“My Name is Makia” by Makia Malo

My Name is Makia

Through writings and conversations with broadcast journalist Pamela Young, former Kalaupapa resident Makia Malo shares his inspirational story in “My Name is Makia: A Memoir of Kalaupapa” (2011).

“I am the last one alive. I sometimes wonder why. I think it’s because I have a story to tell.”

Elroy Makia Malo was born in 1934 and grew up in Papakōea, Hawaiian Homestead land behind Punchbowl on Oahu, Hawaii. In 1947 at age 12, he contracted leprosy, or Hansen’s disease – also known in Hawaii as ma’i Pākē (the Chinese illness) or ma’i ho’oka’awale ‘ohana (the sickness that tears families apart). He was sent to live at Kalaupapa on the island of Moloka‘i. Makia, two of his brothers, Bill and Pilipili, his sister Beka, and later his mother Mary contracted leprosy. Over the years, he lost his toes, fingers, and vision.

“We loved to go up into the mountains, because that was freedom to us… Back in the settlement, we were prisoners.”

Since 1865, leprosy patients in Hawaii were exiled to the Makanalua peninsula on Moloka‘i. At Kalaupapa, there was school three hours a day, movies twice a week, and a lot of time spent swimming and hunting. The books were old, discarded from public schools; the cars were rebuilt with wood when they deteriorated. The residents of Kalaupapa built their own community and took care of each other.

“I was working. I was paying taxes. I could stand tall because I was not on a free ride.”

In 1971, Makia left Kalaupapa for Hale Mōhalu in Pearl City, Oahu, where he experienced a new kind of freedom.  Leprosy didn’t stop Makia from graduating from college, falling in love, and becoming an instructor, poet, and storyteller. As a young man, he married Ivy, another patient, but their marriage fell apart. With the help of a physical therapist, he dictated his first story in 1969 and won a writing contest. He transferred to Ho’opono Rehabilitation Center in Liliha, Honolulu, and received blind-training. He fell in love with Sharon (name changed), a nurse’s aide at Queen’s Hospital, and lived in Makiki, but they divorced three years later. He was accepted at the University of Hawaii and majored in Hawaiian language. He tutored Hawaiian language, studied for a teaching certificate, and performed with auntie Nona Beamer. In 1990, he married heiress Ann Grant. He started to write down his stories using a Morse code computer. He never knew how sick Ann was from cervical cancer until she died in 2008.

“This is the lesson: no matter where you are, at what age, life can be hard.”

Throughout his writing, Makia shows optimism and a strong appreciation for the good things in his life. He seems to feel little bitterness or resentment about his disease, and has found his purpose: to share his experiences and teach others about the Hawaiian language and culture. Makia was proud to attend Father Damien’s pre-beautification celebration in Belgium in 1994 and then Saint Damien’s canonization at the Vatican in 2009 – a man who stayed to comfort and care for leprosy patients, and who contracted leprosy himself.

The memoir includes some of Makia’s poetry and stories, and concludes with interviews with other Kalaupapa residents.

*I received this book through a giveaway sponsored by Legacy Isle Publishing.

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