The Harrowing True Story of the Exiles of Molokai
John Tayman's non-fiction book about the community of Kalaupapa on the
Hawaiian island of Molokai is at times horrifying and at times a
testimonial about the strength of the human spirit.
In Hawaii between 1866 and 1969, the victims of Hansen's disease
(aka leprosy) were isolated in a remote location on Molokai
to prevent other Hawaii residents from catching the disease.
This well-researched account tells the story of the Molokai
Leprosy Colony from the view of the victims of Hansen's disease,
the local officials, and the paid and volunteer workers of Kalaupapa.
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TITLE: The Colony
AUTHOR: John Tayman
DATE PUBLISHED: January 9, 2006
DIMENSIONS: 8.7 x 5.9 x 1.3 inches
NUMBER OF PAGES: 432
FULL TITLE: The Colony: The Harrowing
True Story of the Exiles of Molokai
Reviews of "The Colony"
From a review in the Library Journal:
"In 1865, Hawaii criminalized the disease of leprosy and began
the longest and harshest episode of medical segregation in
American history. The Colony is the tragic tale of the thousands
of men, women, and children determined (sometimes erroneously)
to have leprosy and who were sent into forced exile on Hawaii's
remote Molokai peninsula owing to a radical miscomprehension
about the disease. Journalist and first-time author Tayman
re-creates this poignant history, telling a tragic and
heart-stopping tale filled with vivid descriptions of
important policymakers, governmental officials, and writers
such as Jack London who oversaw or visited the banished people.
Tayman exposes the medical ignorance of the period and the
desperate measures a frightened Hawaiian society employed to
combat what was perceived as an epidemic of a highly contagious
illness. In fact, leprosy, now referred to as Hansen's disease,
is not easily spread. Since Hawaii's law was not repealed
until 1969, Tayman was able to interview the colony's last
From Kirkus Reviews:
"Veteran magazine editor Tayman debuts with a cold-eyed
account of the Hawaiian government's century-long forced
quarantine and effective imprisonment of lepers.
After the islands' decimation by a smallpox epidemic in 1853,
King Kamehameha V pledged to preserve the health of his subjects,
and the Board of Health, prodded by the alarms sounded by Dr.
William Hillebrand, moved to criminalize those showing symptoms
of leprosy. Beginning in 1866,victims were arrested, isolated and exiled
to the rocky, barren island of Molokai. The first dozen were
deposited in a deserted village with no medical facilities and
inadequate food; as incurables, they were expected to die.
Many did indeed perish as the population swelled: Patients
split into factions, fought for food and rebelled against
the beleaguered superintendent. Tayman offers numerous
fascinating personal stories of people arrested and exiled
to Molokai, sometimes with mistaken leprosy diagnoses.
He gives chilling details about medical
experiments performed to isolate the leprosy bacilli. Rigorous,
tenacious research uncovers a grim story of human suffering."
From a Review in Publisher's Weekly:
"From 1866 through 1969, the Hawaiian and American governments
banished nearly 9,000 leprosy sufferers into exile on a peninsula
on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. Former Outside editor Tayman
crafts a tale of fear, endurance and hope in telling the story
of these unfortunate victims of ignorance. "
From a Review in the New Yorker:
"Hawaii’s isolation from foreign illness slowly disintegrated
through the nineteenth century as trading ships arrived bearing
the yellow flag of disease. When leprosy cases appeared, panicked
local officials designated the island of Molokai, some fifty
miles from Honolulu, a leprosarium, because it was naturally
inaccessible, presenting a sea cliff "so sheer that wild goats
tumbled from its face." The first twelve lepers were rowed to
its rocky shores in January of 1866. Drawing on eight thousand
pages of documents, Tayman reconstructs a fascinating history
of the settlement, which officially lasted until 1969.
Shortages of food, water, and shelter sent some lepers into
caves pocketed inside an extinct volcano."
From a Booklist review by Kristine Huntley:
"Drawing on letters, journals, newspaper articles, medical
documents, interviews, and other source material, Tayman has
crafted a gripping history of the leper colony at the Hawaiian
island Molokai. In the mid-1800s, when fear of leprosy spreading
throughout the islands reached a fever pitch, Dr. William
Hillebrand suggested the idea of isolating those infected
from the rest of society. The colony opened in 1866, and
after a stint at a hospital in Honolulu, patients were rounded
up and shipped out to Molokai on a regular basis. As Tayman's
narrative broaches the second half of the century, the accounts
become more personal, culled from interviews with elderly patients
who were originally sent to Molokai as children. Tayman's crisp,
flowing writing and inclusion of personal stories and details make
this an utterly engrossing look at a heartbreaking chapter in
From a review in the New York Times:
"One passage in 'The Colony,' perhaps more than any other,
epitomizes John Tayman's singular powers as a chronicler of
human misery. It appears in a chapter that addresses the very
special torments of a subset of Molokai's leprosy sufferers
known as the blinds. Tayman has earlier explained that the
bacteria that cause leprosy seek out the cooler peninsulas of
the human land mass: noses, earlobes, toes and fingers and, most
devastatingly, eyes. The bacteria - which take cover from
the patient's immune system by hiding out in (and destroying)
nerves - soon erase the cornea's exquisite sensitivity."
From a review in the Bloomberg News:
The Colony often reads like an adventure story, recalling
hardships the lepers suffered. One horrifying chapter describes
how Arthur Mouritz, the settlement's physician, experimented
with healthy patients, using scalpel and hypodermic needles
to infect them with "serum brimming with leprosy bacteria."
Tayman also documents acts of kindness administered by clergy
members such as Flemish Catholic missionary Father Damien,
who caught the disease and died in 1889. The book offers
medical insights into leprosy, today known as Hansen’s Disease.
Roughly 5 percent of the world's population is susceptible,
though the incidence is higher among Hawaiians and the French.
Untreated, the disease causes disfigurement. It’s seldom fatal.
In the 1940s, scientists developed Dapsone, a drug that keeps
leprosy from reproducing and prevents disability and
communicability. Hawaii’s quarantine law remained in place
until 1967. Today, 28 people still live on the grounds of
the colony; four survivors gave Tayman vivid first-hand accounts."
From a review in the Baltimore Sun:
"In 1884, the Hawaiian Supreme Court declared that contracting
leprosy was not a crime. It only had to be treated as one.
The ruling left everything as it had been during the previous
18 years on a remote finger of land jutting from the northern
coast of Molokai. Perhaps it was some comfort to the peninsula's
inhabitants to officially be deemed non-criminals, but they were
still unmistakably prisoners, involuntarily plucked from parents,
children and siblings and forced to serve indeterminate
sentences. Typically, that meant until the end of their days.
Journalist John Tayman sets out to recount this tragic,
mournful history of Molokai, which was most"
From a Review at Powells.com:
"A fascinating work of history about a cruel response to a
misunderstood disease, The Colony vividly recounts the saga
of the leprosy colony on Molokai and the community once
forcibly interred there. Tayman crafts a gripping, and at
times horrifying, story about the people once consigned
to the colony to die, their cruel overseers, the kindhearted
dedicated to helping the internees, and the famous who came
to visit this once world renown colony."
From a Booksense Review by Barb Bassett:
"I couldn't put down this fascinating, often disturbing
history of the Molokai leper colony and those who were forced
to live (and die) there. Fear of this misunderstood disease
turned people against each other, tore families apart, and
wiped out individual rights in the name of public health."
From a review in the Detroit Free Press:
"To call the residents of Hawaii's notorious Molokai leper
colony "patients" is cruelly farcical. The first hundreds
of the 8,000 people exiled to that rocky peninsula between
1866 and 1969 received no medical care at all. They also
didn't have enough food, and there wasn't enough shelter.
As John Tayman tells in his riveting "The Colony," they
were sent away for the betterment of mankind: They were
supposed to die there."
From a Review in the Rocky Mountain News:
"The book is about a certain group of lepers on Molokai, Hawaii,
and Tayman tells you more than you ever wanted to know about
leprosy and more than you probably care to know about the power
of the human spirit to be unspeakably cruel or incomprehensibly
-More Books About the Kalaupapa Leprosy Colony (coming soon)
Books About Molokai Island
Author John Tayman's Official Web Site
All Books About Hawaii
Islands of Hawaii
Hawaii for Visitors