Cultural Appropriation?

Not a real Rastifarian

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.

Oil on Silk "Hau Mulan goes to war"

(Mulan Images from Wikipedia, film still under fair use.)

Mulan from the 1998 Disney cartoon

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.

A sacred Hawaiian stone (photo by Andy Beal under Creative Commons license)

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.

Aum Shivaya
Tandava

5 responses to “Cultural Appropriation?

  1. What an interesting story. That adds a whole new layer of complication to the appropriation idea. I’m glad it sounds like this is being resolved peacefully.

  2. Nandikesh Chandrashekharan

    Tandava,

    Just sent you an email and didn’t give you the name that some of the Swamis helped me with and Bodhinatha approved: Nandikesh Chandrashekharan.

    Please put me on your mailing list!

    also, start saving for the next Innersearch so that I can meet you. It should be Mauritius and Northern India. I’m socking away 150US every two weeks.

  3. Pingback: This is wrong in so many ways | Western Hindu

  4. Lahela Hekekia

    Our sacred spots have up to 2000 years of history, and we have all been handed down the same command: Always ask permission first. While perhaps they were naiive, it was absolutely inappropriate to take the pohaku for their own purposes and smother it with oily substances and burn candles on it. Who were these people? They don’t seem at all to have been in touch with Nature. The Hindus I know have all been very polite and respectful to our culture, particularly the ones from the Shiva temple on Kauai, as well as my teachers of Ayurveda, who are Brahmins and Ayurvedic Physicians from Poone, India. If you have no idea about our culture and our connection to Nature, I can recommend a good book: Change We Must, by Nana Veary.

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