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Identity Through Displacement
Colonial Effects on Lived Realities


This exhibit showcases artifacts from the Kaxinawá and Philadelphia Almshouse Collections at the Temple Anthropology Museum. These two collections present a snapshot of the process of colonization. The collections represent social conditions 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 changes in cultural identity that occur in contexts of colonization. In spite of clear visual, material, and cultural differences, this exhibit draws parallels between these two human experiences.

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 Kaxinawá were not simply passive recipients of colonialism, but active participants in fighting the effects of colonial occupation, 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 explores how these two different cultures utilized materials to persist, even under the most challenging conditions.

The Kaxinawá Collection

The Kaxinawá, 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 Kaxinawá became dependent on colonizers for food and water, and had to choose either to work for and depend on the rubber traders  or to flee.

Former Temple Anthropology faculty member Dr. Kenneth Kensinger visited the villages of the Kaxinawá people in the 1950s. At the turn of the century, the Kaxinawá had moved away from the Brazilian rubber workers far up the Amazon basin into Peru. The Kaxinawá were negotiating a new colonial reality, trying to decide what it meant to be ‘real people’ in a very different world. 

kaxinawa case.JPG
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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 received 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.

Beyond the Display Case
An Online Special Feature
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The items in this section are from our 310 Cypress Street collection and are featured in the online exhibit only.


Select image to learn about item and access 3D model.


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.  

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