Academic journal article Cultural Analysis

Ethics in Song: Becoming Kama'aina in Hapa-Haole Music

Academic journal article Cultural Analysis

Ethics in Song: Becoming Kama'aina in Hapa-Haole Music

Article excerpt

Just five hours away by plane from California, Hawai'i is a thousand light years away in fantasy. Mostly a state of mind, Hawai'i is the image of escape from the rawness and violence of daily American life. Hawai'i--the word, the vision, the sound in the mind--is the fragrance and feel of soft kindness. Above all, Hawai'i is "she," the Western image of the Native "female" in her magical allure. And if luck prevails, some of "her" will rub off on you, the visitor. (Trask 1999, 136-7)

In "'Lovely Hula Hands': Corporate Tourism and the Prostitution of Hawaiian Culture," Native Hawaiian activist, poet, and scholar Haunani-Kay Trask critiques mass, corporate tourism as "cultural prostitution," an exploitation that depends on figuring Hawai'i as a complicit, inviting, exotic female. Trask underscores the power of popular culture to perpetuate these debilitating stereotypes and argues that these representations lead to real and devastating effects. In her cutting words, the "attraction of Hawai'i is stimulated by slick Hollywood movies, saccharine Andy Williams music.... Tourists flock to my Native land for escape, but they are escaping into a state of mind while participating in the destruction of a host people in a Native place (1999, 137). Her essay hammers out hard statistics of material conditions that support her condemnation of tourism as "the major cause of environmental degradation, low wages, land dispossession, and the highest cost of living in the United States" (1999, 144).

It is no accident that Trask borrows her essay's title, "Lovely Hula Hands," from the name of the hit song written by R. Alex Anderson in 1940 about a beautiful, graceful hula dancer. For Trask, this song signifies not only the feminized and sexualized stereotypes of Hawai'i that were promulgated and are perpetuated by U.S. popular culture, but also these stereotypes' power in the American imagination. As documented in work by Elizabeth Tatar, Adria Imada, and Charles Hiroshi Garrett, (2) among others, Hawaiian music, via sheet music, the new technologies of records and radio, and live travelling performances, was a driving force for the "Hawaii Craze," that besotted the U.S. during the first half of the 20th century. (3) A new musical genre also grew out of this period--"hapa-haole" music ("halfforeign")--a hybrid genre that mixed American jazz and dance rhythms (swing and foxtrot), Hawaiian instrumentation (such as the steel guitar and 'ukulele), and lyrics in both English and Hawaiian-languages. Through national (U.S.) songhits like "Lovely Hula Hands," "My Little Grass Shack," "Hawaiian War Chant," and "Sweet Leilani," hapa-haole music solidified and perpetuated U.S. mainland caricatures of Hawai'i as a place of grass shacks,white sandy beaches, lovely hula maidens, and happy dancing natives.

I argue that these sweet and tantalizing songs also played a significant role as reassuring and enabling texts in the larger project of settler colonialism, through their appropriation and breezy translation of the Hawaiian concept "kama'aina." Kama'aina is often translated literally as "child of the land" and can also mean local, native, "old-timer," or host. Its linguistic counterpart is "malihini," a foreigner or newcomer, a guest, or a "tenderfoot." Today, kama'aina is a Hawai'ian term valued by businesses as an easy way to advertise local-ness, familiarity and belonging. For example, many businesses employ kama'aina in their names to show a connection to the community (Kama'aina Pest Control, Kama'aina Kids Day Dare, Kama'aina Pizza Hut, etc.). The term is also commonly used to label a type of monetary discount (e.g., the admission price to a theme park may have a "kama'aina discount"for people who can prove, through a Hawai'ian driver's license for example, that they live here.) Historically, this value placed on belonging--of being kama'aina--has also been a cornerstone of settler colonialism in Hawai'i. Settler colonialism has drastically refigured the concept of kama'aina in various popular cultural texts, hapa-haole music being one of many examples, putting focus on the idea of becoming kama'aina as an easily attainable possibility. …

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