Cultural Appropriation and Halloween

Hula Girl Costume
No. Just. No.

Ok, Iʻm finally going to write it. I am NOT OK with the “hula-hula girl” costume.

“Halloween as a holiday has a history of being focused on inversion of power,” says professor Susan Scafidi of Fordham University. She is the author of Who Owns Culture: Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law. “It’s about turning the daily world on its head.” People dress up as celebrities, cops, politicians, and other powerful figures, and it’s funny! But when you dress up as a culture that you are currently oppressing, or have subjugated in the past, you’re not inverting anything, you’re just kicking them when they are down — or, as Scafidi says, “reinforcing current power structures in an offensive way.”

So, you realllllllly like hula, and you reallllllllly want to be a hula dancer for Halloween. Here is my suggestion. Learn something. This applies not only to hula dancers, but to any “ethnic” costume.

Let’s look at the word “costume.” Generally speaking, a costume is what you put on when you pretend to be someone or something other than who or what you are. When I dance hula, I am not in a costume. I am wearing regalia.

Image by Kaleo Wheeler
“Hula is like a breath of life exquisitely embodied and expressed in patterns of movement and sound.” Image by Kaleo Wheeler.

Regalia” is special attire you wear for a specific purpose. Hula comes from a sacred source. Hula regalia, like the regalia of a minister or priest, is not used for common, everyday things. It is reserved for special, even sacred, occasions.

A generic costume, based on stereotypes of ethnicity, is inappropriate. The “Hulahula Girl,” the “Drunken Irishman,” the “China Doll,” all portray people from the viewpoint of the top of the power structure.

Instead, opportunities for learning and growth can come when a person finds an exemplary individual and chooses to portray that person. Take Back Halloween! is a wonderful website with great suggestions!

In short: Halloween (All Hallows Eve) is the eve (evening before) All Hallows Day (aka All Saints Day). Many old traditional calendars (the Hawaiian and Jewish among them) begin the new day at dusk, not midnight. We still remember this tradition in the celebration of Christmas Eve and Halloween.

Many years ago Halloween, Samhain, and Calan Gaeaf, were conflated. In earlier times, people dressed as Aos Sí (later deemed demons, goblins, etc. by the Christian church), and went about from dusk collecting offerings. The offerings were given in hopes of a safe passage through the dangers of winter. After the conflation, the costumes began to evolve.

Up into the early 20th Century, ghoulish and generally creepy costumes were the norm. Soon, in the US, costumes included Indians, Gypsies, and other marginalized people who were demonized by the dominant culture. By the mid-20th Century, costumes started including cartoon characters from the new-fangled TV shows.

Today, Halloween costumes are pretty much “anything goes.” But we CAN improve public discourse and dialog through our costumes, and still have fun!

Have a happy and safe All Hallows Eve!
Kumu Leilehua

 

Getting my Hā on

Up at four this morning to practice what I am calling “Hā Walea,” a technique of mindful breathing I am working on.

We have been working so much over the last several years, and not being mindful of our health, that unhealthy habits and practices have grown. Over the past decade I have developed type II diabetes, and stage two hypertension.

I sleep under such tension that my dentist tells me I grind my teeth all night. I’ve actually shattered some of my teeth and had to have them pulled!

Over the past year I have managed to get my diabetes under control through exercise and dietary changes.

The blood pressure (averaging around145/103) has not come down so easily. It has taken adding a third component to get my BP down.

I’ve tried many techniques, but none really worked for my lifestyle. But one early morning I could hear Aunty Nona’s voice, “Dahling! Remember your basics! when you have difficulty, always go back to your basics! Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.”

So, I began working on my hā, breathing the way she taught us for hula. So simple! Why did I ever mislay that?

I still let myself stress, but I am getting better.

This am, I awoke with a BP of 136/88, which is just below stage 1 hypertension. After a 20 minute session of Hā Walea my BP is now 119/78, right at the top of normal. No medications.

If you would like to join me in this journey to hula back to health (Or as one friend calls it “Leilehua’s Ol Fut Remedial Hula”) I would be honored.

Participating in Hā Walea and warmups is free.
Gather 11:00 am Mondays in the lobby of the Naniloa. This class is on hold until after the Christmas holidays. It will resume 9 January, 2017.

ʻUniki

I recently had a request from a student I have not seen in twelve years. She would like to ʻuniki with me. Out of the blue, with no communication for twelve years, she wants to ʻuniki.

You do not simply show up to a kumu and ask to ʻuniki. ʻUniki is something which is earned after years of diligent study. And even among those who put in the time and effort, not all will ʻuniki.

Dr. Amy Stillman has some very wise words in her essays on haumāna and kumu:

Teachers cherish what they have learned from their teachers. They hold their knowledge close, because it is special. It is shared when students are ready and receptive. This is why an ´uniki ceremony is an ultimate achievement. The student has earned the teacher’s trust. The teacher trusts that the student will care for what has been taught. The teacher trusts that the student can discern what is appropriate and what is inappropriate. The teacher trusts that the student understands why things are done they way they are. The teacher knows that his or her teacher’s teachings will continue. So the teacher sends the student off on their own. They are free to create. What they must never do is disrespect what they have been taught, or betray the teacher’s trust.

My own opinion – if one asks to ʻuniki, one is not ready.

Indigenous Traditions could be New Resource Management Model

This excellent op-ed piece by ʻOhu Gon  needs to be shared with many.
By Sam ‘Ohu Gon
September 4, 2016

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recently unveiled a groundbreaking map of Central America that illustrates the critical role indigenous people play as caretakers of the region’s natural resources.

The map depicts Central America’s forest and marine ecosystems, along with the names, populations and locations of its indigenous peoples, who occupy almost 40 percent of the land and water area. And what the map clearly shows is telling: The best preserved natural resources are found where indigenous people live.

“You cannot talk about conservation without speaking of indigenous peoples and their role as the guardians of our most delicate lands and waters,” said Grethel Aguilar, a regional IUCN official. “They depend on those natural resources to survive, and the rest of society depends on their role in safeguarding those resources for the well-being of us all.”

The IUCN has made previous motions acknowledging indigenous people in conservation. But at this year’s World Conservation Congress, now underway in Honolulu, members will vote on a motion drafted by the cultural committee of the Hawai‘i Conservation Alliance that asks them to take additional steps toward integrating indigenous values, knowledge and approaches into efforts to address the world’s conservation challenges.

Why look to indigenous peoples?

Renowned philosopher Noam Chomsky says indigenous peoples have not commodified their relationship with the natural world. Their relationship is reciprocal: they care for their resources because their survival depends on it. Such a philosophy is desperately needed in Western societies today.

Prior to Western contact, Hawaiians embraced a reciprocal relationship with all elements of the natural world, regarding them as elders and physical manifestations of ancestors and gods.

Living on islands, with finite natural resources, they developed a mountains-to-sea system of resource management.

Within each ahupua‘a, or land division, there was an individual — the konohiki — trained from childhood to know the ahupuaa resources intimately, and who had the authority to set kapu — restrictions — when those resources were threatened, thereby bringing the resources back into balance.

The konohiki knew when each mountain tree was fruiting, when the birds of land or sea were nesting and when runs of fish were moving through the ahupua‘a — events that were extremely important to daily life.

Western approaches supplanted old relationships, disrupted ecological processes, commodified natural resources and essentially destroyed self-sufficiency.

Today, 85 to 90 percent of our food and other goods are imported from elsewhere, and the average citizen in Hawaii has little connection to the resources around them, much less a sense of kuleana — responsibility — for their care.

While we can’t easily return to the ancient ahupua‘a system, we can work to re-establish meaningful connections between people, places and resources that were its foundation. When people know and love their place and its resources, everyone benefits. The movement toward community-based marine management in Hawaii is all about this.

In rural areas like Haena on Kauai, Moomomi on Molokai, Kipahulu on Maui, and Kaupulehu on Hawaii island, indigenous communities, many of them lineal descendants of the land, are combining traditional Hawaiian approaches and modern science to restore their near-shore reefs and fisheries.

The idea is that if you engage the people of a place, who know the resources best, align them with the best of modern science and offer them an active and meaningful role in the conservation of those resources, good things happen.

Throughout the world, there is growing recognition that a new model of resource use and management is needed.

How do we achieve a more sustainable future for the planet?

The answer may lie in the caring, reciprocal relationship that indigenous people have with their resources and the natural world around them.

Sam ‘Ohu Gon, Ph.D., is a senior scientist and cultural adviser with The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii. He also is chairman of the Hawai‘i Conservation Alliance, whose cultural committee drafted IUCN Motion 83, affirming the role of indigenous cultures in conservation globally.