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Between Archive and Field: Performances in the Colonial Past and Not-yet Postcolonial Future

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Abstract:

Hawai‘i was officially colonized by the United States in 1898 and since that time, the bodies of hula performers have presented a curious problem: they are hypervisible in popular culture while leaving only the faintest traces in state archives. Researching nineteenth and twentieth-century counter-colonial hula performances, I work between a number of archives on the US continent and in Hawai‘i as well as conduct fieldwork in contemporary hula communities. This historically-grounded ethnographic research requires reconstructing uneven colonial and postcolonial archives, while engaging with live actors in a place that remains colonized. This paper examines the methodological and theoretical problematics of working with and in-between field sites and archives, and outlines the provocations produced by this interface.

Working between archive and field, I am producing a study of hula that traffics freely between past and present, and makes connections between neocolonial pressures in the present and the colonial pressures in the past. As hula performers negotiated with commodification and colonization during nineteenth century transnational tourist circuits, practitioners today continue to struggle with new forms of global capital and the demands of an emergent nationalist movement. My fieldwork and relationships grounded in contemporary hula demand that I interrogate the always-partial colonial archive. In the emphasis on commodification, an important question often overlooked is what these performers wanted for themselves. What do their contemporaries similarly desire as they seek employment and self-fulfillment in Japan and Brunei? I suggest that a politically engaged reading of the colonial archive, enlivened by the exigencies and desires of the present, helps to account for discrepant histories of how hula survived colonial repression and commodification and is being reconstituted as a form of political redress.

While a Foucaultian history of the present is influenced by contemporary perspectives, it also insists that one be an archivist of and in the present. While in the field, I am politically attentive to the ways in which marginalized subjects and their performances are absent in official national archives. How does one document the live-ness of what is happening on the ground – for example, ephemeral performances and backstage gossip – in such a way that does not reproduce the state-oriented technologies, priorities, and classifications of the archive? I argue for the necessity of a postcolonial archive of the future – an archive that imagines its utility and knowledge production for a not-yet realized postcolonial future – and offer some paradigms we might usefully engage while in the interstices between field and archive.
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MLA Citation:

Imada, Adria L.. "Between Archive and Field: Performances in the Colonial Past and Not-yet Postcolonial Future" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico, <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p240325_index.html>

APA Citation:

Imada, A. "Between Archive and Field: Performances in the Colonial Past and Not-yet Postcolonial Future" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p240325_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Abstract: Hawai‘i was officially colonized by the United States in 1898 and since that time, the bodies of hula performers have presented a curious problem: they are hypervisible in popular culture while leaving only the faintest traces in state archives. Researching nineteenth and twentieth-century counter-colonial hula performances, I work between a number of archives on the US continent and in Hawai‘i as well as conduct fieldwork in contemporary hula communities. This historically-grounded ethnographic research requires reconstructing uneven colonial and postcolonial archives, while engaging with live actors in a place that remains colonized. This paper examines the methodological and theoretical problematics of working with and in-between field sites and archives, and outlines the provocations produced by this interface.

Working between archive and field, I am producing a study of hula that traffics freely between past and present, and makes connections between neocolonial pressures in the present and the colonial pressures in the past. As hula performers negotiated with commodification and colonization during nineteenth century transnational tourist circuits, practitioners today continue to struggle with new forms of global capital and the demands of an emergent nationalist movement. My fieldwork and relationships grounded in contemporary hula demand that I interrogate the always-partial colonial archive. In the emphasis on commodification, an important question often overlooked is what these performers wanted for themselves. What do their contemporaries similarly desire as they seek employment and self-fulfillment in Japan and Brunei? I suggest that a politically engaged reading of the colonial archive, enlivened by the exigencies and desires of the present, helps to account for discrepant histories of how hula survived colonial repression and commodification and is being reconstituted as a form of political redress.

While a Foucaultian history of the present is influenced by contemporary perspectives, it also insists that one be an archivist of and in the present. While in the field, I am politically attentive to the ways in which marginalized subjects and their performances are absent in official national archives. How does one document the live-ness of what is happening on the ground – for example, ephemeral performances and backstage gossip – in such a way that does not reproduce the state-oriented technologies, priorities, and classifications of the archive? I argue for the necessity of a postcolonial archive of the future – an archive that imagines its utility and knowledge production for a not-yet realized postcolonial future – and offer some paradigms we might usefully engage while in the interstices between field and archive.


 
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