Culion Island is historic in a number of few unconventional reasons, one of which is its selection by the Americans to become a "segregation island" in 1901 to serve as a place where patients afflicted with the Leprosy condition be bought and treated.
On May 27, 1906 the first group consisting of 370 patients suffering from Leprosy arrived in the island of Culion from Cebu aboard two Coast Guard cutters "Mindanao" and "Polillo". It was then that the "first day of Culion as a leper colony" begun. On September 12, 1907, "Act 1711 of the Philippine Commission was passed" paving the way for the island of Culion to be used for the compulsory segregation of the lepers by confining them in a compound that comprised of 85 houses for their treatment.
A detailed timeline can be read thoroughly here:
The Culion Museum and Archives stores valuable information, documents, photographs and items that represents the work done in Culion with regards to the expansive research about Leprosy. It also houses both published and unpublished findings of some of the best medical doctors at that time that has since contributed to the modern world's knowledge about the disease and its treatment.
Prior to visiting the museum I had very limited knowledge about Leprosy, but in the short time I was there by looking at the photographs, the slides, the newspaper clippings and some documents on display I was able to grasp its serious implications to people from the early days and the almost heroic efforts by those who bore the passion of finding its cure and understanding the disease itself. It gave me newfound admiration for such people who have spent much of their lifetime trying to find a solution to those afflicted with this once mysterious condition.
The museum is very helpful especially for those who are looking for the whereabouts and information of past relatives who were afflicted with Leprosy, each has their own record still intact at the archives room, there is also this room that houses slides and autopsy slides of both leprosy and non-leprosy patients who were brought there. Even those who have great-grandfathers who became involved in the medical research in the island of Culion can trace their heroic efforts through its archives. A fellow travel blogger Mica informed me that her great grandfather Dr. Rodriguez was part of the team who worked at Culion.
The museum also displays items used during that time from old monographs, cameras, telephones and typewriters to old postcards and paper bills. There is also a section that exhibits old newspaper clippings, specifically a section caught my attention about a certain Dr. H. Windsor Wade. He was an American doctor who isolated himself in the island of Culion along with the patients and eventually cured hundreds of people afflicted with leprosy. Along with his wife Dorothy Paul Wade who went back and forth from Culion to New Orleans in the United States to gather contributions to fund the medical research, they were able to fully cure many more leprosy patients.
General Leonard Wood, the American appointed Governor General of the Philippines from 1921 to 1927 - himself a physician and a controversial figure during that time because of his participation in leading the infamous "More Crater Massacre" of 1906 became the President of the Philippine Anti-Leprosy Society and with his help he was able to sent out plea to the United States for additional funds needed to combat the disease. Today, a organization called the "Leonard Wood Memorial" is named in his honor.
I would love to return to Culion soon just to spend more time in this museum and read more documents that will further my knowledge about the cases of Leprosy in the Philippines, to understand how the patients lived in this Leprosarium and to also pay homage to individuals who have toiled long hours among the patients whom ordinary human beings would try at their hardest to avoid being in the same room with.
The old paper money bills and the postcards are a welcome bonus of the museum. The oldest postcard I saw was dated early 1940's. Old typewriters, chemistry lab and medical apparatus, camera and telephone are just some of the old artifacts found inside the museum.
It was really an awakening and very informative visit to this museum, It reminded me of ghost-like environment where people walked around as if they're already dead. As one of the newspaper clipping headlines on displayed reads "Back from the Land of the Living Dead" - indeed Culion as a Leprosarium was a land of the dead. - BUT with great men who worked hard and channeled their passion to helping solve even the most absurd health problems, many of those perceived 'walking deads' of their time was able to fully recover and eventually set out a new life out of Culion.
In the old days, about a century ago - people leave the island of Culion only when they are cured of leprosy, this time we left the island not because we're cured of something but with deep fascination and admiration at those who lived among the living dead.