History in Molokai

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Molokai is an island in central Hawaii located between Maui and Oahu.  The island gained a degree of notoriety after the release of Alan Brennert's historical novel, "Molokai," about the famous leper colony of Kalapaupa.  Below are some of the other highlights of Molokai's colorful history.

The Origins

Molokai came into existence over a million years ago when the two massive volcanoes of Kamakou in the east, and Maunaloa in the west pushed through the surface of the Pacific Ocean. Shortly thereafter a smaller volcano called Kauhako emerged and created the Makanalua peninsula that sits on the north side.

It is estimated that Hawaiians first inhabited Molokai around 650 A.D. Early Polynesian pioneers came from the Marquesas, with later settlers arriving from Tahiti and other regions of the South Pacific in double hulled canoes. In the early 16th century Kiha-a-pi-ilani, son of Maui's king became Molokai's first outside ruler.  Fortunately, his reign left a legacy of peace and prosperity as well as new roads and fishponds.  

In the 18th century, after decades of turmoil, Molokai came under Oahu's control. In the late 18th century, Maui attacked Oahu and gained control of both Molokai and Oahu. By the end of the century, however, Molokai was taken over yet again. The new ruling power was King Kamehameha (kah-MEH-hah-MEH-hah) the Great, who is credited with the eventual conquering and unification all of the main islands into one Kingdom of Hawaii.

Modern Day History

Christian missionaries visited Molokai in the early 1800's, and by 1832 the island's first mission was established by Reverend Harvey Hitchcock. The church's outer walls still remain, as does the white marble headstone marking Reverend Hitchcock's grave.

In the 1840's Rudolph Meyer arrived and settled on Molokai in Kala`e (kah-LAH-eh).  Miller built a sugar mill that operated for 30 years and still stands as a popular tourist attraction today.  

In the early 1860's, leprosy arrived in Hawaii, possibly from China. In 1866, Kalaupapa, an isolated area separated from the rest of Molokai by 1600-foot (488m) sea cliffs was designated for a leper colony. Seven years later, a Belgian priest named Father Damien deVeuster arrived in Molokai and dedicated his life to serving the leprous community in Kalaupapa until he contracted the disease himself and died in 1889.

When leprosy was virtually stamped out in the 1940's, former patients were allowed to leave. Today, the peninsula is a historic site as well as home to a few former lepers who chose to stay put.

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