Ma'i Lepera: Disease and Displacement in 19th Century Hawaii

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Ma'i Lepera attempts to recover Hawaiian voices at a significant moment in Hawaii's history. It takes an unprecedented look at the Hansen's disease outbreak (1865-1900) almost exclusively from the perspective of "patients," 90 percent of whom were Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian). Using traditional and nontraditional sources, published and unpublished, it tells the story of a disease, a society's reaction to it, and the consequences of the experience for Hawaii and its people.

Over a span of 34 years, more than 5,000 people were sent to a leprosy settlement on the remote peninsula in north Molokai traditionally known as Makanalua. Their story has seldem been told despite the hundreds of letters they wrote to families, friends, and the Board of Health, as well as to Hawaiian-language newspapers, detailing their concerns at the settlement as they struggled to retain their humanity in the face of ma'i lepera. Many remained politically active and, at times, defiant, resisting authority and challenging policies. As much as they suffered, the Kanaka Maoli of Makanalua established new bonds and cared for one another in ways that have been largely overlooked in popular histories describing leprosy in Hawaii.

Although Ma'i Lepera is primarily a social history of disease and medicine, it offers compelling evidence of how leprosy and its treatment altered Hawaiian perceptions and identities. Leprosy changed how Kanaka Maoli viewed themselves. By the end of the 19th century, the "diseased" had become a cultural "other" to the healthy Hawaiian. Moreover, it reinfored colonial ideology and furthered the use of both biomedical practices and disease as tools of colonization.

Ma'i Lepera will be of significant interest to students and scholars of Hawaii and medical history and historical and medical anthropology. Given its accessible style, this book will also appea to general readers who wish to know more about the Kanaka Maoli who contracted leprosy -- their connectedness to each other, their families, their islands, and their nation -- and how leprosy came to affect those connections and their lives.

About the author: Kerri A. Inglis is an associate professor of history at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

Soft cover. 168 pages.

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