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The Colony: The Harrowing True Story of the Exiles of Molokaiby John Tayman
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In the bestselling tradition of In the Heart of the Sea, The Colony, “an impressively researched” (Rocky Mountain News) account of the history of America’s only leper colony located on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, is “an utterly engrossing look at a heartbreaking chapter” (Booklist) in American history and a moving tale of the extraordinary people who endured it.
Beginning in 1866 and continuing for over a century, more than eight thousand people suspected of having leprosy were forcibly exiled to the Hawaiian island of Molokai -- the longest and deadliest instance of medical segregation in American history. Torn from their homes and families, these men, women, and children were loaded into shipboard cattle stalls and abandoned in a lawless place where brutality held sway. Many did not have leprosy, and many who did were not contagious, yet all were ensnared in a shared nightmare.
Here, for the first time, John Tayman reveals the complete history of the Molokai settlement and its unforgettable inhabitants. It's an epic of ruthless manhunts, thrilling escapes, bizarre medical experiments, and tragic, irreversible error. Carefully researched and masterfully told, The Colony is a searing tale of individual bravery and extraordinary survival, and stands as a testament to the power of faith, compassion, and the human spirit.
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The ColonyThe Harrowing True Story of the Exiles of Molokai
By John Tayman
ScribnerCopyright © 2006 John Tayman
All right reserved.
PrefaceAt 8 A.M. on Friday, September 26, 1947, a thirty-nine-year-old Honolulu physician named Edwin Chung-Hoon began to examine his second patient of the day. Chung-Hoon was a graduate of the Washington University School of Medicine, and his specialty was dermatology. He was currently on active duty with the U.S. Army Medical Corps and had been since the first days following the attack on Pearl Harbor, almost six years earlier. Much of the doctor's time, however, was spent on behalf of the Territory of Hawaii's board of health.
His patient that morning was a sweet-natured twelve-year-old boy. Chung-Hoon noted a slight inflammation of the child's right cheek, and minor thickening of the flesh at several sites on his face and body. Laying his hand on the boy's cool cheek, Chung-Hoon traced his fingertips upward from the jaw, gently searching for the area where the highway of facial nerves flowed together and then branched away. After a moment the doctor took hold of the child's right ear, then his left, and with the corner of a fresh razor blade cut a small incision a few millimeters in length at their base. The boy was silent during the first slice; when the doctor nicked the second lobe, his patient let out a wounded gasp. Chung-Hoon then made a bacteriological examination of the material he had excised. The process took about an hour. He entered the waiting room and told the boy's father the results: leprosy. One week later, the twelve-year-old was exiled.
For 103 years, beginning in 1866, the Hawaiian and then American governments forcibly removed more than eight thousand people to a remote and inaccessible peninsula on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, and into one of the largest leprosy colonies in the world. The governments did so in the earnest belief that leprosy was rampantly contagious, that isolation was the only effective means of controlling the disease, and that every person it banished actually suffered from leprosy and was thus a hopeless case. On all three counts, they were wrong.
With the establishment of the colony on Molokai, officials initiated what would prove to be the longest and deadliest instance of medical segregation in American history, and perhaps the most misguided. In 1865, acting on the counsel of his American and European advisers, Lot Kamehameha, the Hawaiian king, signed into law "An Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy," which criminalized the disease. In the first year, 142 men, women, and children were captured. The law in various forms remained in effect through the annexation of Hawaii by America in 1898, the adoption of Hawaii as the fiftieth American state in 1959, and until mid-1969, when it was finally repealed. Under the law, persons suspected of having the disease were chased down, arrested, subjected to a cursory exam, and exiled. Armed guards forced them into the cattle stalls of interisland ships and sailed them fifty-eight nautical miles east of Honolulu, to the brutal northern coast of Molokai. There they were dumped on an inhospitable shelf of land of the approximate size and shape of lower Manhattan, which jutted into the Pacific from the base of the tallest sea cliffs in the world. It was, as Robert Louis Stevenson would write, "a prison fortified by nature." Three sides of the peninsula were ringed by jagged lava rock, making landings impossible, and the fourth rose as a two-thousand-foot wall so sheer that wild goats tumbled from its face. In the early days of the colony, the government provided virtually no medical care, a bare subsistence of food, and only crude shelter. The patients were judged to be civilly dead, their spouses granted summary divorces, and their wills executed as if they were already in the grave. Soon thousands were in exile, and life within this lawless penitentiary came to resemble that aboard a crowded raft in the aftermath of a shipwreck, with epic battles erupting over food, water, blankets, and women. As news of the abject misery spread, others with the disease hid in terror from the government's bounty hunters, or violently resisted exile, murdering doctors, sheriffs, and soldiers who conspired to send them away. Some already banished tried to escape, only to fall from the cliff or get swept out to sea. "The pit of hell," Jack London wrote, as he undertook a tour of the colony, "the most cursed place on earth." The mortality rate for patients in the first five years of exile was a staggering 46 percent.
Leprosy is not a fatal disease. Neither is it highly infectious. It is a chronic illness caused by a bacterium, and communicable only to persons with a genetic susceptibility, less than 5 percent of the population. Transmission takes place much as it does with tuberculosis, through airborne particles expelled by someone with leprosy in an active state. Among untreated patients, only a minority have the disease in its active state; the majority are not contagious. For cases that are active, a multidrug therapy has been developed that quickly renders their leprosy noncommunicable, after which they pose no risk of infection and are, in essence, cured. Every city in America has such cases; in the New York metropolitan area, for instance, more than a thousand people have or have had the disease. There are currently eleven federally funded outpatient clinics in the United States treating approximately seven thousand patients, although health officials believe many sufferers go untreated because of the powerful stigma attached to the disease. Though modern medicine has stripped the illness of its horrors, on a social level leprosy remains among the most feared of all diseases, since untreated leprosy can result in deformity, its precise mode of transmission was until recently unknown, and a cure remained undiscovered for thousands of years. The greatest factor in the stigmatization, however, was the historical intertwining of leprosy with religious notions of divine punishment, which gave rise to the corrosive idea that victims of the disease were sinful, shameful, and unclean. The preferred method of dealing with such people was obvious: banishment.
At its height in 1890, the population in the Molokai colony reached 1,174, and it was arguably the most famous small community in the world. The colony commanded intense scrutiny in the American press, and became the subject of presidential inquiries, heated congressional debate, and irrational public fear. Segregation laws gave the local government the right to arrest and imprison any person suspected of having the disease, regardless of nationality, and the rolls soon included not only Hawaiians and Americans, but also individuals from Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Portugal, and China. Correspondents came from all over the globe, seeking scenes of thrilling grotesquerie. Physicians and scientists entered, some to offer help, others to indulge their own ambitions, an ethically suspect pursuit that led to one of the nineteenth century's most notorious episodes of human experimentation. Famous authors also secured a visiting pass: Stevenson spent seven days in the colony; London stayed six. "He returns and sits by his lamp and the crowding experiences besiege his memory," Robert Louis Stevenson wrote of the typical visitor, "sights of pain in a land of disease and disfigurement, bright examples of fortitude and kindness, moral beauty, physical horror, intimately knit." As the place grew infamous, celebrity sightseers flocked to it, among them Edward G. Robinson, John Wayne, and Shirley Temple, although she lasted only several hours. Other visitors stayed years, and the stories of their self-sacrifice transformed them into worldwide figures. One was a bullheaded young Belgian priest who fell victim to the disease and in so doing secured sainthood. Another was a fallen Civil War hero, seeking atonement for his dissolute past. Yet another was a modest, well-meaning nun from New York, who arrived to lend aid and quickly found herself the unwilling object of a most unlikely romantic obsession.
The most affecting stories, however, belong to the exiles themselves. Many had been mistakenly diagnosed and spent decades locked away before the error came to light. Thousands were needlessly isolated, their leprosy of a form that did not pose a danger to others. Some exiles were sent away as young children and suffered sixty and even seventy years in isolation before becoming free. Banishment continued well into the modern age. Even as man ventured into space and prepared to walk on the moon, the government kept watch over the colony of exiles, still imprisoned by ancient fears. Their struggle to maintain faith, form a loving community, and help one another stay alive is one of the most extraordinary acts of enduring heroism in American history.
Twenty-eight people remain in the community, passing quiet days in cottages at the base of the cliff. A few hundred yards from their simple homes is the spot where the first twelve exiles straggled to shore, cast away on the morning of January 6, 1866. Within three years all but two were dead. Their swift demise was expected - it was a key component of the segregation plan. But in time the exiles began to defy the policy and accomplished something profoundly stirring and remarkable. They survived.
One final note: This is a work of nonfiction. It is based on more than eight thousand pages of documents, including news accounts, medical records, congressional transcripts, government publications, personal letters, memoirs, interviews, and observations. Anything between quotation marks is taken directly from these sources, and the thoughts and feelings of characters as described in the narrative arise from the same material. No names have been changed.
Today the terms leper and even leprosy are considered objectionable. As the chronology of the book progresses, all terminology is kept appropriate to its time, and thus when the word leper appears I have used it in historical context, or as part of a direct quote. An alternative modern term for the condition is Hansen's disease, named after the Norwegian bacteriologist who first identified the germ that causes leprosy. The medical community is split on the adoption of the term, however, and some physicians and patients prefer the older name. For the sake of clarity, I refer to the disease as leprosy throughout the book.
Excerpted from The Colony by John Tayman Copyright © 2006 by John Tayman. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Meet the Author
John Tayman is editor at large of Men's Health. The former deputy editor of Outside magazine, he is an award-winning editor and writer, and has served as executive editor of New England Monthly, editor at large of Men's Journal, and contributing editor to Life, GQ, People, Business 2.0, and other publications. He lives in Northern California. Visit his website at www.johntayman.com.
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This book was filled full of horrors of the extremely terrifying disease called Leprosy also know as Hansen’s disease. This book tells gruesome stories about the lives of those affected by the monstrous affliction. The stories told will be a permanent scar on the minds of the people who know those people’s sadness. This is the true toll of human ignorance and we all must know of the ghastly tales of the thousands of lives that went through hell-like conditions in the means of survival. Though all has been done to those pitiful souls, forgiveness is still possible to me in the wake of new society. The main point in this book is that the devastation caused by the misunderstanding of the disease is caused by the intolerance and impatience of the early peoples in other countries and our own country. The story of the first exiles is heartbreaking and the fact that their exodus was so poorly planned the castaways had to merely walk up a cliff to a new “home” which was just a grass hut with little supplies. One more horror of the mass exit of the scared people is that they all knew that they were going to die in the colony and with barely enough supplies to live off of it seemed to them that the government was actually trying to kill them. If this was me, I could not even stand to bear the thought and burdens of leaving my family and friends for a new life that would not be even one hundredth of the life I was used to have. This book was overall a sad book and was deeply depressing but once I realized the determination of the ones trapped it made me feel better. I gave this book five stars because it means something to the people whose lives were lost in the generations of conflict between the infected and the ones who fought in fear of a epidemic. My conclusion is that the heart-felt stories of those whose lives were drastically ripped and torn apart by the illness are and can be a universal message of how past mistakes can be forgiven through ways of understanding the mistakes and failures of generations before. My final review is that this book deserves five stars from everyone for the valiant people who chose to rise against and fight for the right way to cure the disease. In conclusion the way of our ancestors must be heeded for the mistakes of the past may be forgotten.
Based on true history, and real events, Brennert skillfully weaves a tale of poignancy and heartbreak through the main character of spirited Rachel who contracts leprosy and is sent to the quarantined island of Moloka'i. Most people are sent to Moloka'i to die, but it is here that Rachel lives. She thrives in spite of the pain and suffering that she is dealt. It is in Moloka'i that her life gains true meaning. A beautiful and engrossing story.
my aunt sister mary teresa was a nurse and teacher at the colony for 35 years. i met her twice when i was very young. all she ever told me was how wonderful the people were that lived there. i had no idea of the cicumstanses that was the background for the colony. i have even a better understanding of my aunt and the people that lived there. thank you john. everyone should read this book.
The Colony by John Tayman 'rings true' to many who do not know the Hansen's disease survivors mentioned. Much of the disrespect and damage that this book does is to the living who have had their wishes ignored and lives misrepresented. It is sad to read the innuendo created to portray Mother Marianne, Mr. Gibson, the Hawaiian monarchy and other historical figures in such a fictitous manner.
This book takes pieces of history and intertwines them with fictional narrative by the author. The author has used his own words to perpetuate stigma and disrespect for the people of Hawaii, in particular those who survived Hansen's disease. Purchasing this book adds insult to injury for many.
This is a well-written, captivating story of a very tragic chapter in Hawaiian, US and medical history. I can't agree that it is insulting to the people of Hawaii, who were, for the most part, the victims of this disease and the ignorance that surrounded it at the time. It was poor public health policy at the hands of Euro-settlers that made these people's lives so unnecessarily miserable. I also disagree that the people of the colony were treated (in the book) with anything but respect. It's hard to believe the first reviewer read the same book. It's an important story that must be told. It is fortunate an author with the story-telling ability of Tayman took on this tragic subject.
First of all, the cover of the book is not even a photo of the cliffs at Kalaupapa, it is a photo of the Amalfi Coast in Italy. Tayman alleges that the Hawaiian monarchy didn't care about its people at Kalaupapa and ignores documented visits by the kings and queens who visited Kalaupapa and regularly sent the people gifts. Tayman shows a lack of respect for the patients, both past and present. I am saddened that this book will be taken as gospel by many.