It’s been more than a decade since I’ve been to Molokai. I was suppossed to go back over this Christmas holiday, bring my family, meet up with friends – but the cost of living in Hawaii and a particularly painful dry period in tourism during October, November, and early December brought about the necessity of cancelling that trip so that my wife and I could work – this is life in Hawaii and sometimes we have to make hard choices to live here. I’m grateful to be able to live here and I hope that our friends have a wonderful time on ‘the Friendly Isle’ just as I did all those years ago.
I spent a week there that last time and the memories sometimes make me want to cry. The beauty of Molokai, the raw nature, the warmth of the people, and the feelings of having been in Hawaii how Hawai’i once was.
Molokai is the fifth largest in the Hawaiian chain. It is approximately 60km by 16km. It sits about 40 km from Oahu and is visible from Makapu’u Point on a clear day. Mt. Kamakou is the highest point on Molokai at about 1500 m (4960 feet) and it has a permanent population of about 7500 people. Molokai is a much more agricultural place than most of the islands and a much more Hawaiian place as well. It is said to be the birthplace of Hula.
Like all of the Hawaiian Islands, Molokai was born from ancient shield volcanos and has eroded now to a much smaller place than it was. It has a 40 km (25 mile) fringeing reef and the economy is largely dependent on fishing and farming. The main town is Kaunakakai.Of particular note on Molokai is the former Leper Colony town of Kalaupapa. It operated at a leper colony from 1866 to 1969 – more than a hundred years. Today, Hansen’s Disease (formerly called leprosy) is treatable but in those years it was deadly and misunderstood. More than 10,000 people were thrown into the remote colony with no assistance. Not allowed to have visitors and given minimum supplies. A Belgian priest based in Waikiki saw the treatment as inhumane and went there to help for sixteen years before contracting and dying of the disease himself. His name was Pater Damiaan de Veuster, in Hawaii he is known as Father Damian, to the Catholic Church he is Saint Damiaan.
Molokai Ranch, a Singapore based company tried to commercialize Molokai tourism for many years but after decades of anti-commercial activism – ceased all operations and put the ranch up for sale in 2017 for $260 million dollars. There is not much tourism on Molokai these days and there is high unemployment.