It’s not just offensive to dress up as a hula dancer for Halloween, it’s racist to an entire native people closely connected to the cultural practice you claim to represent.
The origins of hula have ties to early Hawaiian religious beliefs dating back to the creation of the universe. In the early days of our people, hula was a form of worship to our gods and goddesses and our governing aliʻi or chiefs. Its practice was also a form of passing down genealogies, done in formal and social settings alike to preserve our histories. It is still practiced and taught today to generations of Hawaiians all around the world in an effort to keep our culture and our history alive.
“It makes our culture a gimmick, which it already has become because people often view Hawaiʻi and our Hawaiian culture as a form of entertainment and a piece of paradise rather than a home to actual people with real cultures and customs,” said Daisy Daniels, a sophomore animation major of Native Hawaiian descent. “Dressing up as a hula dancer, hula being a significant part of the Hawaiian culture, without any consideration or respect for its origins also makes it a form of cultural appropriation— which only makes it more offensive.”
The practice of hula itself has also been historically oppressed. When American Protestant missionaries infiltrated the Islands, they convinced the reigning Hawaiian monarchs to make hula illegal in 1830 because of how they viewed its practice as pagan and unholy. The tradition of hula was still passed down through Hawaiian generations in private, but it was disallowed in public. King Kalākaua attempted to revive it during his reign in the 1880s but once the Hawaiian government was overthrown in 1893, hula, along with many other aspects of the Hawaiian culture, began to disappear when the new government started to impose its Western values.
During this time, the art of hula only resurfaced to be commodified by the tourist and Hollywood film industries. Hula and its cultural significance was reduced to cheap, hip-shaking dance routines by women who wore skimpy coconut bras and plastic grass skirts at hotels. Old Hollywood movies like "Waikiki Wedding" (1937) and "Blue Hawai'i" (1961) reflect the extent of this Westernized image of our culture meant to draw tourists in by exoticizing aspects of our culture like hula.
While the practice of traditional hula is no longer outlawed and is currently being revived by Hawaiian people, both in Hawaiʻi and around the world, our culture is still under attack by cheap costumes that claim to represent us. By dressing up as a hula dancer, people are perpetuating the very white-washed image of us in the media that we are trying to resist.
So if you’re going trick-or-treating tonight, or going out, consider leaving that DIY hula girl outfit you whipped up at the last minute in the closet. Better yet, put it in the trash because no one’s culture, including mine, is a costume. It’s a reality for students right here on campus.
This is the opinion of Raven Yamamoto, a sophomore Journalism major from Kahului, HI. Tweet comments to @LALoyolan or email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.