What’s wrong with pōpolo to have garnered the articulation of “at least he didn’t say pōpolo…” in your recent article (“Chad Blair: Harry Kim Shouldn’t Get A Pass On Racist Comment”)?

Pōpolo is no different from haole and no different from māhū. They are adjectives and describe an individual. 

These words have taken on a modern conceptualization as well, as the all too often stereotypical attitudes towards them that do not necessarily originate from a Native Hawaiian first language speaker mindset.

This “modern” or perhaps contemporary view towards these words come from an Anglo-Saxon post-colonial era outlook on people and are inappropriate for assimilation into current language use standards.

Hina Wong-Kalu, at right, is the subject of the 2014 documentary “Kumu Hina” that focuses on her gender identity. "Kumu Hina" (2014)

In fact, some people may not even realize that they pick up the often insidiously pervasive and “undetectable” elements attributed to colonial attitudes thus dictating language usage in an inappropriate fashion.

In simple, even our own academic learned Hawaiian speakers may be erroneous in application of certain words if they come from a non-Kanaka perspective when using words like pōpolo, haole or māhū.

Opportunities To Learn

When applying Hawaiian terminology by both academic learned Hawaiian language speakers as well as English language speakers, the native perspective should not only be considered but also applied.

The purpose then for this writing is for me to say this:

  1. Pōpolo, haole and māhū are examples of adjectives that are proper terms yet even Kanaka (ethnic Hawaiian) use inappropriately. Example: the pervasive pejorative application of “fahken haole” “fahken māhū.”
  2. Kanaka need to use caution when using these words, for when we the natives inappropriately use, repeat or teach these terms from slanted perspectives, logically foreigners subsequently follow misinformed and inappropriate usage as well.
  3. “At least he didn’t use the word popolo” in this article is not appropriate because pōpolo is a far more appropriate term than “nika/nigger” or “pā’ele/blackened” when applied to a person/individual.
  4. It is not appropriate for nonnatives to determine the appropriateness (or lack thereof) of terminology whether spoken or written. This is all too often the case when we hear of businesses and academic settings prohibiting the use of words like “haole” because they perceive it to be negative. “Pōpolo” and “māhū” are no different.

I write these thoughts from my understanding of the language of my people and will continue to speak up when I see opportunities for people to learn about the usage of my language and the application of concepts from my culture as is determined by the Kanaka/Hawaiian worldview.

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About the Author

  • Hina Wong-Kalu
    Kumu Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu is a Native Hawaiian teacher, cultural practitioner and community leader and recipient of the 2016 National Education Association Ellison S. Onizuka Memorial Award for her impact on education and the achievement of equal opportunity for Asians and Pacific Islanders. She is the subject of the award-winning 2014 documentary, Kumu Hina.