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Ancestral Places

Understanding Kanaka Geographies

Katrina-Ann R. Kapāʻanaokalāokeola Nākoa Oliveira

First Peoples: New Directions in Indigenous Studies

6 × 9 inches. B&W photographs. Map. Index. 196 pages.

2014. ISBN 978-0-87071-673-7. Paperback, $21.95s.

Ancestral Places explores the deep connections that ancestral Kānaka (Native Hawaiians) enjoyed with their environment. It honors the moʻolelo (historical accounts) of the ancestral places of their kūpuna (ancestors), and reveals how these moʻolelo and their relationships with the ʻāina (land) inform a Kanaka sense of place.

The book elucidates a Kanaka geography and provides contemporary scholars with insights regarding traditional culture—including the ways in which Kānaka utilize cartographic performances to map their ancestral places and retain their moʻolelo, such as reciting creation accounts, utilizing nuances embedded in language, and dancing hula.

A Kanaka by birth, a kumu ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi (language teacher) by profession, and a geographer by training, Oliveira’s interests intersect at the boundary where words and place-making meet her ancestral land. Thus, Ancestral Places imbues the theoretical with sensual practice. The book’s language moves fluidly between Hawaiian and English, terms are nimbly defined, and the work of the field is embodied: geographic layers are enacted within the text, new understandings created—not just among lexica, but amidst illustrations, charts, terms, and poetry. 

In Ancestral Places, Oliveira reasserts both the validity of ancestral knowledge systems and their impact in modernity. Her discussion of Kanaka geographies encompasses the entire archipelago, offering a new framework in Kanaka epistemology.

Member of AAUP