Kathleen Kawelu, Associate Professor of Anthropology
I was born and raised in Hilo, and attended the Kamehameha Schools, Kapālama Campus. After graduating from Kamehameha I attended Beloit College, Wisconsin, where I was exposed to archaeological studies of the Midwestern region of the United States. I participated in my first archaeological field school as a Beloit student, traveling to the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. At Beloit I earned my B.A., majoring in Anthropology and minoring in Museum Studies. My next stop was Berkeley, California, where I began to focus my research in the Hawaiian Islands. While there I participated in the Kahikinui Archaeological Project, Maui Island, lead by Dr. Patrick V. Kirch. The project is an on-going, multi-disciplinary research program that seeks to address questions about the development of Hawaiʻi’s complex society, as it’s expressed through the economic, social, and political organization of late pre-contact Hawaiʻi (ca. A.D. 1200 – 1795). I began my own archaeological work on the Southeastern side of Molokaʻi in the summer of 1998, initiating a settlement pattern study of a leeward valley, Manawai. A few years later I shifted my research focus, choosing instead to examine the sociopolitical issues surrounding the practice of Hawaiian archaeology. Through this research I earned my Doctorate in Pacific anthropology from UC Berkeley in 2007, completing my dissertation research entitled A sociopolitical history of Hawaiian archaeology: kuleana and commitment.
My current research looks at the politics of Hawaiian archaeology and the relationships between archaeologists working in Hawaiʻi and the indigenous people whose history is often the subject of archaeological inquiry in the islands, namely Hawaiian descendants. Sociopolitical issues such as ownership of the past, the use of the past in the present, repatriation, and indigenous anthropology are all topics of interest to me. I believe an understanding of the sociopolitical context within which Hawaiian archaeology is practiced today is important to doing good archaeology in the islands. Understanding contemporary issues in any community you work in is important to doing good archaeology. Here at UH Hilo we have a unique opportunity to train a new generation of archaeologists who are not only theoretically and methodologically prepared for fieldwork, but who are also more attuned to the cultural and sociopolitical contexts in which they will work. Through such training we can improve the way archaeology is practiced in Hawaiʻi, bringing together communities who seek to perpetuate and preserve Hawaiian culture to create a more sustainable home in which our culture, our past, and our future are not sacrificed in the name of progress and unchecked development.
After receiving my doctorate I also participated in a collaborative research project along the Leeward Coast of Kohala, directed by Patrick V. Kirch. The multidisciplinary project funded by the National Science Foundation’s SBE-Human Social Dynamics program included demographers, archaeologists, geochemists, and ecologists. The archaeological team, of which I was a member, has focused on the spatial, temporal, and structural arrangement of residential sites primarily along the coast, but also in the uplands. We’re examining the relationships between these residential features, marine and agricultural resources, population growth, and the development of complex social structures in pre-contact Hawaiian society.