Disability History Lecture VII – Prof. Dr. Jane Buckingham

Disabling Disease: Challenging the stigma of leprosy in the colonial South Pacific

Jane Buckingham is Senior Lecturer in History at University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.

The lecture will take place on Monday March 9th 2015 from 14 o’clock until 16 o’clock and is co-organized by GRIP.

Venue: Provinciehuis Vlaams-Brabant – Provincieplein 1, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium

Leprosy disables both in the material sense of damaging the limbs, sight and speech of those affected and in the social sense of stimulating the disability of stigmatisation. In colonial contexts, dynamics of race and power add further layers of subordination to people already marginalised by the disease of leprosy and its physical manifestation. This lecture focuses on images of leprosy affected people in twentieth century British colonial Fiji and the role of such representations in educating medical specialists, colonial government officials and the wider public. It draws particularly on the history of the Central Leper’s Hospital opened in 1911 on the Fijian island of Makogai as an isolation and treatment centre for leprosy affected people from the British colonial South Pacific. Until its closure in 1969 images from Makogai including photo albums kept by the nursing sisters from the Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary, photographs printed in the New Zealand and Fijian Press and images promoted by the New Zealand based charity, the Lepers’ Trust Board, played a major role in the visual construction of the ‘leper’ in Fiji and New Zealand. These images represented the leprosy affected person as a focus of medical attention, charitable investment and an object of pity and horror. But images from Makogai also attest to deliberate processes of intervention and normalisation. Images played a formal and informal educative role in demonstrating medical procedures and in reducing the physical and social disability associated with leprosy by showing the patients on Makogai engaged in everyday activities. Photographs were deployed not only to mark out the leprosy affected as separate but to disable the disease of leprosy by recording the effects of strategies of normalisation not only on the leprous body but on the social and daily life of leprosy affected people.