Identity Through Displacement

Colonial Effects on Realities


This Exhibit:

These two collections represent a snapshot of people in the middle of the process of colonization. They were separated by over 200 years, 5600 km, and a whole world of cultural traditions and expectations. But the material culture presented here shows both the continuation of tradition and the reimagining of identity.

In spite of clear visual, material, and cultural differences, this exhibit shows that parallels can be drawn on how humans share their lived experience. The residents of the Philadelphia Almshouse were colonists, but many were also very recent immigrants and refugees who struggled to survive in their new society.  The Kaxinawa were not simply passive recipients of colonialism, but active participants in maintaining and redefining their society. Among both colonialists and the colonized, there was still time for children to play games, for families to enjoy food and drink, tobacco, and for everyone to keep up standards of appearance and personal hygiene. This exhibit celebrates the ways in which these two different cultures utilized materials to persist, even under the most challenging conditions.

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The Kaxinawa Collection

The Kaxinawa, who identify themselves as the Huni Kuin (which translates to ‘the real people’), live along the Curanja River in Southeastern Peru, and along upper Embira, Muru, and the Western Amazonas. Bound together by language, ethnic identity and lifestyle, their interactions with outsiders are generally limited due to a long and fraught history of violent interactions.

The colonial state and those involved in the rubber trade created dependence—a key step in colonialism—through deforestation and colonization. The Kaxinawa were dependent on them for food and water, and had to choose either to work for and depend on the rubber traders  or to flee.

The villages visited by Kensinger in the 1950s comprised Kaxinawa people who, at the turn of the century, had moved away from the Brazilian rubber worker far up the Amazon basin into Peru. These Kaxinawa were negotiating a new colonial reality, trying to decide what it meant to be ‘real people’ in a very different world. 

The Philadelphia Almshouse Collection

The purpose of the first Philadelphia City Almshouse was to keep people and families together and out of the poorhouse using charity and donations. At this time, classism was enacted through physical segregation in housing, as well as through visible means of discrimination. People who recieved aid were forced to wear armbands identifying their city or country of origin. The idea that the poor needed to be reformed led to the desire to supervise them under one roof.

The Almshouse likely required all able-bodied “inmates” to spend time at the workhouse. Though written evidence of Almshouse workhouses does not exist, archaeological evidence clearly points to it. Scissors, leather scraps, partial shoes, and tools for leather working found at the Almshouse pointed to production of leatherwares at the workhouses. They were not used to repair or make shoes for the residents but are, rather, evidence of their forced labor.

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Beyond the display case: Online Special Feature

The items in this section from our 310 Cypress Street collection are featured in the online exhibit only. Select image to learn about item and access 3D model.


Works Cited:

Katkins, M and Allit, S, 2014. "The Early Poor in Philadelphia: A Preliminary Report on the Philadelphia Almshouse Privy Excavation", pp. 249-269 in R. Veit and D. Orr, eds Historical Archaeology of the Delaware Valley, 1600-1850. University of Tennessee Press.  

Temple Anthropology Laboratory and Museum 

Gladfelter Hall- Lower Level, Temple University

1115 Polett Walk, Philadelphia, PA 19122

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