Book Review: Father Damien and His Era by Margaret Bunson
Molokai and Father Damien have always intrigued me ever since I watched the movie “The Hawaiians” with Charlton Heston, Geraldine Chaplin, John Phillip Law and Mako. I was horrified at the scene of lepers being thrown off ships into the sea by the island of Molokai, and the nightmare of their lives.
When I married my Hawaiian-born husband, he mentioned he had lived on Molokai with his parents for a little while when he was very young. His parents were essentially missionaries of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. It once again piqued my interest in the place and times.
I happened to find this book in our church library and so borrowed it. I had already seen the movie on youtube. https://youtu.be/0ZEKSHBJtdc I was thoroughly captivated by the film. It’s pretty amazing.
So, I read the book. There were others on the subject, but this one had a lot of the history in it, as well. It was really informative. It gave perspective to the time and outlined the relationships between the various countries with interests in Hawaii. Those were turbulent years.
It gives us insight into some of the troubles Father Damien went through with the hierarchy of the church. The church was not always supportive of what he was doing in Molokai. Originally his own brother, also a priest, was supposed to be the one to go to the island, but because of illness, he could not, and so Damian volunteered to go in his place.
What followed was obviously his destiny. He was incredibly kind to the lepers and with no regard for his own health, proceeded to tend to all of their needs, from building them homes, to washing their bodies and bandaging their wounds. He travelled the island, visiting everyone he could to help them live as comfortably as possible , considering their circumstances. He helped the residents establish gardens and learn to be as self-sufficient as could be under the circumstances. Up until his arrival, they lived in virtual squalor, with little food and hardly any medicines or health care of any kind. He asked for help many many times but it was only in his last years that he received any really effective aid.
This is a tremendous book which gives us insight into the politics, history, and the health and religious prejudices of the time. I would certainly recommend it to anyone who was interested in any of those things. It is very well written and a compelling read.
He was truly a Saint, that is for sure. I was moved to tears when reading of his struggles. I will remember him with great love in my heart and honour his feast day of May 10. In Hawaii, it is celebrated on the day of his death, April 15. I heartily recommend reading the book and watching the movie, which although it is not totally true to the story, does address many of the events of his life and those of the lepers of Molokai. It should be noted that the movie was filmed on Molokai itself.
Five Stars all the way! *****