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Student Perspective: The True Meaning of Aloha

Each year, my students write and present an informative or persuasive speech in class. I am always impressed with my students and their capabilities. This year, one student's speech spoke to many issues we've talked about in class and that I've also written about here. While she didn't move on to the finals, the writing was strong enough that I wanted to share it here.

I hope that, in sharing it, educators reading it understand that working toward cultural understanding and appreciation, instead of accepting appropriation and misrepresentation as "not a big deal," will not only affect adults, but students as well. 

Guest post by Kaily S.


The movie titled, "Aloha," is one of Hollywood's biggest racial controversies. It features Bradley Cooper, Rachel McAdams, and Emma Stone. It can be described as a military-themed love story, which brought up the controversial discussion of why the makers titled it "Aloha." Many companies and brands have been using the Native Hawaiian's food, dance, language, and their whole way of life as a way to make a profit, but the exploitation of the Hawaiian culture is still happening when people aren't making a profit. This has been happening to many aspects of the Hawaiian culture, but have you ever thought about the Native Hawaiians? The Hawaiian community has been trying to bring their culture back, but their efforts have not solved the problem. This issue isn't one that is to be solved and dealt with by only the Native Hawaiians, it is a problem that we all have to deal with. If we were to let this issue grow, it would affect our economy and thus affecting us all. The misuse of the Hawaiian culture has been happening for too long, and needs to be put to an end.

If we continue to embezzle the Hawaiian culture, it will disappear, and a culture that is only used for profit and entertainment will takes its place. Now, the Hawaiian culture is even more at risk, since our culture is being used for profit. It is urgent to establish the culture because of profit-making, but also because the elders, the people who know the culture best, are almost gone. In some places, the correct Hawaiian culture is already disappearing and being replaced with one that is used for profit. This is happening in hotels and places that attract the most tourists. We have all seen and supported this version of the Hawaiian culture at some point in our lives. The most common being the squandering of the words that are most important to us. We have all limited the authentic meanings of the words in the Hawaiian language to make them simpler and easier to understand. Most of us know the term "aloha" as hello, good-bye, and thank you, but those aren't the actual meanings. "Aloha" actually means, when we are in each other's presence, we exchange the breath of life. "Aloha" cannot be put into one single, simple word. It isn't just a greeting; in a way it is their way of life, and when you distort that sacred word, you distort their way of life.

The Hawaiian language is one of the most important aspects to the Hawaiian community, so using it as a source of profit, instead of using it for the actual meaning, makes it seem like we don't care about the culture. In 2018, news became public about a company in Chicago called Aloha Poke Co. Kalamaokaʻaina Niheu, a Hawaiian activist, stated, "Aloha Poke Company wants our food, our language, and our culture, but they want to discard the people," They have used the words "aloha" and "poke" as a form of commercialization. There have been legal threats made, but they were threats to the Hawaiian culture and community, not just the stores. The shops that are titled Aloha Poke Co. in Hawaiʻi, arenʻt even allowed to keep their names.

Some arenʻt changing it because they believe that they have a right to their own language, and they do. They shouldn't have to change a title that is in their language because some mainland company told them to. They have the right and should stand up for that right of freedom to use their own language.
Because of the prostitution of the culture, the many ideas and morals of the Hawaiian culture have changed. The important ideas have been stripped away and replaced with ones that are only used commercially. They have been altered by tourism to fit the tourists wants and expectations. Haunani-Kay Trask argued that the commercialization of the Hawaiian culture led to the changing of the Hawaiian value system, "For instance, the 'aina (or land) was no longer the earth mother, Papa, the source of food and shelter, but was called real estate and became a source of money and a place for expensive resorts. ... In the capitalist context, the people, place, culture, identity, even 'aloha' were for sale." If we continue to let tourism sell out the culture, we will all show our true values as people who live in Hawai'i. Tourism has not only changed the morals of the culture but also the perspectives of the people within the culture. Native Hawaiians now feel unimportant as their culture is being used for the benefits of tourists, instead of the prosperity of the culture's people.

We see cultural appropriation all around us, but we don't do anything about it because we are used to seeing it. We believe that nothing is wrong because we haven't done anything to solve the problem in the past. Proving to everyone that they should consider and at least accept what all of us have done to the culture will allow us to stand together and bring back the real culture. Then maybe there's a chance we can discard the profitable and unrealistic Hawaiian culture that will take its place and bring back the real Hawaiian culture.


IMG_2690.pngKaily S. is an 8th grader at Punahou School. She is very passionate about the Hawaiian culture and animals and hopes to become a veterinarian when she grows older.

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