I recently read a blog entry that dealt with the idea that Westerners following Hinduism could be a form of cultural appropriation. I had not intended to write on this, as the post covered the issue well. The post concluded that taking things out of context and using them as an adornment to another culture is cultural appropriation. The Rastafarian dreadlocks and colours in the picture are an example of cultural appropriation, as is the Disneyfication of Mulan .
Respectful study and following of elements of another culture is not. I fully agree with this conclusion and I thought that there was not much more to be said on the matter.
(Mulan Images from Wikipedia, film still under fair use.)
Then I read a Hindu Press International article about a stone in Hawaii that was worshipped by Hindus being taken away. This stone the Healing Stone of Wahiawa was sacred to the Hawaiian natives, but worshipped by a Hindu group.
Sacred stones form part of Hawaiian tradition. I couldn’t find any pictures of the actual stones that is licensed for reuse, the picture is of a similar Hawaiian stone. It appears that a Hindu group found these stones sacred, and since they appeared to be abandoned at the time used them for devotion. It appears though that Hawaiians were interested in the stone, however. Some discussions on the use of the stone were started. There were obviously differences in the way the two groups thought that the stones should be treated. The Starbulletin says:
“We go clean it once or twice a month,” said Lani Kiesel, who has lived nearby for 40 years but just awakened to the site’s importance. “If it looks wilted, I will clean it out. We’ve found candles melted all over the stones.”
Kiesel and Elithe Kahn started their work after finding the stones “smothered” with oily residue.
“Neglected sites are being taken care of as part of the resurgence of Hawaiian awareness,” said Kahn, who teaches a class in the Hawaiian breathing discipline of ha. “Kupunas have taken up the cause. It’s important that we introduce young children to the history.”
The women have produced leaflets that identify the stone by its Hawaiian name, Keanianileihuaokalani.
“We implore people whose religious practices incorporate oiling the stone as a form of adoration to abstain from this foreign practice,” says their leaflet left for visitors.
It is entirely possible that the Native Hawaiians respected the stones all along, and far from being abandoned they were housed in a way that the Native Hawaiians felt appropriate. It is clear from the various linked articles that whereas Hindus often house sacred objects in a shrine, and Native Hawaiians see it as better to leave them alone, where they can be “nourished” by the rain. One Hawaiian bloger says:
It was housed in a “:shack”. What may be a shack to you, is a blessed place, just old with certain materials.
The stones were removed from the Hindu site in June this year. Was the Hindu’s worship of the stones a form of cultural appropriation? I think it was, though probably unintentional, as the Hindus believed that the Native Hawaiians had no interest in the stones. There are places where Hindus do share religious sites and objects with other faiths, such as the murti at Seto Macchendranath, worshipped by Buddhists and Hindus, and the Ellora caves, which include Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples. Within Hinduism we see temples shared by different sects, especially in the West. Where different groups do share it can be enriching for both, but it can only be done by mutual agreement.
From the reports it sounds as though the Hindus have accepted that the Native Hawaiians have the right to the stones, and are looking at where to go from this point. In my view this is the right thing to do, Perhaps their devotion helped the Native Hawaiians become more spiritually aware of their spiritual heritage. If so then this is something they can be proud of. The Hindus should now either humbly ask the Native Hawaiians for access to the stones on whatever terms the Hawaiians chose, or look for an alternative vehicle for Shiva.
I pray that whatever the resolution the Hindu and Native Hawaiian communities can both move on and grow, with mutual understanding and respect.