"Our Ancestors that We Carry on Our Backs": Restaging Hawai‘i's History in the Plays of Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl

Looser, Diana
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University of Hawai‘i Press
Center for Pacific Islands Studies
During the past twenty years, Hawaiian dramatist and museum educator Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl has become established as one of the foremost playwrights working in the contemporary Pacific. Since the mid-1980s, a dominant strand of Kneubuhl’s oeuvre has involved a critical examination of Hawai‘i’s colonial history, using various forms of theatrical performance to interrogate historical injustices and characterizations of Hawaiian culture that erase or overwrite indigenous epistemologies, offering restorative models and, in some instances, stimulating efforts that bring about material social change. This paper surveys six of Kneubuhl’s historiographic works produced during the 1980s and 1990s, highlighting varied dramaturgical strategies employed to engage the cultural past in order to address contemporary concerns. The discussion distinguishes two broad theatrical genres arising from Kneubuhl’s training and work experience: historical “plays for the theatre,” which incorporate fictional or fantastic elements and are designed for repeated performance within the aesthetic and commercial frame of amateur or professional theatre production; and her “living history programs,” site- and occasion-specific performances based more directly on documentary sources and developed in consultation with historians, with a stricter pedagogical purview and a tendency toward a more realist style of presentation. This overview of Kneubuhl’s plays and programs foregrounds the important cultural interventions effected by her work during the last two decades, and contributes to an investigation of the various uses of performance in helping to construct indigenous histories in Oceania, while engaging in a broader dialogue about the ways in which theatre functions actively within the postcolonial Pacific.
Victoria Kneubuhl, Hawai‘i, Pacific drama, historiography, indigenous histories
Looser, D. 2011. "Our Ancestors that We Carry on Our Backs": Restaging Hawai‘i's History in the Plays of Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl. The Contemporary Pacific 23 (1): 73-104.
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