While it cannot be denied that Hula, the mobile STD alert app, is a monumental step towards STD awareness and protection, the people of Hawai’i and their supporters must make their voices heard in regards to the marketing campaign used to promote your product. By this petition, we as a people reach out to Hula and its CEO, Ramin Bastani, in the hopes that our pain and concerns will be addressed. Using Hula (because it gets you lei’d) as the premise for the product harms Native Hawaiians everywhere.
Through the writings of early settlers and missionaries in the islands, the idea that Hula is simply a sexual and savage expression has led to an orientalist view that is constantly propagated throughout popular culture. The hula girl stereotype not only reduces Hawaiian women to purely sexual play things, but it presents the idea that the embodiment of Hawai’i and its culture is childlike and primitive.
In actuality, hula was and still is a sacred art form of the Hawaiian people. It recounts the history of our people, beginning with the initial migration from East Polynesia until now in the 21st century. The stories speak of the great deeds of the commoners, the chiefs, and the gods. The stories depict every element and aspect of our environment and remind us that everything is interconnected and interdependent.
The arrival and teachings of the Calvinist missionaries from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) in 1820 destroyed our religious foundation, and hula was outlawed. For over 60 years it was taught out of sight and only by a select few amongst close family members. Public performance was seldom seen. In 1883, King David Kalākaua said, "Hula is the language of the heart, and therefore the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people.” At the king’s coronation in 1883 and later at his jubilee, the hula performed there initiated the start of the cultural renaissance.
The subsequent years would slow that progress. In 1893, the Hawaiian kingdom was overthrown by wealthy plantation owners, who were the descendants of the Calvinist missionaries who came to Hawai‘i. In 1896, the Hawaiian language was banned from educational institutions. Finally, the kingdom of Hawai‘i was annexed to the United States in 1898. Following this, hula and Hawaiian culture served as entertainment for tourist in what some people call “cultural prostitution” as the stereotype of the always welcoming and accommodating hula girl became the world’s idea of Hawai’i.
In the 1960s and the 1970s the cultural revival began anew. Hawaiian language and culture were being relearned, and Hawaiians begged to know their history. Hula became a focal point because it is the Hawaiian art form that holds our language, history, music, and traditions. The Merrie Monarch, the most prolific hula competition in the world, began in 1963 and many competitions soon followed. Hula has spread worldwide and many students of all nationalities and ethnicities are learning it. Here in Hawai‘i, hula remains an unbreakable connection to our ancestors. It is a resistance from conformity and an essential part of our cultural identity.
In addition to the implied appropriation of a cultural practice that means so much to Native Hawaiians, the use of our culture in regards to STD awareness seems distasteful in light of the fact that STDs, along with other foreign diseases contributed to the decimation of the 300,000. However, the arrival of Europeans exposed Native Hawaiians to foreign diseases such as gonorrhea and syphilis, which consequently caused death and infertility. As a result, the Native Hawaiian population dramatically declined and in the late 19th century the population was reported to be as low as 40,000 people.
While we have no opposition to the app's functions and purpose, we do not believe that our beloved culture practice should be exploited to ensure the app’s success. Thus, we urge supporters to stand with us in solidarity in requesting Hula's CEO, Ramin Bastani, to change the name of his STD alert app.