HIDDEN STORIES OF LOVE AND ROMANCE PART 1: A Hawaiian Love Story of Tragedy and Triumph
It was the mid-1800s on the islands of Hawaii and Jonathan Napela and Kitty were a power couple. She was a beautiful woman that commanded eyes and ears and he was a judge with royal lineage and connections to Hawaii’s monarchy.
At the beginning of 1865, in the naturally luscious Hawaiian islands, the monarchy of the time began to express deep concerns over the spread of “Hansen’s disease” or what we more commonly refer to as “leprosy”.
King Kamehameha V signed a document that would send all the island’s sufferers of leprosy to an isolated colony on the Makanalua Peninsula (which came to be known as Kalaupapa), on the shores of the island Molokai. This was of course done with the intention of preventing the spread of this malicious disease.
The colony had only been in operation for a few years when Kitty contracted the horrific malady. She was to be sent to Kalaupapa to suffer with other leprosy victims.
As idyllic as island life might sound, the truth was that the conditions in the leper colony were extremely challenging and even inhumane. While in the early days some food and limited supplies were given to the inhabitants that care dwindled as the lepers were left to largely fend for themselves. With the weakening effects of leprosy making digging, sowing and harvesting crops an extreme challenge and the lack of supplies for fishing, the life that Kitty would be entering into was far from something that any loving husband would feel comfortable leaving his wife to face alone. Historian Alfons L. Korn said, “social oblivion followed by a harrowing form of death, sooner or later, was the common lot of Molokai lepers during the late 19th century.”
Bravely and unselfishly, Napela decided that he would figure out a way to join her. He wrote a pleading letter to the Board of Health asking for permission to remain with his wife at the settlement. He wrote, “I vowed before God to care for my wife in health and sickness. . . I want to be with my wife . . . but with this disease, it will quickly shorten her life. Such is the reason for this petition.” Napela was granted permission to remain with Kitty which he did for the remainder of his life. Not only did Napela care for his wife but in joining forces with the legendary Father Damien he fought for better care and facilities for the inhabitants and lovingly cared for those in need.
Tragically, Napela also contracted leprosy and died soon before Kitty, who passed away only a couple of weeks later.
There’s is a true story of unselfish and committed love, lost in time but with consequences that have positively resonated through to this day.
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”
- Lao Tzu
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History records that this valiant priesthood leader worked in the leper colony, and fought to obtain government assistance for the hundreds of lepers living there to have a more comfortable place to live out their lives. He was a spiritual giant in the pure love of Christ he exhibited for his wife and people. This beautiful peninsula on the north coast of the island of Molokai, was unsurpassed in human sorrow, suffering, and degradation. Nonexistent facilities and a board of health that knew nothing about the disease condemned the lepers to suffer under almost unimaginable conditions.
Napela was 60 at the time, and he would live out the rest of his life at the leper colony for the next 6 years. His wife Kitty was the only female of mixed Hawaiian and European descent admitted to the colony that year. Napela was soon appointed superintendent of the leper colony but soon ran into trouble with the board of health because of his unwillingness to enforce a rigid segregation of lepers and non-lepers. For the rest of his life he presided over the Latter-day Saints branch at the isolated colony. Eventually Jonathan contracted leprosy as well. When visiting Kalaupapa near the end of Napela’s life, Elder Henry P. Richards, serving his second mission to Hawaii, stated that the disease had taken Napela beyond recognition. Prior to his death, Napela was permitted to visit Laie once again, attend conference, and bid farewell to his beloved friends and saints living here. During his final days, despite great pain and disfigurement, Napela continued to provide service to the local saints in the leper colony. He also continued to care for his wife Kitty and willingly assisted the members of other church denominations, including the Catholics and their local leader, Father Damian, with the basic care and comfort necessary to survive under unimaginable difficulties. Napela died on August of 1879, at the age of 66. His grave is in the crater near Kalaupapa. Kitty passed away just two years later.