Binding the Cord: Archaeology and Hawaiian Culture

Binding the Cord: Archaeology and Hawaiian Culture

At the 78th annual Society for American Archaeology meeting held in Honolulu, members of the Hawaiian community discussed the ongoing relationship between archaeology and culture.

“In the very early days of archaeology and anthropology, most of the archaeologists needed to consult with the Hawaiian community in order to determine and understand the nature of the sites such as heiau. In the 60s, 70s, 80s, onward, then there was this major disconnection from the Hawaiian community. It was imagined that the Hawaiian community no longer either had that information or was even around.” says Dr. Ty Kāwika Tengan, an associate professor of Ethnic Studies and Anthropology at UH-Mānoa.

Despite this contentious past, modern archaeologists can offer valuable insights about current and future development projects that respect our wahi kūpuna.

Tengan says, “Development and historic preservation is meant to go hand-in-hand. These processes are set up so that development is done responsibly. We also have a situation now where developers have begun ignoring archaeologists. And itʻs really brought together Hawaiians and archaeologists to fight the same struggles such as SB 1171.”

Senate Bill 1171 would allow for phased reviews of archaeological inventory surveys instead of a comprehensive study prior to construction. The legislation underscores the need for archaeologists who are knowledgeable and respective of Hawaiian history to act as advocates.

According to Kelley Lehuakeaopuna Uyeoka, the owner of Kumupaʻa LLC, which offers archaeological services, “So much of our cultural sites are in danger, we need to be the ones that are there documenting, identifying, and preserving these sites because if weʻre not doing it, weʻre leaving it in the hands of someone else that does not have the same connection, that same understanding, and that same passion for protecting and preserving our sites,”

This new group of scholars has made Hawaiian practices the core of their research, which starts before going into the field.

“As Hawaiians, weʻre part of this community. So we donʻt just go out to some place and start excavating to find information to research. We make sure we do our background research, we go to the archives, we look at the moʻolelo, we look at the place names to tell us about a landscape before we actually set foot in the field,” says Uyeoka.

As Hawaii’s largest private landowner, Kamehameha Schools feels a deep kuleana to steward its lands for the benefit of the local and greater communities.

Senior Cultural Resource Manager Jason Jeremiah remarked how the trust is building relationships throughout the islands. “For Kamehameha Schools, our philosophy has changed over time from viewing the land as a commodity and really viewing it as an asset, a cultural asset, a natural asset, and an asset where ʻāina-based education can really grow and thrive on these lands. We really want to engage the community when we build our ʻāina-based education programs because the communities are really the ones that have that genealogical tie to the ʻāina, to the resources. Theyʻve been passed down information about these places and sites.”

For Uyeoka, “We have to be grounded in both realms, in both worlds – the scientific, Western world and also have a strong cultural foundation. I mean what better cultural resource manager than those two realms bridged together. And itʻs really about bringing the intelligence that we have nowadays, and coupling that with our values, our traditions, our practices as kanaka maoli.”

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