Travelling houses: From sacred to spectacular, from shelter to specimen

Researchers: Tina Engels-Schwarzpaul, Albert Refiti
Status: In preparation for publication (projected for 2019)

Beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century, Māori and Pacific houses began to travel far beyond the sites and contexts in which they were originally embedded. The exchanges they increasingly took part in were very different from the exchanges of prestige values and genealogies that take place in a Pacific co-belonging and mingling of persons, objects and buildings.

When exhibited in overseas context, their role fundamentally changed from potentially sacred settings to spectacular scenes, in which encounters and intersections between buildings and people become increasingly fleeting and inconsequential. During those journeys, changes in the being or status of some whare nui and fale manifest culturally, materially, socio-economically and spiritually.

In some cases, collaborations developed between the houses’ guardians or producers and their overseas hosts or keepers. Today, some houses support diasporic communities, while others appear to have lost all connection with the cultural context that once made them coveted ”objects”.

The explorations summarised here under the heading of Travelling Houses, undertaken mainly by Tina Engels-Schwarzpaul in collaboration with Albert Refiti, included archival research in Aotearoa/New Zealand, Samoa, the UK, US, and Germany; site visits to resorts in Samoa, Clandon Park (Surrey), the Museum für Völkerkunde Hamburg (Germany), the Polynesian Cultural Center (Hawai’i), and the Tropical Islands Resort (Germany). We conducted interviews with people presently or formerly involved in the activities at those locations, and with other professional and academic experts.

To trial possible modes of translation between Pacific and European concepts, we tested a series of European theoretical frameworks that have affinities with Pacific ways of thinking about relationships (e.g. Jacques Rancière, Jean Luc Nancy, Peter Sloterdijk, Bruno Latour, Walter Benjamin and Hannah Arendt) and presented them for feedback, for example at conferences in the UK, Belgium, US, Samoa and Aotearoa/New Zealand, to re-check their validity in Pacific contexts. This part of theorising was conducted in exchange with a more indigenous approach to thinking about the spaces Pacific houses create, and how they allow people to perform identities away from home.

A book authored by Tina Engels-Schwarzpaul and Albert Refiti, with chapters by invited authors and provisionally entitled Travelling houses and global encounters: Of ancestors, migrants and diasporic spaces, is in planning for publication in 2019.

Related publications:

Engels-Schwarzpaul, A.-Chr. (2016, 9-13 February). Travelling houses: Translation, change and ambivalence. Paper presented at the 2016 Meeting of the Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania (ASAO),  San Diego.

Engels-Schwarzpaul, A.-Chr. (2015, 5-7 November). Spaces of appearance: Atmospheres and ecstasies across cultures. Paper presented at the ARCHTHEO ’15 conference, Istanbul, Turkey.

Engels-Schwarzpaul, A.-Chr. & Simati, B. K. (2014). A Fale Samoa at Tropical Islands Resort, Germany: Performing Samoa to the World. In Tracing Footprints of Tomorrow: Past lessons, present stories, future lives. Proceedings of Samoa Conference II (4-8 July 2011).

Engels-Schwarzpaul, A.-Chr. & Refiti, A. (2012). Fale Samoa and Europe’s Extended Boundaries: Performing Place and Identity. In R. Agarez, N. Mota, H. Heynen, & J. Gosseye, Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference of the European Architectural History Network, Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie van Belgie voor Wetenschappen en Kunsten, Brussels. pp. 337-344.

Engels-Schwarzpaul, A.-Chr. (2011). Restless Containers: Thinking interior space – across cultures. Interstices: Journal of Architecture and Related Arts, 12, 11-22.