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A Question of Design: Gender in Hawaiian Kauhale

Lecture | April 18 | 12-1 p.m. |  2251 College (Archaeological Research Facility)


Kirsten Vacca

Archaeological Research Facility


This talk reviews the results of a research project conducted in Nu‘u, Kaupō, Maui. The focus of this project was an examination of the kauhale (house complex) construction phenomena researchers in Hawaiian archaeology postulate reflect a gender-segregated use of space and gender-segregated activities. Previous work in Hawaiian archaeology has relied on late 19th and early 20th century ethnohistoric documents that outline a hierarchy between binary male and female genders, reinforced by spatial separation of certain activities. The question remains to what degree these interpretations already reflect the adoption of a Eurocentric gender binary. Moreover, these sources clearly stem from a particular intersection of identity-- men of the dominant class in Hawaiian society. Drawing on excavations of seven house complexes in Nu‘u that date to the 16th to 17th centuries, the approach utilizes geoarchaeological methods to assesses the degree to which activities of everyday life were separated in space; the correspondence or lack of correspondence between activities that were evident in separate spaces; and the degree to which any spatial segregation of activities aligns with other evidence indicating the salience of class stratification. By using new methods which allow recovery of micro-residues, the difference in use of space within and between sites becomes increasingly visible. The results promise to provide a foundation for conceptualizing how daily practices in 17th century Hawai‘i shaped the landscape, with reverberating effects for the creation, maintenance, and subversion of hegemonic social structures.


510-642-2212