No Footprints in the Sand: A Memoir of Kalaupapa
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The sand beach that stretches nearly a mile beyond the Kalaupapa wharf was always laid smooth by the tide. Hansen's disease plays havoc with feet, ulcerating them, crippling them. Such feet walk poorly. And in sand they cannot walk at all. Most patients in Henry's time left no footprints in that golden sand.
When Henry Nalaielua was diagnosed with Hansen’s disease in 1936 and taken from his home and family, he began a journey of exile that led him to Kalaupapa—the remote settlement with the tragic history on the Hawaiian island of Moloka‘i. During its century as a virtual prison, more than 8,000 people were exiled to Kalaupapa, until the introduction of sulfone drugs in the 1940s. Today fewer than 20 patients remain.
This is Henry’s story—an unforgettable memoir of the boy who grew to build a full and joyous life at Kalaupapa, and still calls it home today. No Footprints in the Sandis one of only a few memoirs ever shared with the public by a Kalaupapa patient. Its intimacy and candor make it, in the words of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet W.S. Merwin, “a rare and precious human document.” Nalaielua’s story is an inspiring one; despite exile, physical challenges and the severing of family ties, he has faced life—as an artist, musician and historian—with courage, honesty, hope and humor.
filling out the cards that come with a wallet. I wrote my age as 17. Our leader told us to dress to look old—open collar, rolled up sleeves, pants with crease—but no rolled up pants. And think big, he said, like you 18 or over. Finally we really went under the wire. We were free! Away we went in the arranged car. Our driver dropped us off at a pastry shop close to Farrington the headache. She had to punish us because we were wrong, so we hated her. We knew we were wrong, but the thing was,
would have made a difference. But as it is, I’m sorry, but you’ll have to return to Hale Mohalu. The Hansen’s disease has reactivated.” “Can I have until Thursday? I’m working at Hawaiian Electric, and I’ll have to tell my personnel manager where I’m going and why.” “Sure,” he said. When I had left Kalaupapa, I had several months’ supply of pills. To refill the prescription required that I go to the Hansen’s disease clinic. Sometimes there were many other patients ahead of me. I never knew how
bad condition from the ravages of the weather that it actually had to be closed for about three years while the repairs were made. It meant that the Moloka‘i Mule Ride, which had brought visitors on guided tours to Kalaupapa since 1974, stopped in 1992. But the trail—and the mule ride—reopened in 1995, and now a number of Park Service and Department of Health employees “commute” to work from topside Moloka‘i by hiking down and up the trail each day. And the mule ride brings visitors once again.
and they jump to conclusions. It’s a problem either way. The third day we threw a lu‘au for all these guests. It wasn’t quite like the old Baldwin Home lu‘au, but close. Kalaupapa’s halau danced, including Dean Alexander. David Kupele, my friend from long ago, was our musician and singer, coming from Honolulu where he lived. Bernard Punikaia and I joined in, with bass and ‘ukulele, and of course, our voices. I remember singing “Sunset at Kalaupapa,” the words of which had been composed by a
the doctors. It wasn’t for us. But it only took me a time or two to hate the degrading, humiliating, shaming “Progress,” where I was stared at, poked and prodded, like a bug you then step on. “Progress” happened like clockwork to every one of the 75 or 100 patients. The doctors said it was to watch for enough progress that we could go home. Sometimes people went to the Observation Unit as another way toward discharge, but they could stay there ten years or more. Their chances of going home might