The gathering at St. Andrew’s Cathedral earlier this year was like no other: a reunion of ‘ohana who didn’t necessarily share the same family tree, but who were brought together by their Kalaupapa ancestors.
The first Kalaupapa family reunion potluck, sponsored by Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa, was held for descendants living on Oahu whose ancestors were taken from their families and sent to Kalaupapa because of government policies regarding leprosy. Many of these kupuna went on to help shape the history of Kalaupapa. Their descendants, ranging in age from 4 to 96, came from all over the island, bearing geneaology charts, photographs, memories or questions. When they arrived at the Cathedral, they filled out name tags because they were mostly strangers.
Within minutes, they were ‘ohana.
The idea for a Kalaupapa reunion actually began more than 15 years ago when Bernard Ka‘owakaokalani Punikai‘a was talking about the need to form Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa that would unite the current residents, family members, descendants and longtime friends. Punikai‘a, who was sent to Kalaupapa as a boy in 1942 and went on to become an international activist for human rights, felt that such an ‘ohana would help the voices of Kalaupapa be heard long into the future, even after the kupuna died and became part of the land. He hoped that the ‘ohana could advocate for the current residents, reach out to family members and carry on the legacy of Kalaupapa – just as descendants and friends carry on the legacy of ancestors in other communities.
Punikai‘a hoped that a “Family Day” could be held periodically at Kalaupapa where descendants would be welcomed to visit graves or simply walk in the footsteps of their ancestors.
Ka ‘Ohana hopes to sponsor similar reunions on the other islands within the next year to continue to unify descendants and help them learn more about their roots. It is also hoped that a “Family Day,” the dream of Bernard Punikai‘a, can eventually be held at Kalaupapa.
The ancestors would be proud.