As she sits in her kitchen, Lindamae Maldonado flips through a photo album. The snapshots show an elderly woman with short, silver hair and round glasses, usually wearing a muumuu and always with a wide grin on her face. She has Maldonado’s swarthy skin, her dark eyes, her prominent cheeks.
But a closer examination of the woman in the photos reveals claw-like, concave hands: She has Hansen’s disease, commonly known as leprosy.
The pictures mark the last years of this woman’s life, much of which was spent at Kalaupapa — the isolated leprosy colony on Molokai. They also mark the first and only years Maldonado knew her as her estranged birth mother.
Maldonado, 62, is just one among likely thousands who were born to leprous patients exiled to Kalaupapa. The children were separated from their parents by the government, in many cases taken to other islands and put up for adoption.
She calls them the “lost children of Kalaupapa”: the products of a bygone era when the stigma of Hansen’s disease meant that the truth about their biological parents was hidden.
Some, like Maldonado, somehow stumbled upon their Kalaupapa origins late in life. Others, she suspects, died never having a clue.
For Maldonado, it all started with an unexpected encounter in 2003. She was living in Las Vegas when her adoptive cousin told her that her birth mother was a leprosy patient still living in Kalaupapa. As it turned out, Maldonado’s cousin was her biological aunt’s good friend.
She would discover a mother who had hardened into reticence, long-lost siblings and stories of a father who had already passed on. Her story would also reveal a side of Kalaupapa’s story that remains shrouded in secrecy.
Photo Credit: Alia Wong/Civil Beat