As Hansen’s Disease (also known as leprosy) spread rapidly throughout Hawaii in the nineteenth century, the Kalaupapa peninsula was selected as an “isolation settlement for confirmed cases” of leprosy and the location of “a receiving hospital where suspected cases could be treated” (20–21). These individuals were essentially exiled, and one might think that such an isolated community would be a place of loneliness, but Kalaupapa: The Mormon Experience in an Exiled Community explores how, instead, the community was built on love and inclusion and began to thrive and became a sacred space. According to author Fred E. Woods, professor of religious education at Brigham Young University, Kalaupapa “is the story of community—community unlike anywhere else in the world—not a space divided by borders and barriers or fences and enclosures, but a place which beckons every race and religion, every color and creed” (xv).
This book stands out from others written about Kalaupapa because it “emphasizes the Mormon experience” (xv). It begins by giving a brief history of Hawaii and the first Christian ministers (including Protestant, Catholic, and Latter-day Saint missionaries) to arrive there. The book then dives into stories of the inhabitants of Kalaupapa and the experiences of Church members there from the nineteenth century through the twenty-first century.
Included in the book’s 318 pages are over one hundred images, most of Church members and natives of Kalaupapa, which help bring to life the history Woods tells. Several appendixes supplement the narrative and feature the complete text of several primary documents, including the official acts that isolated those with leprosy, letters sent between Church leaders and the king of Hawaii, and records of the local branch presidency.
According to Woods, “The charity and uncommon service rendered at Kalaupapa is relevant in any age” (xvii). Anyone interested in the power of community and in global Church history will find this a compelling and satisfying read.