Hula, STD app, offends; KSM alumni circulate petition

Approximately+1%2C200+k-12+students+and+most+of+the+Kamehameha+Maui+staff+perform+a+farewell+hula%2C+Feb.+9%2C+2014%2C+in+honor+of+Hawaiian+cultural+unity+and+in+recognition+of+the+retirement+of+KS+CEO+Dee+Jay+Mailer.+Three+Kamehameha+Maui+alumni+have+started+a+petition+to+change+the+name+of+a+sexually+transmitted+disease+social+computer+application+named+Hula%2C+which%2C+they+say%2C+%22...+seems+distasteful+in+light+of+the+fact+that+STDs%2C+along+with+other+foreign+diseases+contributed+to+the+decimation+of+the+300%2C000+%5BHawaiians+who+died+from+disease+post-Western+contact%5D.%22

Photo by Ka Leo o Nā Koa staff

Approximately 1,200 k-12 students and most of the Kamehameha Maui staff perform a farewell hula, Feb. 9, 2014, in honor of Hawaiian cultural unity and in recognition of the retirement of KS CEO Dee Jay Mailer. Three Kamehameha Maui alumni have started a petition to change the name of a sexually transmitted disease social computer application named Hula, which, they say, “… seems distasteful in light of the fact that STDs, along with other foreign diseases contributed to the decimation of the 300,000 [Hawaiians who died from disease post-Western contact].”

Since the release of the mobile application named Hula, some people have been offended by the name. The perceived slight led three recent Kamehameha Maui alumni to post an online petition on the website  Change.org. The petition calls for Hula CEO Ramin Bastani to change the name of the app. 

What do you think of the Hula health app that, in part, is used to post one's STD test results online for potential partners to see?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

“We realized that it was up to us to do something about the app or no one else would,” KSM alumna Gala “Kaio” Tubera (’11) said. Tubera, along with Alexander “Alika” Guerrero (’12) and Kelly Luis (’11), posted the petition in February.

Hula is an iOS app that helps people find sexually transmitted disease testing centers, obtain test results online, and share STD statuses. Bastani intended the app to promote better sexual health.

“I started the company in 2010 because a girl slapped me in the face after I asked if she’d been tested…there has to be a better way to have this conversation,” Bastani said on the Hula website.

Many were offended by the use of the phrase “because it gets you lei’d” in marketing materials and presentations. Bastani has said that the company has removed it from all marketing, but they continue to refuse to change the name of the app.

Hawaiians were quick to attack the company citing its cultural insensitivity. The petition comments show that it has also garnered support from people who are or have been in Hawaiʻi and people who appreciate Hawaiian or native cultures. As their place of residence, supporters have listed US states from Florida to Alaska. There are also comments from Canada, Mexico, France, Brazil, and Poland.

Tubera said they oppose the presumption that the Hawaiian culture is being commodified, treated as a commodity for monetary profit.

“They (the Hula app team) have been made aware of the fact that they are indeed offending our culture and they still have not changed the name,” said Kumu Henohea Kane, Kamehameha Maui Hawaiian Language, Hana No‘eau, and Hula teacher.

Once the mainstream media picked up on this story, Guerrero, Tubera, and Luis’s petition started gaining in strength, going from just a little over 1,000 signatures midweek to almost 3,000 at the time of this writing. Their goal is 100,000 supporters.

“We (teachers) try to give all of our haumāna [students] the proper tools that they need to be leaders and independent thinkers. This is a prime example of what we hope our graduates would be able to do once they leave Kamehameha,” Kumu Henohea said.

Bastani has said that he named his app Hula because it was a way of communication, and he believes his app helps people communicate about STD’s.

The petition explains that hula is “a sacred art form of the Hawaiian people.” The alumni have also said they have no opposition to the app itself, just the name. They don’t approve of the Hawaiian culture being used to promote the app, which seems unrelated to Hawaiʻi even though Bastani has tried to draw a relationship to hula as a communication tool in interviews.

“They (the Hula app team) are naïve to the importance and complete function that hula has in our Hawaiian culture, for that I do not blame them,” Kumu Henohea said. She explained that the company chose Hula as the name because they only were focused on one function of hula.

Kumu Henohea said she is still undecided about whether she will sign the petition or not because she is unsure of how much of an impact she wants this situation to have on her.

Other kumu hula (hula instructors) and hula practitioners have signed the petition and added their own thoughts through comments posted there.

“To me… hula is an extremely sacred medium of spiritual expression/communication. To have the word ‘hula’ associated with your app… is highly inappropriate and is a blatant form of cultural misappropriation,” Kumu Hula Cody Pueo Pata of Hālau Hula Ka Mālama Mahilani commented.

“This is offensive and exploitive of the essence that everything hula is and is connected to,” said Kumu Hula Kehaulani Kekua. Her comment had the most “likes” as of this writing.

“… the use of Hula is offensive and insensitive,” hula practitioner Kanoe Cazimero commented on the petition website.

People can only leave comments on the petition if they sign it, so all of the comments are for the name change.

Some Kamehameha Maui students’ names appear there as well.

“This is very disrespectful for the Hawaiian race,” freshman Selai Damuni said in her comment.

In his response to the petition, Bastani has said he is speaking with Dr. Diane Paloma, the director of the Native Hawaiian Health Program at Queens Medical Center in Honolulu, to get a better understanding of hula as a cultural dance.

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. ”

— Alex 'Alika' Guerrero, Gala 'Kaio' Tubera, and Kelly Luis

In The Huffington Post‘s article on the topic,  author James Cave said Dr. Paloma had pointed out that the irony of the name was that “the Hawaiian population experienced considerable demise after Westerners introduced infectious diseases – such as venereal disease – to the islands.”

With supporters of the name change growing, Bastani seems determined to keep the name Hula for his app. Yet, the petition’s three Hawaiian authors, now college students, say they will not rest until the name is changed to something less culturally offensive.

“We want to educate others about cultural appropriation by using the app as an example. Hopefully the change in their (Hula’s) name will be the first step in healing wrongs done to native peoples everywhere,” Tubera said.

Tubera, a former Ka Leo o Nā Koa editor, is now a student at the University of Rochester, New York.

Guerrero is an accomplished, lifelong hula dancer and winner of the overall kāne title at Hula o Nā Keiki 2011. He currently attends the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo.

Luis  was an active student leader and president of the National Honor Society at KS Maui and is now a student at Columbia University.

UPDATE 5/9/14: The Huffington Post reported on 5/6/14 that Ramin Bastani, founder and CEO of Hula, has agreed to change the name of the app for reporting sexually transmitted diseases.

Text of the petitition at Change.org:

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 onlyreduces Hawaiian women to purely sexual play things, but it presents the idea that theembodiment 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.