by Aldyth Morris
Damien by Aldyth Morris is a play about Father Damien (nee Jozef De Veuster), who spent twelve years caring for the 700 sufferers of leprosy (now known as Hansen’s disease) condemned to perpetual quarantine on the island of Moloka’i. During his mission, he contracted the disease himself and died of it on April 15, 1889, at the age of forty-nine. Father Damien was canonized by the Catholic church in 2009.
Born in Tremelo, Belgium, in 1840, Jozef De Veuster took the name Damien when he joined the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in 1859. He arrived in Honolulu on March 19, 1864, and was ordained on May 21 in Our Lady of Peace Cathedral, near the corner of Beretania and Bishop Streets. He spent the next eight years on Hawai‘i Island ministering to the people in the Puna and Kohala-Hamakua districts. When the church asked for priests to serve the leprosy patients at Kalawao, on Moloka‘i, he was the first to go.
Damien became part of the community of patients. Skilled in farming and carpentry, he built houses, constructed a water system, and planted trees. He also organized schools, bands, and choirs. He comforted the sick and buried the dead. Because the community was always short of supplies, he badgered the Hawaiian government, the Board of Health, and his church superiors for more resources.
Twelve years after he arrived in Kalawao, Damien was diagnosed with leprosy. Four years later, on April 15, 1889, he died. In keeping with his wishes, he was buried in the cemetery next to his church. Damien’s death was noted widely. His remains were exhumed in 1936 and reburied at Leuven, Belgium. A relic—the remains of his right hand—was returned to his original grave at Kalawao in 1995. (Adapted from the National Park Service website.)
Damien was presented on July 28–29, 2012, at Kennedy Theatre on the UH Mānoa campus. The production starred Dann Seki and was directed by Tim Slaughter. A public discussion about the play following the performance was sponsored by the Hawai‘i Council for the Humanities, with support from the “We the People” initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Manoa Foundation.
For over twenty years, Tim Slaughter has studied and worked in the performing arts. From 1983 to 1987, he was production manager for Manoa Valley Theatre. He earned a doctorate in theatre from the University of Hawai‘i–Manoa in 1992 and in 1999 became director of the University’s Community Services Division.
A member of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Dann Seki has appeared in numerous productions, including Hawaii Five-O, Lost, Hawaii, North Shore, Magnum, P.I., And the Sea Will Tell, Voices from Okinawa, The Cocktail Party, King Lear, and The Informant.
In addition to being a premier storyteller, Nyla Fujii- Babb has been an actress, voice-over talent, and producer for more than thirty years. Noted for her collaborations with other artists, she has combined storytelling with dance, theater, music, and the visual arts.
Songwriter and slack-key guitarist John Keawe was born and raised in Hawi, North Kohala. He has received numerous Na Hoku Hanohano Awards for his slack-key guitar albums and was a contributing artist on Hawai‘i’s first Grammy Award for Best Hawaiian Music Album. Under the label Homestead Productions, he has released ten albums.