Leis, Tattoos and Schools ...in Utah

Yes I live in Utah. How long? ...does it matter? Well, long enough to have forged and formed an opinion (yes, opinion) about the place. I call it home, anyhow. Utah has consistently ranked high - nationally and internationally - in terms of livability, health, fitness, recreation, natural beauty, etc.,  Utah does have its flaws nonetheless it’s a great place, nice people and nice weather - not all around though. I enjoy Spring, Summer and Fall. I cannot, and will not, say the same for Winter until I have managed to learn and enjoy skiing, snowboarding, bobsledding or other winter activities. Yeah riiggght, like I would even start to give them any serious thought.  I do however enjoy snowball tossing and fighting, and only because I don’t throw rocks anymore - not as an amusive pastime as I did in Samoa though.

But leis and tattoos? What’s the connection? Well, they both trace their origins - hence etymologies - to Polynesia. “Lei” still keeps its Hawaiian spelling and morphology while “tattoo” is a transliteration of the Maori, Tahitian and Samoan “tatau”. The art itself is practiced the world over.

This is the time of year for school graduations in Utah (and elsewhere in the US) and Polynesian students definitely stand out - if not in the academic sense, certainly in the cosmetic and ornamental sense. You can tell a Poly kid from miles away - they all seem to be modern and mobile miniatures of the King Kamehameha statue (the one in front of Iolani Palace) on Kamehameha Day. I’m talking about the graduates being draped with leis - candy leis, flower leis, yarn leis, leaf leis, etc., Sometimes the leis keep piling up to cover the graduates’ heads and it’s not uncommon to find them squinting from beneath their sweet and fragrant head-and-shoulders adornment. I’m sure some of their post-march pictures will attest to such revelry.

Well, bad news at least for some Poly students in some Utah schools. Leis are now banned during graduation. Nooo?? Yeeeess!! But don’t fret ....yet. It may not be racist or prejudicial (as with most accusations and criticisms of Utah) on the part of these school boards. You see, palagis and others have taken the lei concept and created their own versions. On Wednesday evening, I’ve seen some palagis with leis made of blinking lights - like those on Christmas trees. Some looked like zombies with their blinking leis. And I’m not talking about those blinkers you get at most carnivals either. These looked like new innovations based on the lei concept.

And the tattoos?  Visible tattoos, for both students and teachers, are also banned in some if not most Utah schools.

So, a couple of Polynesian cultural relics - leis and tattoos - which have made their way into the mainstream American culture, are now gradually being restricted and regulated, apparently for the “common good” - however you define that; at least the “common” aspect.

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