The U.S. House on Tuesday passed legislation authorizing the establishment of a memorial in honor of leprosy patients forcibly relocated to Kalaupapa in the 1800s and 1900s.
U.S. Rep. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), the bill's sponsor, told lawmakers from the House floor that the memorial should list the names of those exiled to the remote Molokai peninsula.
She noted that many who died at Kalaupapa were buried in unmarked graves, making it difficult for their families to honor them.
"The Kalaupapa memorial will bring these people back to their rightful places in their family genealogy and history," Hirono said. "Many families have gone to Kalaupapa to search for the graves of their ancestors, but with only 1,300 marked graves, most are disappointed."
Hirono delivered her remarks standing in front of an enlarged copy of a Kingdom of Hawaii registry listing the names of those sent to Kalaupapa. She read aloud the names of the first 12, all of whom were Native Hawaiians. The date of their admission to the colony is marked as Jan. 6, 1866. Now also known as Hansen's disease, for centuries the affliction carried a stigma for anyone who contracted it.
U.S. Rep. Bob Bishop (R-Utah) spoke in support of the bill, as did Eni Faleomavaega, the congressional delegate from American Samoa.
Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) has introduced a companion bill in the Senate. But the Senate is likely to take up the House version now that it has passed, said Akaka spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke. No date has been set for Senate consideration.
Akaka said he hopes the memorial will provide closure to families and let others learn about the settlement.
"The monument will allow the world to recognize and learn from the tragedy that took place on Kalaupapa, where mothers were taken from their children, husbands from their wives, and children from their parents," Akaka said in a statement.
More than 8,000 people were banished to the peninsula after the disease became epidemic in the 1850s. Forced quarantine did not end until 1969, after sulfone drugs were developed to control it.
Though patients today are free to live anywhere, about 15 have chosen to stay and still live on Kalaupapa.
President Carter signed a law establishing a National Historical Park on the land in 1980. About 80 people, including park rangers and state Department of Health workers, live at Kalaupapa today.