Welcome to the Maunie of Ardwall blog

This is the blog of Maunie of Ardwall charting our adventures as we sail around the world. We're sailing up and down the east coast of Australia after a summer back in Britain.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Visiting the Leper Colony in Makogai

Having left Savusavu we sailed south west to the island of Makogai. We had a very good sail in gentle conditions so, for a change, flew the Irish Flag.

Makogai is an island with an fascinating history which makes is slightly eerie to visit today. In 1911 it was requisitioned by the (British-run) government to built a Leprosy isolation hospital. In those days the disease had no known cure and the threat of its transmission meant that isolation was the accepted practice. The hospital was staffed, to a large degree, by European nuns and it became a substantial operation; those patients in the early stages of Leprosy would farm the land to feed the substantial population of the island and there was a dairy, producing butter and milk, a cinema and large dormitories as well as the hospital beds for the really ill.

In the late 1940's a new drug was at last found which promised a cure for the dreadful disease and, as trials progressed, a new (non-isolation) hospital was built in Suva. The last patients left Makogai in 1969 and the site was abandoned, with most of the buildings destroyed for their materials to be used on neighbouring islands. During its 58 years, the hospital treated 4185 people from across the Pacific, of whom  1241 died. We were shown around by Kameli, who works for the Department of Fisheries in the island's new role (more of that later). Here are a few photos:

A map of the island at its busiest time
The hospital buildings - the semicircles in the water were fish traps
The 'main street' with men's dormitories on one side, women's on the other
These steps once led to one of the biggest accommodation buildings
One of the hospital wards, used as a workshop now, with the foundations of a dormitory beside it
The projection room of the cinema, built in the 1940's
The cinema during construction
The very eerie cemetery - stone crosses were for the nurses and other staff, patients were usually only given a wooden cross so their graves are now long lost. 
Some of the wooden buildings won't last much longer
After 20 years of abandonment, the island has a new role and new life. It's a Department of Fisheries research centre and a breeding centre for turtles and giant clams. Clams had been all but fished to extinction in Fijian waters but are now a protected species and are being introduced to reefs across the country. A 20 year old clam will be about a metre across - just like the ones that trapped divers' feet in James Bond movies (not something they are capable of doing, but they do close up when you touch them, as Graham discovered snorkeling later). The people who operate the centre live with their families so there's once more a school and the younger kids who were out playing during school hours just loved to come and chatter.

Mind your fingers

We're now in an anchorage on the NE corner of Viti Levu and tomorrow with see us attempt the very narrow passage inside the reef westwards around the top of the island.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing place - if you check out Google Earth, the fish traps can still be seen.