We rip Hawaii’s tourist industry (and it is an “industry” in every sense of the word) a lot around here (you can read the latest example here) so it’s quite gratifying to read a national magazine taking up the charge on the Mainland.
[T]he fact remains that of the seven million tourists who visit the islands each year, a huge number will experience Hawaii as a Polynesian Disneyland, a place staffed and populated by smiling hula girls ready with leis and hollowed-out pineapples filled with rum.
So writes Nicole Pasulka, a former Honolulu tourism copy writer, in the story “Eddie Is Gone,” which appears in the new Sept. 2012 issue of The Believer. The “Eddie” in the headline is, of course, the late waterman and Hokule’a crewmember Eddie Aikau, and much of the complex story of Aikau’s upbringing, surfing, politics and untimely but heroic death will be familiar to locals.
Still, it’s almost heartwarming to know that Mainlanders who might otherwise not have a clue about the colonial greed, racism and violence that changed Hawaii from a kingdom to United States territory (to say nothing of the complicated racial and class politics that continue to grip Hawaii today) will read passages as this one:
The standard tourist narrative downplays or disregards disease epidemics, violence against native Hawaiians, and movements for native sovereignty. Because who wants to be reminded they’re taking a holiday on illegally annexed land?
Like the plantation economy of the last century, tourism is a harsh mistress that, even when it seeks to be “authentic,” rewrites Hawaii’s history and culture to serve its own purposes. Some day that may change, but as of now, we all firmly live within its grasp.
Photo: Waka moana/Wikimedia Commons