For weeks I’d been hearing about how wonderful the ancestors exhibit was at the museum so I decided to finally check it out for myself. I moved to Lahaina over 4 years ago and have completely embraced the way of life and culture. I’ve never lived someplace that felt so perfect before. I couldn’t wait to see the artifacts and learn more about my adopted people. To put it bluntly what I found inside was horrifying. Instead of uplifting a proud and ecologically responsible culture, I was exposed a hit job of the grossest kind.
First let me address the elephant in the room. Let’s talk about the shark teeth. They are tied, wedged, and jammed into a majority of the “artifacts”. Did I mention that most of the artifacts are really weapons? There’s shark teeth clubs, daggers, and things that I don’t even know what they are. I was surprised that the gratuitous amount of teeth didn’t spill over into other parts of the museum. I fully expected to to find shark-toothed pens or bookmarks in the gift shop.
I’m not saying that these items might not have been occasionally used in the past, just that this dental damnation of the Hawaiian people was offensive. I’m not sure why we as a community would support this sort of thing.
I had heard that tiki idols were used at one time to revere ancestors but that was before pens and paper. It’s hardly the Hawaiian people’s fault that they used these grotesques at one point before they had the technology to write down, “Grandpa Joe is a really great guy!”
Hula skirts were nowhere to be seen except the gift shop. Are we really to believe that the early explorers brought dance and clothing to Hawaii? The same held true for leis. I guess the islanders couldn’t string a bunch of flowers together either until the big boats showed up.
After a few minutes of looking around at this Polynesian minstrel show my hands began to shake with anger and I had to leave. I thought about what I’d seen all day and decided that I should warn everyone thinking of going to the exhibit and to help the “experts” at the museum with their next “celebration of Hawaiian culture and history.” Here it goes.
Real Hawaiians don’t drink out of hollowed out pineapples and coconuts. Pineapples aren’t even indigenous to the islands. We enjoy our adult beverages in glasses with LED lighting like everyone else. We don’t put on flip flops and walk down to the beach to play our ukuleles. We wear rubbah slippers and listen to the house band at the resort. I’d never wear a shirt that combined flowers with cars or animals. True Hawaiian shirts have flowers, various plants, and maybe surfboards. That’s it. Anything else is cultural appropriation. Our free time is not spent watching the spam sculpture competition at the fair. We eat musubi and spicy spam sushi rolls.
The Hawaii I’ve come to know and love is about beautiful beaches, the bounty of nature, and buffets. When we have a problem we go down to the local beach bar, watch the surfers, and talk it out over chi-chi’s. We don’t rip open bellies with the tooth-encrusted handguards on our bone punch-daggers when we have a disagreement. I’m no historian but I think we as a people, and certainly our children, deserve better than what is on display now. Let’s forget the past and work together to frame a better narrative moving forward.