provided free by the World Health Organization, arrests its development in most cases. In 2010, there were still over 250,000 new cases reported worldwide and many many more unreported due to the stigma of this oldest affliction known to man. There remain over 10 million suffering from this disease. When it was imported from China, where it was endemic since earliest civilization there, Polynesians had no immunity to it, nor to the other plagues and blights visited upon them. King Kamehameha V created the settlement at Kalaupapa, with much pressure from American business interests, to isolate the infected from the general population, the first boatload of exiles arriving in 1866. "Sunset Of Kalaupapa" Brennert writes in his "author's note" at the end of his novel, is "the only known musical composition by a Kalaupapa resident." Like Moa Tetua, the 19th century Tahitian poet who also suffered from Hansen's, and whose songs were translated by Samuel Elbert and Muriel Rukeyser (and four of which were published by Eliot Weinberger) Samson Kuahine was blind.