The Moloka‘i Tūtū and Me Team including our Site Manager Mele Hooper, ‘anakala ‘Iokepa, and Alison had the most amazing opportunity to do a Kumu Aʻo and community service project in Kalaupapa. The day started with light rain and the team hiking down the 3.5 mile trail as the sun began to rise. We were greeted with aloha by our coordinator and National Park Service Interpretive Ranger, Mikiala Pescaia. Not long after, Mele, ‘anakala, and Alison landed in Kalaupapa. By now, we have only seen the beauty of Kalaupapa’s pristine waters, majestic mountains, and “old Hawai‘i” community so we were ready for our kumu aʻo day.
We begin with a drive towards Kalawao, the original settlement for leprosy patients. As we drove along, Mikiala began sharing mo‘olelo. We learn of the ahupua‘a that once flourished and provided the people with ʻuala, the original churches that served the community, the grave site of Father Damien and other notable people who played a huge role at Kalaupapa. As we listen to mo‘olelo after mo‘olelo, we hear of the many that were laid to rest in the grave sites scattered throughout the ahupua‘a of Kalawao and the knowledge our kūpuna needed to navigate by land, air, and water to travel from one valley into Kalaupapa then to the upper areas of Moloka‘i. As we listen, we are in awe of our kūpuna who once lived there and the patients who were cast into isolation.
We headed back into the ahupua‘a of Kalaupapa, the current residential area for the patients and Kalaupapa employees. Mikiala points out some of the homes that the nine remaining patients reside in. There’s a fire station, a gas station with one pump, several churches, a warehouse with a year’s worth of food and supplies, a social hall which is home to a large and ancient film projector, and an area where the community comes together to play volleyball. Day one comes to an end as we drop some of the team off at the airport.
Day two of our visit began early as we prepared to begin our community service project to mahalo Mikiala for her time. Originally, we were to do a beach cleanup but instead made a detour to the museum to help the curator catalog new items. Upon hearing this news, we were stoked! We were each given a section to inventory and as each of us watched our sections open, all you could hear was “oh” and “ah” as we marveled at every item, many of which are handmade. Once again, Mikiala shared more mo‘olelo of the many items in the museum. We wanted more and we got more …gallons and gallons of postage stamps that needed sorting by countries, color, and type and after 3 hours of sorting, our service project concluded and came to an end. Although not all the stamps were sorted, no article or picture could ever explain the experience we all had learning of Kalauapapa’s rich and emotional history. One would have to make the trek there to feel that experience.