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Pacific portraits radio sketches of men and women whose lives illustrate times and places south of the equator in the Pacific the guards and police and the population. The formation of the common man with such a population is around as in the horrors of nightmare it was Damien's car highest breaking act of martyrdom to direct a man's eyes to the distress.
Damien of Molokai program fired in a series of specific portraits produced by radio station WAGA of the University of Wisconsin under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. Now speaking to you from Auckland New Zealand. Here is the planner and writer of the series Professor John Reed. Explorers traders scientists pioneers. Right it is men of all vocations and of non stake their claims in the Pacific as the 19th century past its adolescence. Some brought law and discipline enterprise and daring to those new dominions putting out shoots in the southern sea. Once people track us Sean with the iron of the plough cities rose on coast and river. But to the islands of Polynesia where natives dwelt civilization came more slowly and more
painfully wrapped in everybody love trading goods was a curse as well as a blessing. Under the white man's pressure temples crumbled ancient ways of life creaked and swayed as European customs and European vices laid hold of these islands. The naturally indolent Polynesian with an under an economy in which they were merely cheap labor at their frames wrecked by diseases multiplying in bodies not used to them. Few white men who came to gain the prodigal harvest of the Pacific cared what happened to the peoples whose lands they trod. If you save the missionaries some even of the landed with a tract in one hand and trading goods in the other. But most came to heel and not to woo. Now with some of these outdone in heroism by conquerors and Explorers now from the historical records we sketch one a man who gave his life for the father day.
On the surface or on the beauty of man. A long wash of Pacific breakers gold yellow beaches lush green Balinese the biting blue cloudless sky tropical paradise is scented and peace but beneath this travel post a picture like poisoned thorns under the rose lay invisible evils in the body of the islands. So when the BAS ally of a hundred loathsome diseases and the most terrible of them all was leprosy. Stand aside the judgment of God is upon him he is a cursed. Rotting the flesh smiling faces and a horrid caricature of humanity. Leprosy was one of the oldest most hated most dreaded of diseases. From the earliest times it was legislated against as a curse which showed a moral taint as well as a physical one. No man is stricken with leprosy save he who has committed a sin
against the Son. So the ancient Persians showed their horror at the plague and the Jews also set their iron laws against the leper. Whoever shall be defiled with leprosy shall have his clothes hanging loose his head bare his mouth covered with a cloth and he shall cry out that he is defiled and unclean. In the early Christian ages they were excluded from the churches until a more humane Council ordained that they were to be fed and clothed out of church funds. Every leper shall keep to his own diocese and shall not wander up field and all grass contaminated must keep within those limits appointed to be served with the body of the Lord. Apart from those who are whole. Leprosy crawled down the centuries everywhere before its fetid breath kings and beggars alike fell like sized grain and as new hygiene and medicine drove it from Europe. He lived again with increased very lence in the Pacific
Islands by decree of the Hawaiian office of hell. All the letters I required to report themselves within 14 days for inspection and final banishment to Molokai such was the Hawaiian government's attempt to stem the plague in 1865 to fling all lepers like rotting trash on the remote gray rock of Molokai. Many fled taking refuge in the forests but determined leper hunters flushed the fugitives from Cavan Bush shipload after shipload were sent to gloomy and hopeless exile shipped off like condemned cattle sat down on a barren headland from which there was no escape. Hemmed in by between cliffs and a sullen sea. The lepers of Molokai huddled to die without succor for sake and by God and man. By all men that is save one Father Damien. It was on ember Saturday before Whitsuntide in 1864 that I ordained Joseph devoiced or Father Damien in the Cathedral of
Honolulu. This stocky little Belgian 23 years old with his broad peasant shoulders a strong jaw and steady eyes struck me at once as a man of unusual simplicity and strength of character. Here in Hawaii the largest of the Pacific Islands. Damien began a life of unremitting toil and hardship. There were long weary hours of thrusting through dense forests body racking rides under the pulsating sun harsh climes of the rocky hillsides weeks of urging on the indolent villagers years of building houses and churches. But Damian was happy. I like the islanders immensely and would willingly give my life for them. So I do not spare myself when it is a question of going to visit the sick. How often during the past months have I been led as it were by accident to some tiny cabin where some dying man would seem to have kept death at bay until my coming and then with the waters of baptism still glistening on his fevered
brows. He has gone hence in answer to the great summons. This thick shouldered peasant had the practical instincts of a peasant. His physical powers amaze the natives who called him fire in the tempest. He was bound by the strongest ties to his Belgian village. But as the Hawaiian years crept by he cast away nostalgia and became part of the scene in which he labored. What a contrast this land is to the even pattern of my Flemish greens wild mountains thrust down into the bewildering blue sea. When you gaze at the transparent water this we have to flex our fissures among the white and red clusters of coral here and there masses of lovely trees and shrubs intermingled with groves in a riot of color in purple which lifts my heart in praise of God's creation. But the hidden scourge was creeping closer and closer to Damian.
It was not long before he became aware that the green beauty he admired harbored a deadly poison in 1869. He wrote ominously home leprosy is beginning to be very prevalent here. There are many men covered with it. It does not cause death at once but it is very rarely cured. The disease is very dangerous because it is highly contagious. His chance came in 1873. The Bishop of Honolulu was to dedicate a new church on the island of Maui. Damien and other priests were present. The bishops talked bent to Molokai. My friends my thoughts turned to the sad spectacle of the suffering and pain on the leper island their plight tugs at my heart. Living as they do in the most willful desolation. Now and then I have been able to send a priest there to hear confessions and administer the last sacraments but new government measures are likely to abolish these visits while at the same time I have not enough priests to provide a permanent pastor.
Although separated from us by only a sheet of water these suffering natives are immeasurably remote from us in spirit my lord. Yes my son we have amongst us four new missionaries one of them could take my district and if you would be kind enough to allow it I would go to Molokai and work with the leopard. But Father Damien do you understand what life on Molokai would mean it would mean a glorious opportunity to bring God to those who need him and it would mean exile for life. No worse than exile. It would mean living daily with death and the dread of death. But Damian was hardly listening. At last he saw the road of his destiny. His choice was not made in flamboyant heroism but it was a passionately logical election and full awareness of his mission. The bishop recognizing a special quality in the 33 year old man made no objection. On the afternoon of the same day without the least preparation and without farewells the apostle of the lepers set out for Molokai.
Now. Eat. What sort of a place was this smallest of the Hawaiian Islands a gleaming paradise a sunbathed utopia. Not so did Robert Louis Stevenson find it when he visited Molokai two months after Damien's death. The Gracies grey gloomy and bleak mighty mountain was descending sheer along the face of the island into a sea of unusually deep. The two little unsafely sour northerly and the population Gorgons formations of our common manhood. Such a population is around as in the horrors of nightmare. It is a beautiful place to visit
and how much more terrible than when the young priest arrived conditions are worse than I had imagined possible. Some of the lepers are so brutalized that they seem to have lost all semblance of human kind in the abandoned rain soaked and rotting huts of the original inhabitants or under frail frames covered with key leaves are living pellmell without distinction of age or sex. These unfortunate outcasts of society they pass their time playing cards dancing drinking for melted key root beer and in the consequences of all of this they do no work. There is no medicine and barely enough water to drink so that their wounds remain unbathed homeless ragged without the bare necessities of life. Many have turned to the deceptive relief advice of the soul of Damien was sick as he gazed on his new parishioners some crawling on
all fours like dogs. Others abandoned the languid despair of the 2000 lepers transported in 1865 there remained only eight hundred at death. The body was flung into a shallow hole raked in the earth. On Father's Day means first night he kept a dark long vigil of prayer on his knees under a pandanus tree. I make myself a leper among the lepers to gain all for Jesus Christ. The next day his work began. The dual ministry of healing men's souls and tending their bodies he amazed us all with his energy his tireless body his rough but effective ways as a man of some education. I had fared a little better than most but Damien's care was for us all without distinction. He built a tiny house for himself. Then he looked for a water supply found a natural spring and spirit on me and some
of the more able lepers to build an aqua duct to carry water to the village so that we might bathe our sores and clean our homes. And they mean washed our wounds himself. His only home now was that place of which Stevenson said life in the lazarette is an ordeal from which the nerves of a man's spirits reek even as these are queers under the brightness of the sun. It is not the fear of possible infection that seems a little thing when compared with the pain the pretty and the disgust of the visitors surrounding these empty God with fear of affliction disease and physical disgrace in which he breeds. This simple hearted man was but human and despite the toughness of his fiber it took him more than a little time to adjust himself to Molokai many a time in fulfilling my priestly duties at their domiciles I have been compelled to run outside.
I have had great difficulty in getting used to such an atmosphere. One day at a Sunday Mass I found myself so stifled that I thought I must leave the altar to breathe a little of the outer air. But I restrained myself thinking of our Lord when he commanded them to open the grave of Lazarus. His solution was a practical one a peasant's one. He learned to smoke a pipe. Now my sense of smell does not cause me so much inconvenience. I enter the huts of the lepers without difficulty. Yet often I scarcely know how to administer extreme unction when both hands and feet are nothing but raw wound. Here was no enviable aisle but the naked harsh reality of a scabby and bleeding Pacific Damion grappled savagely with a leprous cork and bombarding the
Honolulu authorities with requests for food clothing timber medicines. He had but one idea to better the conditions of his clock. Here's another letter from this Damien fellow the sixth in as many weeks. What does he want this time. More timber more food more clothes more everything he does not understand our problems he wants everything done it works. He is a good man I think but Ross can Norbury mobster not trouble maker trouble maker. Damian never could understand why the only things done were his doing. Why without his agitation the administration would have ignored the bleak Island he had embarked upon the impossible. But he achieved it within two years. Four hundred wooden cottages whitewashed or painted replaced the fetid huts crops were planted provisions sent close provided.
His coffin associations gave the dead decent burial drunkeness began to decline. The lepers began to walk upright like men to the sick and the dying. The rich consolations of religion came generously but the priests had more than one trial to suffer. I was on my annual visit to the missions and as the ship came near Mordecai the captain anchored in the bay sending supplies ashore by rowboat but permitting nobody including myself to land. I sent a note by one of the rowers to Father Damien and he came soon by a rowboat and stuck a little way off from the ship. Then came an act of humility as complete as I have ever seen. While the tiny boat rose on the crest of swells and as I leaned over the rail. Father Damien stood up blessed himself and ignoring the passengers who crowded the deck made his confession aloud and received my absolution.
Damien had taken the leper colony as far along the road to improvement as any one man could have. For him the lepers were not just sick people but loved sons. He washed their wasted bodies calmed their so comforted their relatives and buried the dead. But after 12 years amongst them one day he came home for tea pulled off his dusty boots and prepared to wash his feet. He put cold water in the basin and took a boiling kettle to add hot water to it. His mind was elsewhere and he missed directed the bubbling water which poured in a stream over his bare feet. A pool of water stained the wooden floor. His feet were blistered but he felt no pain. There are signs of leprosy on my left cheek and here and my eyebrows are beginning to fall. I should soon be quite disfigured as I have no doubt of the real character of the malady. I remain calm resigned
and very happy in the midst of my people. The good God knows what is best for my sanctification and I say daily that I will be done with a ready heart. And so the next Sunday preaching to his flock Damian began his sermon not with the customary my dear brethren but with leopards. He was now wholly one with his flock for the next five years he was to die by inches as he went about his unrelenting toil. These ears were cheered by the arrival of other priests to help by financial aid from Catholics and non-Catholics alike by the Coming from New York of nuns of the Third Order of St. Francis and by the labors of an ex American Army officer Joseph Dutton who was to serve the lepers of Molokai for more than twenty years. My name is Joseph Dutton. I have come to stay here. I'd like to be of
service. Many have said that they wanted to help but they want only to be martyrs. That is not enough. I am not looking for a romantic sacrifice. I have long sought a place where my strength would be useful to those who do not have it willing to stay and Mordecai put at least three years. I want to stay here. Come then let us waste no time. We will go at once to the hospital and I will show you the dressing. I shall call you brother Joseph. So the lanky American and the stocky priest face swollen with leprosy in a dusty patched cassock and tattered straw hat. Work together for others Brother Joseph learnt the strange ways of the dying priest and came to love him on Molokai. I found peace and my destiny with him the great hearted father of the lepers. Together we did what we could as his and drew
nearer I could not believe that this man who had alone for sixteen years of living death brought so much light and love to this mournful bleak shore. Should pass from us. He lay motionless on his bed of pain confronting death as a familiar visitor. Father when asked for his cloak. Leave me your mantle Father Damien. Like Elias that I may inherit something of your great heart. What would you do with it my son. It is full of leprosy. Take my blessing instead. Benedict speedy do so. Damien was dead the leapers friend was no more. As he was laid to rest beside the bodies of his leprous brothers the news flashed around the
world. Obscure and hating personal Damien had despite himself become a legend. But more than that Damien had not died in vain. Both by his life and his death he had focused attention and one of the major evils of the South Seas an evil that had to be conquered. It was the Pacific Islands could become a home for a white man. The missionaries and medical benefits we casually accept today spring from the martyrdom. Yet few men shall escape calumny and Damian was not immune. The malicious gossip of a Honolulu clergyman accused Damian of being dirty coarse and immoral. This called forth a blazing defense from Robert Louis Stevenson against the clergyman whose name ironically was Mr Hyde. And in Stephenson's words the Belgian priest had his finest epitaph. Think of the poor lovers in Norway with these.
Reforms of the lazarette are properly the work of. Evidence of success. They are what his heroism provoked from the reluctant and careless. It was his part by a striking act of martyrdom to direct all men's eyes to the distressful place. If ever any man brought reforms and died to bring them it was he. Now it's not a clean cup. Or towel in your house but dirty Damian watched. The man who tried to do what Damien did. Is my father and the father of all who love goodness. And he was your father too. If God had given you the grace to see him. Yeah.
And here is Professor Reed the author of this program to say a closing word although the coming of the white man brought much misery to the Pacific natives. The devoted self-sacrifice of missionaries like Father Damien also brought mitigation and benefit the painful process of transition between primitive life and membership in the new Pacific community was eased by the efforts of those who sold the natives as human beings and not as cheap labor or me as savages in the conflict between the civilized and the uncivilized. Some of the worst features of Western culture tainted the iron's but the life of Damian showed that some of the finer aspects shawm there too in the struggle of the Pacific Islands to become a living pop of 20th century civilization. The work of men of God like Damien was an imperishable element.
Pacific portraits
Father Damien
Producing Organization
University of Wisconsin
WHA (Radio station : Madison, Wis.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
The impact of missionaries on Pacific peoples.
Other Description
This series explores various aspects of the Pacific region through dramatization, narration, commentary and music.
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Producing Organization: University of Wisconsin
Producing Organization: WHA (Radio station : Madison, Wis.)
Production Manager: Schmidt, Karl
Speaker: Rains, Claude, 1889-1967
Writer: Reid, J. C. (John Cowie), 1916-1972
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 58-41-5 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:26:50
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Chicago: “Pacific portraits; Father Damien,” 1965-04-12, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 11, 2022,
MLA: “Pacific portraits; Father Damien.” 1965-04-12. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 11, 2022. <>.
APA: Pacific portraits; Father Damien. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from