Holistic Houses and a Sense of Place

Contextualizing the Bishop Museum Hale Pili Exhibit through Archaeological Analyses

in Museum Worlds
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  • Bishop Museum jgkahn01@wm.edu
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ABSTRACT

This article discusses the process of refinding the initial location of the Bishop Museum’s hale pili (Hawaiian pole and thatch house) and an archaeological investigation of the site’s surface architecture, use of space, and subsurface activities. The study touches upon themes relevant to representations of culture and place in museum exhibits, analysis of existing museum collections to holistically interpret material culture, and the history of anthropological collecting. The hale pili represents a “hybrid” form, with elements of precontact Hawaiian folk housing and European concepts introduced in the postcontact period. This problematizes the notion of “traditional” when used in relation to indigenous cultures in settler societies and the practice of exhibiting unique examples of “authentic” housing in isolation. Such analyses increase our interpretive abilities for museum collections and exhibits in the long term, particularly in reunifying folk housing and other material culture with location, a sense of place, and locale.

Contributor Notes

JENNIFER G. KAHN served as assistant/associate archaeologist in the Anthropology Department at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawai‘i from 2008 to 2012. She currently teaches as an associate professor in the Anthropology Department at the College of William and Mary. Over the past 23 years she has conducted archaeological field research in Polynesia and Melanesia, working in the Hawaiian Islands, the Society Islands, the Marquesas Islands, the Gambier Islands, and New Caledonia. She maintains an active museum research program and serves as a research associate at the Bishop Museum and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Museum Worlds

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