Hula Hālau Tradename Filing in Japan Sparks Controversy in Hawai‘i
*UPDATE: This post has been updated to include a statement from the other party involved.
What makes a Hawaiian name so special? That’s the question at the center of a controversy that arose when a former student of a hula hālau reportedly filed tradename papers for Hālau Ka Liko Pua O Kalaniākea in Japan.
Kumu Hula Kapua Dalire-Moe of Hālau Ka Liko Pua O Kalaniākea wrote an open letter on her personal Facebook page to family, friends, fellow Kumu Hula, and students throughout Japan, saying she was “sad and disgusted,” at what had transpired.
The letter states that she was informed through email that the student who took the action “no longer wanted to belong to hālau and wanted to open her own and be independent as they say in Japan.” Dalire-Moe writes that the student left hālau in October and filed papers for the tradename during the same month.
In the letter, Dalire-Moe explained the cultural and personal significance of the hālau name saying:
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“My family name given to me at birth by Aunty Emma Defries will always belong to my family. My children will always be the true heirs to the Kalaniākea name that they all carry as well. Nothing will ever change that. But if she is approved and granted ownership, I WILL NOT give her the satisfaction to claim any association to me, my family, and the legacy of the late Aloha Dalire. Hālau Ka Liko Pua O Kalaniākea will no longer exist under my leadership. I will change my Hālau name and move forward with my family, my students, and my Kuleana to uphold a standard of excellence perpetuating the Hawaiian Culture the way my Kupuna entrusted me to do as a Kumu. She can have the hālau name and claim ownership because I know that without me, Kalaniākea is nothing but just a name. I can only pray that she understands the cultural ramifications that will follow a name with so much Mana that wasn’t hers to begin with.”
In the book Nānā I Ke Kumu, (Mary Kawena Pukui, E.W. Haertig, M.D., Catherine A. Lee. Published by Hui Hānai ©1972 by The Queen Liliʻuokalani Childrenʻs Center, Liliʻuokalani Trust) the cultural significance of Hawaiian names is explored.
The publication states that “In the early days of Hawaiʻi, personal possessions were few, but highly valued. …all these were prized. But even more precious was each manʻs most personal possession, his name.”
According to the publication, when a person hands his name down to a family descendant, the name becomes an inoa kupuna or ancestral name.
Some names, including inoa pō (literally “night name” or “name in darkness”), when given, “become an individual’s exclusive possession.” “No one else should use it without permission of the original bearer of the name. To do so incites illness or bad fortune,” according Pukui’s interpretation in Nānā I Ke Kumu.
In the publication, an inoa (name) is described as both an “owned property” and a “kind of force in its own right.”
A report aired by KITV on Thursday identified that student. In the report the student explained that she was trying to “protect” the name, “not take it.” The student reportedly stated that the action was taken, “in order to prevent an unrelated third-party from registering there first.”
Our request for comment from the student was not returned at the time of this publication. *(UPDATE: A joint statement has since been issued by the student and her husband who posted a response on Wednesday Dec. 20, 2017 on Facebook saying the accusations were “based on incomplete information,” and criticize the television station for airing the story. The statement also notes that the process of hoʻoponopono will be conducted to resolve differences. In the statement, those at the center of the conflict say they are “not guilty of cultural theft or theft of any kind”).
Hālau Ka Liko Pua O Kalaniākea under the direction of Kumu Hula Kapua Dalire-Moe has won numerous awards at the Big Island’s prestigious Merrie Monarch Hula Festival.
Many kumu hula in Hawaiʻi teach in Japan. It’s been said that Japan has more hula dancers than in Hawaiʻi, a statement that was explored in a recent article published by the Hawaii Business Magazine.
While some entertainers have found the strong interest in Hawaiian culture and traditions among those in Japan and overseas to be lucrative, others fear that the trade-off could also be detrimental if there is a lack of understanding or respect for the depth of cultural practices and ancestral knowledge involved.