International Leprosy Association -
History of Leprosy

  • International Leprosy Association -
    History of Leprosy


    Culion Museum


    Category Museum
    Organization Culion Museum and Archives
    Country Philippines
    Address Culion Sanatarium, Culion Palawan 5315, Philippines


    The Culion Museum contains valuable information with regards to the establishment of the Culion Leper Colony in 1906. It documents the discriminatory legislation enforcing compulsory segregation in Culion and the research and clinical trials carried out using chaulmoogra oil and its esters within the colony. The resultant effects on colony life are recorded in relation to the community interaction of patients, the segregation of children of leprous parents, the use of special currency, the results of different research on childhood leprosy and other pioneering research on bacteriology, pathology and epidemiology of leprosy. It possesses old apparatus and instruments from the earliest years of the colony. It also has lists of the patients sent to Culion from different parts of the Philippines.

    Read more about the Culion archives on the History of Leprosy blog.

    Culion is the original site of the Leonard Wood Memorial before it was transferred to its present location in Cebu. There is a rich library of materials on leprosy compiled by Damien Dutton Recipient and first Editor-in Chief of the International Journal of Leprosy, Dr Windsor Wade. Until April 2007, the precious and unique archive on Culion was in danger of disintegrating from exposure to heat, sunlight, and sea air, until the support provided by the Sasakawa Memorial Foundation made it possible for Dr Cunanan, the chief of leprosy control on Culion, with the expertise of Museum archivist, Ricky Punzalan, conservator, Alex Botelho, and Artistic Director, Mimi Santos, with the labour of those on Culion, to refurbish and redesign the Museum and rehouse the collection.

    Culion Museum and the office of Dr Cunanan, chief of the leprosy control center, hold a significant collection of documents both published and unpublished, to do with leprosy work not only on Culion, but from other parts of the world.

    Many of the publications held here are extremely difficult to access elsewhere. To have them gathered together in one site is to permit a researcher interested in the history of leprosy a rare opportunity to access a library of resources that it would be heartbreaking to allow to perish.

    The earliest issues of Danielssen and Boeck ’s publications, Leprosy Notes (from the inception of the British Empire Relief Association), the International Journal of Leprosy, Leper Quarterly: Chinese Mission to Lepers (from 1928), and Jeanselme’s La Lèpre (1934) are all extremely difficult to come by anywhere, much less together in the same location.

    Opening document folders in Dr Cunanan’s office is like opening a door into a slice of leprosy history. For example, one of these document folders contains off- prints of some of the earliest publications on the use of the sulfones. This includes papers by Faget published in the International Journal of Leprosy and the US Public Health Reports in the 1940s. This folder also holds offprints on the metabolism of DDS, from 1949. There is also a typed translation of Dr Arning’s nineteenth century experiment on the condemned criminal Keanu, as well as publications from the nineteenth century Louisiana doctor, Dr Dyer, who had a part to play in establishing Carville.

    In addition, but not secondary, the actual records of Culion as a sanitarium, established in 1906 and approaching its centenary, are utterly unique to this place. As such, they provide a record of the leprosarium from its inception until the present, its admissions, visitors, residents, medical activities, staff activities, and research.

    Most poignantly, they provide a unique record of the lives of people, most especially the human faces, through the photographs, taken as part of the case history, of those affected by leprosy and the subjects of the policies for control of the disease. These are part of the heritage of Culion and the Philippine people. People wanting to trace family members who “disappeared” would be able to piece together parts of their history from what is held at the Culion Museum.

    The published and unpublished documents at Culion have to be seen not only within the historical context of the island, but also within the worldwide context of modern leprosy work that now spans more than two centuries. The Museum should also be considered within the context of other museums dedicated to the history of leprosy, the Leprosy Museum at Bergen being the prime example, but including the Acworth Museum in Mumbai, India and the one to be established at the National Resource Centre for STI/ Leprosy Control and Prevention, in Nanjing. These should be viewed as evidence of both the profound effect of leprosy as a disease, and an extraordinary chronicle of effort and persistence on the part of those involved in its control and treatment.

    These records simply represent the “tip of the iceberg” of important unpublished documents at Culion. In addition, there are important collections of published records and also a unique collection of photographs, medical and laboratory records. But the following were the most vulnerable and most urgently in need of attention:

    • Register of Visitors: “Philippine Health Service: Culion Leper Colony Register of Visitors”

    This register, from 1928 until 1991, records the date of arrival, name, official title, home address and remarks of those who have visited Culion. It provides a fascinating tableau of passers by. Many came as officials or dignitaries, many as medical people who were working against leprosy in other parts of the world and for whom Culion was an authority and a model. Many others came as missionaries or members of the American navy or armed forces, some simply came out of curiosity. All have signed the register of visitors and made comments.

    This unique document could not be in a more fragile condition. Every time it is opened, more damage occurs to the brittle pages. There were some pages that had completely disintegrated. Nonetheless, the greater part of it survived. It was still readable, and impossible to replace.

    • Eight Record Books titled “List of Released Patients from Culion Leper Colony (Discharged, paroled or released as non-lepers)”.

    These books contain individual records, mostly of non-leprous children, but also of adults. They usually all have a photograph of the child on the left-hand side of the page and a typewritten summary of the case on the right. The photograph of the child is accompanied by an individual record of name, birthplace, date of birth, names of parents who are inmates of the colony, details of presentation to the examining committee with their notes, the lab report, and the decision for release: “non-leper”. A typical concluding note is “This child was released on the 8 th day of July 1927, care of Patricio B Cruz, St Cristo, Polilan, Balaca (a friend of the parents who signs the adoption form) The records are for 1924, 1924-1925 (197 in number), two for 1925-6, two for 1927, 1929-33, 1933-6 (190 in number).

    Pasted under the case summary are two other pages: a release form and an adoption paper. Through the release document, the child is surrendered by the mother and father to a member of the family, friend, or to adopting parents outside Culion. This is done under condition that they will assume the duties of guardian to the child. This includes care, protection, support and education. The form is signed before the Assistant Chief Culion Leper Colony Ex-Officio Justice of the Peace and Notary for the Culion Reservation.

    There are hundreds of these. Healthy children, unaffected by leprosy, were handed over to relatives, friends, grandmothers, a parent who might have been an ex-inmate, or unrelated adopting parents. Most incredibly poignant in these records are the faces of the children.

    In the same books are individual records of adults who were discharged as “smear negative.” These reports include photographs of the face, name, birthplace, last place of residence, date of admission to the colony, family history, duration of leprosy on admission, physical condition on admission, treatment received, physicians remarks, committee’s notes tabulating the negative period with a decision for release. Typical is the remark “eligible for parole, he having completed the required six months negative.” The documents are signed by “Casimiro Lara, Chief Physician”. Once again, the photographs and details give human faces to people whose lives have been affected by the disease.

    These books were in an extremely brittle and fragile condition. The pages were easily detached or split when opened.

    • Admission Books

    There are four of these. They are dated and titled successively. These books list the names of those admitted to the leprosarium from its inception in 1906. They list the names alphabetically and number the names with a page reference. Then the names are listed with details such as the age, sex, nationality, race, birthplace, last place of residence, date admitted, duration of leprosy, other diseases, present condition, remarks (usually date of death) of the admission.

    It becomes evident how many died within a short time of admission in the beginning and how young they were. The first couple of pages give ages such as 10, 18, 20, 23, 31, 15, 15, 26, 15, 22, 12, 40, 19, 20, 40, 15, 21, 30, 15, 35, 30, 18, 40, 20 – all of these were admitted in 1906, and most were dead by 1907; if not, by 1911.

    These registers are a record of young lives that ended very quickly in isolation.

    These books were also vulnerable (not as acutely vulnerable as the patient records, and the guest book, but also in urgent need of restoration).

    Entry made 20 February 2001
    Updated 7 November 2003


    Name Arturo C Cunanan, JR.MD.MPH
    Organization Culion Leprosy Control and Rehabilitation Programme
    Address Culion Sanatarium, Culion Palawan 5315, Philippines.

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