[ politics Category ]
February 04, 2004

Dodge disses local diction

Dodge is releasing a new car modelled after the retro "Woody" station wagons, made popular by surfers during the 60's. The car was to be called the Dodge Kahuna. Upon getting wind of this, a local resident got infuriated and started an online petition. His goal was to rally the masses and alert locals (and the Dodge company) to the ongoing misuse of the ancient Hawaiian word which is meant to describe a priest or shaman.

Clearly, the natives are restless.

The petition requests Dodge to reconsider using the name and urges them to research a more appropriate word. In order to lend a hand in the matter (without getting it dirty in all the politics that's going on), here is a short list of some of my suggestions for the new car:

And if none of these will work for the local hawaiians, I suggest they boycott the car until they get over it. It's not that difficult. Anyone else have any suggestions?

Posted by Cheyne at February 04, 2004 03:41 PM


Posted by Linkmeister on February 4, 2004 4:09 PM:

Did the mountain lion population boycott Mercury? Did the wild horse population boycott Ford?

Get over it, indeed. "The Big Kahuna" has been a phrase in surf culture on the Mainland as well as here for years and years.

Posted by Sin on February 4, 2004 4:11 PM:

I'm not sure how i feel about this one. i mean, i was against a stealth bomber being named "The Spirit of Hawaii" back in 1996 but this one is a little different. Though the Hawaiian definition of Kahuna means "priest, minister, sorcerer" (Pocket Hawaiian Dictionary, written by Mary Kawena Pukui, Samuel H. Elbert, and Esther T. Mookini, copyright 1975), to a lot of mainlanders it means something entirely different, based upon 1960's surfers slang. Exactly what the definition has evolved to I don't really know. What does it mean when someone says "He's the Big Kahuna"? That guy is number one? The top dog? The big man on campus? Something like that I believe.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that the word kahuna has been "popularized" into American culture and now has a seperate meaning from it's native Hawaiian beginnings. Personally I do not find it offensive but then again I'm just a portuguese/filipino local from Maui and not a native Hawaiian. What does everyone else think?

Posted by Mike Hogg on February 4, 2004 4:12 PM:

If folks are up in arms over the name of a car, why does 105.9 FM continue to operate as "The Big Kahuna" right here in Honolulu?

Posted by Ryan on February 4, 2004 4:13 PM:

Oh, no, they got to you too? This "outrage" has been posted to USENET (soc.culture.hawaii), as well as rah-rah links to the online petition. I think it's ridiculous.

The fact that they're claiming about 1,000 supporters, many of them local celebrities, is ridiculous. I could sign that petition right now as George W. Bush. Online petitions are worth the paper they're printed on. If you really care, start a real petition.

As for the issue itself, I think there's a lot more to be upset about in 'co-opting Hawaiian culture' department. "Kahuna" is all but part of the American lexicon. It's in the freakin' dictionary for cryin' out loud. You have the "Big Kahuna" radio station, "The Big Kahuna" Hollywood movie starring Kevin Spacey, the "Big Kahuna Burger" from "Pulp Fiction."

I'm more upset that the Dodge Kahuna is a butt-ugly car than I am about the name.

Posted by Sin on February 4, 2004 4:20 PM:

Okay, wait a minute Linkmeister, while I agree with you about the word being part of the surf culture for years, you can't be serious about comparing the concerns of the Hawaiian people with animals. "Did the mountain lion population boycott Mercury? Did the wild horse population boycott Ford?"
That's just ignorant and insensitive.

Posted by Ryan on February 4, 2004 4:25 PM:

That's an interesting way of reading it. I think he could have just as easily said "environmentalists" (on Cougar) or "horse lovers" (on Mustang).

I thought it was pretty funny. I didn't see belittling, just wit.

Perspective is a wonderful thing. I think this "outrage" is almost goofy, but I definitely took that "Loveline" issue seriously...

Posted by Sin on February 4, 2004 5:18 PM:

well if he meant environmentalists or animal rights groups then i apologize.

Posted by Ryan on February 5, 2004 8:39 AM:

Well, I'll hand it to the guy behind the petition, he knows how to play the media. Articles in the Star-Bulletin and Advertiser.

I never even thought about the "physically large stereotype" angle. Hmm.

All this has re-emphasized to me how easy it is to offend someone, as people will sometimes look very hard to find ways to be offended.

Posted by Linkmeister on February 5, 2004 9:27 AM:

Sin, no comparison between people and critters intended; I was just trying to think of other car names that were real words already in use. Neither Lexus nor Cressida have constituencies which could object. ;)

Posted by cheyne on February 5, 2004 9:41 AM:

lol. Great points Ryan...and a butt-ugly car it is, indeed. The physically-large angle is just grasping at straws now.

It seems like anything and everything will set off the current hypersensitivity of these people that have nothing better to do. Next they'll be wanting monetary compensation for it.

You want something to talk about? As my clever boyfriend said: A local car company should come up with a car called "the Haole".

Posted by Albert on February 5, 2004 10:13 AM:

Even sillier than the French having a national debate over whether a young woman can wear a piece of cloth on her head in school.

Posted by Sin on February 5, 2004 3:05 PM:

Ha. Good one Linkmeister. Sorry I got riled up like that.

On a sorta-kinda-related issue, anyone see the news about some guy on ebay who said he was selling a Hawaiian skull?

Posted by Jen on February 5, 2004 3:47 PM:

On the one hand, it seems to me that Dodge is co-opting a surf phrase without really understanding the cultural significance of it, which screams of the kind of ignorance that makes tourists think the hula is "cute". They may not even know how the phrase originated and that it wasn't California surfer boys who coined it. I really wish car companies would maybe try and do some research when naming cars. It's not that "kahuna" is inappropriate, so much as it's inaccurate and speaks for the kind of dumb American mindset that's responsible for the whole "freedom fries" thing.

On the other hand, it's just a car. It's an ugly car. I can't even see anyone buying it, it's so ugly. I think anyone who is really interested in a wood-paneled surfer car would spend a couple hundred bucks on the real thing and restore it; not drop twenty grand on a mass-produced McCar.

Posted by Ryan on February 5, 2004 8:34 PM:

I really wish car companies would maybe try and do some research when naming cars.

This makes me think of the whole Chevy Nova story, which, as it turns out, was just a myth.

Today's follow-up to the petition story in the Advertiser has more from Dodge: "Sam Locricchio, a spokesman for Chrysler Group Design, said the name was 'not used with malice' but instead is associated with positive attributes that suggest 'a leader, trendsetter or role model.'"

Sin, here's your skull story. I would've loved to see a screengrab of the listing before it was yanked.

Posted by Ryan on February 6, 2004 10:49 AM:

Still, kudos to John Book, for transforming this tempest in a teapot into a small phenomenon. As a frustrated journalist, I gotta hand it to a guy who can build an "earned media" campaign for something so... minor. I mean, word is this is going to be on NPR today.

Coming soon, the blog backlash. Watch out for the "KahunaPundit," the "Miserable Kahuna" googlebomb, the "Kahuna Day" meme where the Hawaiian language is purposely mangled... it'll be a scene!

Posted by Linkmeister on February 6, 2004 8:15 PM:

Damn, Ryan, if I didn't like Linkmeister, Kahunapundit would be pretty good (goes off to check Dotster). ;)

Posted by helen on February 6, 2004 11:37 PM:

Ran across this poster at the Ala Moana Shopping Center on Friday afternoon. I have no idea how long that has been there.

Posted by Ryan on February 8, 2004 10:10 AM:

Ah, Helen, I'd forgotten about that! It's been up for a couple of months, at least. Heh.

Posted by John on February 8, 2004 6:04 PM:

I am the one who put up the petition, and I see that it has reached "Hawai'i Stories", a website I read on a regular basis.

But if it's alright, I would like to respond to a few things mentioned here.

I would like to at least say a few things about this. Well, I'll hand it to the guy behind the petition, he knows how to play the media. Articles in the Star-Bulletin and Advertiser.

I did not play the media in anyway, in fact they came to me when someone brought the petition to their attention.

I never even thought about the "physically large stereotype" angle. Hmm.

It does exist, especially in parts of the mainland.

Some people have e-mailed me and said "it's petty, leave it alone" or "why throw your concern over that, when there are better things to do?" More important concerns. Exactly, my point was to bring attention to a concern and make people look at it and question it. I never had to think about what I was on a deep level until I moved to the mainland, and I honestly felt like Public Enemy #1, having to defend myself on a regular basis. Or when I talk about Hawai'i, I'm viewed as a joke. It's the typical "do you guys have television?" "You mean there are actual Hawaiians there?" "Do you have an actual language?" Some people have said that the word "kahuna" has already been used for years as popular slang, but to me that doesn't make it right. I simply wanted to say "show respect, and have pride", because a lot of times it seems that factor is fading away. There are much greater concerns in Hawai'i, be it health care, homestead land, the quality of the beaches, education and improvements in schools, and the increased costs of living. Yet someone is going to say "that's not important, because it doesn't concern me". Someone had e-mailed me and said "you can't change the past, but you can alter the future." But I feel you can't move forward without looking back every now and then to see what came before us. Maybe down the line, people will think the naming of a simple concept car is insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I would prefer to be involved within the community to help out face to face, but I'm 3000 miles away. A lot of concerns have been brushed off as "unimportant" and just sweeped underneath the rug. Perhaps people can look at what's going on around them and become concerned, and aware. Otherwise, we'll let them pass us by and we're wonder what happened.

I would like to thank all of you who did take time to read it, regardless if you were for or against it. Mahalo nui.

Posted by Mitchell on February 9, 2004 6:03 AM:


You seem quite sincere in your attempt to make Chrysler more aware of your concern, and I respect that, even while I agree with Ryan that an online petition is a futile pursuit. For that matter, I think boycotts and paper-boycotts are also futile pursuits.

As I am convinced of your sincerity, may I humbly suggest an edit of the petition itself? I'd be glad to help you reword it so that it grammatically correct--you have a couple of awkward phrasings and a very dramatic point-of-view shift.

I'm guessing, though, that if the text could be edited after the petition itself has as many "signatures" as it does, one could cause some really outrageous mischief. Still, if it's possible, I'd be glad to help out.

Posted by Mitchell on February 9, 2004 6:08 AM:

immediate self-edit:

I meant "boycotts and paper-petitions" and, later, "I'd be glad to re-word it so that IT'S grammatically correct."

Sheesh. I shouldn't write these things at five-thirty in the morning.

Posted by John on February 9, 2004 3:00 PM:

Mitchell, thank you for doing that. Someone forwarded me an error that I wasn't aware of until yesterday, probably the "dramatic point-of-view shift" you're describing. Unfortunately, the policy of the website that has the petitions say that once the petition is up, it cannot be changed. While the adjustment of replacing one word over another would not change the meaning of the petition, I do understand their reasoning.

Posted by Ryan on March 30, 2004 10:42 AM:

Dear lord. There's actually a legislative bill being put forward on this issue. Senate Resolution 27, "Urging the Renaming of the 'Concept Car' Dodge Kahuna," is being put forward by Sen. Willie Espero. There's even a public hearing tomorrow at 2:45 pm in conference room 229.

Of all the crises our state's facing, I can't believe this one is getting any more attention than it already has.

Posted by macpro on March 30, 2004 7:44 PM:

Actually the legislation introduced by Senator Espero is only a SENATE RESOLUTION. Even if it passes out of committee and the full floor of the Senate, it has no force of law. It does not pass on to the house unless it is a CONCURRENT RESOLUTION which it is not.

The Governor has no say in these minor types of legislation.

Most resolutions such as this one are "feel good" types of legislations.... in essence, "PACIFIERS".

There are more important issues pending at the legislature than to waste time on this.

Posted by macpro on March 31, 2004 8:17 PM:

There was also a Concurrent Resolution introduced in the Senate along with the regular reso. Both passed out of the Senate Transportaton Committee today. No biggie.. these things have no force of law and are only "pacifiers" to appease the people who wanted the legislator to introduce this.

Posted by blaghh... on August 21, 2004 6:04 PM:

what does humuhumunukunukuapua'a mean in hawaiian? oh and also holoholo? thanks..

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