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HOME > Inspiring Novel > The Cruise of the Snark17 > CHAPTER VII THE LEPERS OF MOLOKAI
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 When the Snark sailed along the windward coast of Molokai, on her way to Honolulu, I looked at the chart, then to a low-lying peninsula backed by a tremendous cliff varying from two to four thousand feet in height, and said: “The pit of hell, the most cursed place on earth.”  I should have been shocked, if, at that moment, I could have caught a vision of myself a month later, in the most cursed place on earth and having a disgracefully good time along with eight hundred of the lepers who were likewise having a good time.  Their good time was not disgraceful; but mine was, for in the midst of so much it was not meet for me to have a good time.  That is the way I felt about it, and my only excuse is that I couldn’t help having a good time.  
For instance, in the afternoon of the Fourth of July all the lepers gathered at the race-track for the sports.  I had wandered away from the and the physicians in order to get a snapshot of the finish of one of the races.  It was an interesting race, and ran high.  Three horses were entered, one ridden by a Chinese, one by an Hawaiian, and one by a boy.  All three riders were lepers; so were the judges and the crowd.  The race was twice around the track.  The Chinese and the Hawaiian got away together and rode neck and neck, the Portuguese boy along two hundred feet behind.  Around they went in the same positions.  around on the second and final lap the Chinese pulled away and got one length ahead of the Hawaiian.  At the same time the Portuguese boy was beginning to crawl up.  But it looked hopeless.  The crowd went wild.  All the lepers were lovers of horseflesh.  The Portuguese boy crawled nearer and nearer.  I went wild, too.  They were on the home stretch.  The Portuguese boy passed the Hawaiian.  There was a thunder of , a rush of the three horses bunched together, the jockeys their whips, and every last bursting his throat, or hers, with shouts and yells.  Nearer, nearer, inch by inch, the Portuguese boy crept up, and passed, yes, passed, winning by a head from the Chinese.  I came to myself in a group of lepers.  They were yelling, tossing their hats, and dancing around like fiends.  So was I.  When I came to I was waving my hat and murmuring ecstatically: “By golly, the boy wins!  The boy wins!”
I tried to check myself.  I assured myself that I was witnessing one of the horrors of Molokai, and that it was for me, under such circumstances, to be so light-hearted and light-headed.  But it was no use.  The next event was a donkey-race, and it was just starting; so was the fun.  The last donkey in was to win the race, and what complicated the affair was that no rider rode his own donkey.  They rode one another’s donkeys, the result of which was that each man strove to make the donkey he rode beat his own donkey ridden by some one else, Naturally, only men possessing very slow or extremely donkeys had entered them for the race.  One donkey had been trained to tuck in its legs and lie down whenever its rider touched its sides with his heels.  Some donkeys strove to turn around and come back; others developed a for the side of the track, where they stuck their heads over the railing and stopped; while all of them .  Halfway around the track one donkey got into an argument with its rider.  When all the rest of the donkeys had crossed the wire, that particular donkey was still arguing.  He won the race, though his rider lost it and came in on foot.  And all the while nearly a thousand lepers were laughing uproariously at the fun.  Anybody in my place would have joined with them in having a good time.
All the foregoing is by way of to the statement that the horrors of Molokai, as they have been painted in the past, do not exist.  The Settlement has been written up repeatedly by sensationalists, and usually by sensationalists who have never laid eyes on it.  Of course, leprosy is leprosy, and it is a terrible thing; but so much that is has been written about Molokai that neither the lepers, nor those who devote their lives to them, have received a fair deal.  Here is a case in point.  A newspaper writer, who, of course, had never been near the Settlement, described Superintendent McVeigh, in a grass hut and being nightly by starving lepers on their knees, for food.  This hair-raising account was copied by the press all over the United States and was the cause of many indignant and protesting editorials.  Well, I lived and slept for five days in Mr. McVeigh’s “grass hut” (which was a comfortable wooden cottage, by the way; and there isn’t a grass house in the whole Settlement), and I heard the lepers wailing for food—only the wailing was peculiarly and , and it was accompanied by the music of stringed instruments, violins, guitars, ukuleles, and banjos.  Also, the wailing was of various sorts.  The leper band , and two singing societies wailed, and lastly a quintet of excellent voices wailed.  So much for a lie that should never have been printed.  The wailing was the serenade which the glee clubs always give Mr. McVeigh when he returns from a trip to Honolulu.
Leprosy is not so as is imagined.  I went for a week’s visit to the Settlement, and I took my wife along—all of which would not have happened had we had any of contracting the disease.  Nor did we wear long, gauntleted gloves and keep apart from the lepers.  On the contrary, we freely with them, and before we left, knew scores of them by sight and name.  The precautions of simple cleanliness seem to be all that is necessary.  On returning to their own houses, after having been among and handling lepers, the non-lepers, such as the physicians and the superintendent, merely wash their faces and hands with mildly antiseptic soap and change their coats.
That a leper is unclean, however, should be insisted upon; and the of lepers, from what little is known of the disease, should be maintained.  On the other hand, the awful horror with which the leper has been regarded in the past, and the treatment he has received, have been unnecessary and cruel.  In order to some of the popular misapprehensions of leprosy, I want to tell something of the relations between the lepers and non-lepers as I observed them at Molokai.  On the morning after our arrival Charmian and I attended a shoot of the Kalaupapa Rifle Club, and caught our first glimpse of the democracy of affliction and that obtains.  The club was just beginning a prize shoot for a cup put up by Mr. McVeigh, who is also a member of the club, as also are Dr. Goodhue and Dr. Hollmann, the resident physicians (who, by the way, live in the Settlement with their wives).  All about us, in the shooting booth, were the lepers.  Lepers and non-lepers were using the same guns, and all were rubbing shoulders in the confined space.  The majority of the lepers were Hawaiians.  Sitting beside me on a bench was a Norwegian.  Directly in front of me, in the stand, was an American, a veteran of the Civil War, who had fought on the Confederate side.  He was sixty-five years of age, but that did not prevent him from running up a good score.  Hawaiian policemen, lepers, khaki-clad, were also shooting, as were Portuguese, Chinese, and kokuas—the latter are native helpers in the Settlement who are non-lepers.  And on the afternoon that Charmian and I climbed the two-thousand-foot pali and looked our last upon the Settlement, the superintendent, the doctors, and the mixture of nationalities and of diseased and non-diseased were all engaged in an exciting baseball game.
Not so was the leper and his greatly misunderstood and feared disease treated during the middle ages in Europe.  At that time the leper was considered legally and politically dead.  He was placed in a funeral procession and led to the church, where the burial service was read over him by the officiating clergyman.  Then a spadeful of earth was dropped upon his chest and he was dead-living dead.  While this rigorous treatment was largely unnecessary, nevertheless, one thing was learned by it.  Leprosy was unknown in Europe until it was introduced by the returning Crusaders, whereupon it spread slowly until it had seized upon large numbers of the people.  Obviously, it was a disease that could be contracted by contact.  It was a , and it was equally obvious that it could be by segregation.  Terrible and as was the treatment of the leper in those days, the great lesson of segregation was learned.  By its means leprosy was stamped out.
And by the same means leprosy is even now decreasing in the Hawaiian Islands.  But the segregation of the lepers on Molokai is not the horrible nightmare that has been so often exploited by yellow writers.  In the first place, the leper is not torn ruthlessly from his family.  When a suspect is discovered, he is invited by the Board of Health to come to the Kalihi receiving station at Honolulu.  His fare and all expenses are paid for him.  He is first passed upon by examination by the bacteriologist of the Board of Health.  If the bacillus lepræ is found, the patient is examined by the Board of Examining Physicians, five in number.  If found by them to be a leper, he is so declared, which finding is later officially confirmed by the Board of Health, and the leper is ordered straight to Molokai.  Furthermore, during the thorough trial that is given his case, the patient has the right to be represented by a physician whom he can select and employ for himself.  Nor, after having been declared a leper, is the patient immediately rushed off to Molokai.  He is given ample time, weeks, and even months, sometimes, during which he stays at Kalihi and winds up or arranges all his business affairs.  At Molokai, in turn, he may be visited by his relatives, business agents, etc., though they are not permitted to eat and sleep in his house.  Visitors’ houses, kept “clean,” are maintained for this purpose.
I saw an illustration of the thorough trial given the suspect, when I visited Kalihi with Mr. Pinkham, president of the Board of Health.  The suspect was an Hawaiian, seventy years of age, who for thirty-four years had worked in Honolulu as a pressman in a printing office.  The bacteriologist had that he was a leper, the Examining Board had been unable to make up its mind, and that day all had come out to Kalihi to make another examination.
When at Molokai, the declared leper has the privilege of re-examination, and patients are continually coming back to Honolulu for that purpose.  The steamer that took me to Molokai had on board two returning lepers, both young women, one of whom had come to Honolulu to settle up some property she owned, and the other had come to Honolulu to see her sick mother.  Both had remained at Kalihi for a month.

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