Native Hawaiian explains why it's 'harmful' to dress as a hula dancer for Halloween
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A Native Hawaiian woman has explained why she feels it is ‘harmful’ for people to dress up as a hula dancer for Halloween.
Chelei Kahalewai is a 28-year-old Native Hawaiian woman who lives on the island of O'ahu, and regularly posts about Hawaiian culture on TikTok to her 664,000 followers.
Kahalewai believes hula dancers are ‘greatly sexualised’ in the entertainment industry, including in Hollywood movies, having stressed that the dance form is ‘so much more’ than many people perceive.
Speaking to BuzzFeed, Kahalewai said: "When someone isn't from Hawai'i and they think of a hula dancer, the first image to their mind would be a half-naked woman in a coconut bra, grass skirt, and a fake lei. When in reality, hula is so much more."
She added: "It's so normalized to see the cheap-looking, poor-quality costumes, and that's even more insulting because actual hula dancers take pride in our cultural clothing and would never perform in something that is so poorly made."
Kahalewai has now been dancing hula for 13 years, and says it has taught her most of what she knows about her culture, as its foundations lie in storytelling.
The way that stories were ‘passed down through generations before writing came into the picture’ is one of the main reasons why hula is so ‘special’ to Hawaiian culture.
"Hula is a cultural dance for Native Hawaiians, and it is used to tell stories about our history, our experiences, our love, etc.,” she explained, saying each song has its own meaning and each hand movement is ‘directly connected to the translation of the song’.
The TikToker and Instagrammer feels ‘sad’ when she sees people dressing up as hula dancers for Halloween, saying it can have a huge impact on Native Hawaiians like her.
"It is harmful to Hawaiian culture for people to continue to see us as no more than a costume or a party theme,” she continued.
“When I see people dressing up as hula dancers for Halloween or even using us for a costume party, it's sad because I wish they took the time to understand what hula is and how important it is to Hawaiian culture.”
However, Kahalewai doesn’t have an issue with people dressing up as specific Disney characters like Moana or Lilo from Lilo and Stich, as people ‘cosplay as movie characters all the time’.
“At the end of the day, they are made-up characters in a movie, and they bring joy to people's lives,” she said.
Topics: News, World News, Halloween