Kerri Inglis, history: Researches the sense of community in Molokai leprosy settlement

Kerri Inglis. Photo by Sarah Anderson

Kerri Inglis, associate professor of history at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, has devoted her career to studying the history of leprosy in Hawai‘i. She’s done extensive research on the patients’ experience at Kalaupapa peninsula on Molokai* pre-1900 and has a book on the topic coming out later this year, Ma‘i Lepera: Disease and Displacement in 19th Century Hawai‘i (UH Press).

Currently, Inglis is conducting a socio-cultural study on the history of the kama‘āina (native residents) who lived on the peninsula of Kalaupapa and surrounding areas on the island of Molokai that now constitute Kalaupapa National Historical Park.  These kama‘āina of the ahupua‘a of Waikolu, Kalawao, Makanalua, and Kalaupapa were displaced with the establishment of the leprosy settlement on the peninsula between the years 1865-1900.

Kerri Inglis hiking the steep trail into Kalaupapa peninsula, Molokai. Photo by Annemarie Aweau

“I am essentially trying to understand the lives of the people who lived on the Kalaupapa peninsula prior to the establishment of the leprosy settlement, and then changes that came about as a result of the leprosy settlement such as land issues, displacement, and relations with the patients,” Inglis says.

“I am also charged with developing a database prototype that will eventually make all of this research available to others who are interested in this history. Collected documents include Board of Health records, letters, Hawaiian and English newspaper articles, and more,” she says.

The final product of this study will be a comprehensive report to the National Park Service.

One of the many documents collected by researcher Kerri Inglis. This is the first page of a contract to grow kalo (taro) that was made in 1873 between the kama‘āina of Kalaupapa peninsula, the residents of the leprosy settlement, and the Board of Health. Photo courtesy of the Hawai‘i State Archives.

Student assistants who have worked alongside Inglis over the past two years on the kama‘āina project are:

  • Annemarie Aweau (on project Spring 2011-present), who has a BA in Hawaiian studies from UH Hilo and is currently completing her first year in a graduate library and informational sciences program at UH Mānoa.
  • Noah Gomes (Fall 2011-present), who has a BA in Hawaiian studies from UH Hilo and is currently in UH Hilo master’s program in Hawaiian Language and Literature.
  • Aolani Kailihou (Fall 2010- Jan 2012), who now has a BA in Hawaiian Studies from UH Hilo and is currently in UH Hilo’s master’s program in Hawaiian Language and Literature.
  • Pūlama Lima (Fall 2010-present), currently a double major in Anthropology and Hawaiian Studies at UH Hilo, graduating in May.
  • Kamalei Stovall (Fall 2010-Jan 2012), who now has a BA in Hawaiian History at UH Hilo.

Students’ duties include assistance with literature review, archival research, report preparations, translation of Hawaiian language materials, and summary report preparation, among other activities. Chad Booth assisted with transcribing and translating letters that were sent to the Board of Health in French.

Thus far, the research has resulted in at least one paper accepted for publication: “Nā hoa o ka pilikia (friends of affliction): a sense of community in the Molokai leprosy settlement of 19th century Hawai‘i,” to be published in the Journal of Pacific History in 2013.

Inglis and her research team are currently drawing up the final report of the study.

*Inglis does not use an ‘okina or macron in the word Molokai. “I am using the spelling Molokai rather than Moloka‘i–unless quoting directly from other sources– throughout this work as has been recommended by the kūpuna (elders) of Molokai,” says Inglis. See the opening “Note” in Harriet Ne with Gloria L. Cronin’s, Tales of Molokai: The Voice of Harriet Ne (Lā’ie: Institute for Polynesian Studies, 1992), vi.



Kerri Inglis is an associate professor of history at UH Hilo. Her professional interests include research and teaching in the history of health, disease, and medicine, especially as it pertains to Hawai‘i and the Pacific, within a global context. She received her bachelor of arts in history from Brigham Young University–Hawai‘i; master of arts from the Institute for the History & Philosophy of Science & Technology, University of Toronto (emphasis on the history of medicine); and doctor of philosophy  in history from UH Mānoa. Contact info


In the News Updates:

Hawaii Tribune-Herald, June 2, 2014: “Students to honor Kalaupapa Patients.” Read full story in PDF.

UH Hilo press release, May 2, 2014: “Faculty honored by Hawaiʻi Book Publishers Association”