Disney has acquiesced and has halted/pulled the Maui costume as a result of some complaints by a few vocal Polynesians in the name of cultural appropriation, skin color, etc. And these fellow insular and territorial Poly’s seem to be feting this as a “victory” now, and probably are having a costume party of their own. Malo!
But, if I may crash such a party and say that Disney assented, like any other big corporation would, not necessarily because of any cultural infringement, appropriation, concerns or reasons, but, more or less, for their own bottom line. Speaking of bottom line, the whole squabble was, to borrow from The Bard, a much ado about nothing. And in a slightly different context yet still applicable - and still Shakespearean - “.... [it was] a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” ...implicating of course a particular “almost Poly” YouTuber. (Ahem!)
Now that Disney has decided to settle its case, let me try to settle some of the things that have been misconstrued by certain protesters during the controversy.
Polynesian Culture or Cultures?
Polynesia means “many islands” and therefore “many cultures”. Obviously. The many archipelagos are diversified geographically and culturally and have evolved to create unique cultures of their own despite some similarities, mostly in legends and mythologies. I submit therefore that there is no such thing as a Polynesian culture, in the simplest and most basic meaning of the word. Polynesia is used more as an abstract identity and label. And in case you didn’t know, at least for kicks, there is an island group called French Polynesia in Polynesia (chew that!). But this particular complainant seemed to have tried to make references to some Hawaiian practices and traditions as tenets of a larger and homogenized Polynesian culture. One culture should not intentionally and/or actively transfer or impose its peculiarities on others. That simply is far-fetched, if not blatantly ethnocentric.
They may have been “sacred” in the distant past, but not anymore. Culture is a social phenomenon and therefore changes with time, especially with the introduction of Christianity that changed many of the taboos in Polynesia, including tattoos. Samoa, one of the most religious countries and may be the only Polynesian culture to still actively practice the art of tattooing does not consider its tattoos as sacred anymore, at least in the strictest sense of the word; as well as how it was used in the argument against Disney. Tattoos instead have become commodified and therefore have largely lost their original meaning and significance. The patterns and designs are now abused and prostituted; printed/duplicated on fabric, clothes, plastered and etched on automobiles and other surfaces. That’s hardly appropriate for anything that’s considered sacred, I must say. And this commodification, unfortunately, has been perpetrated from within - by the natives themselves. Which brings me to the next point.
If Disney were a Polynesian company, the intrusions and appropriation would have been fine with other Poly’s regardless of any offensive improprieties. Cultural appropriation does not necessarily have to be committed by outsiders only - it can be from within as well, especially within a diverse group like Polynesia with its varied cultural constituents. For example a Samoan filmmaker can appropriate other less dominant Polynesian cultures. But I’m guessing, therefore, that we’re still preoccupied, burdened and hurt by the aftermath of the colonial and imperial eras that we’ve duly become overly sensitive and adamantly adversarial against outsiders. I think it’s about time that we move on. (“Can we all just get along?”) Sometimes when one keeps insisting on his/her rights and “right of way”, the outcome is often a crash and/or clash with others. I’m not saying that we should be absolutely passive in all things - far from it. But a mere costume is something that shouldn’t ruffle our feathers, cause our combs to stand up (Chicken!) and get our adrenaline rushing. Save them for many more important issues. There’s too much of this PC business today! And believe me, whatever modification or change is made to the costume, there will always be some who will be offended. And then when there’s no costume, someone will accuse Disney of prejudice and discrimination since all other Disney characters have costumes - but not Maui.
Sole Proprietor of Brown Skin?
And since when did we Poly’s copyright, monopolize and patent brown skin? There are many other brown-skinned people in the world, mind you. As I said previously, does that mean that we shall now start protesting the sunbathers at the beaches and customers in tanning salons? And most certainly, by the way, there are also those whose skin colors are fair, darker, etc. who’d claim to be true “Polynesians” or trace their origins and roots to Polynesia. So we can blame Disney for marginalizing Polynesians; but how about Polynesians marginalizing Polynesians?
So, again, please lighten up (multiple puns intended)!
Finally, with reference to the protesters’ stance, one of my favorite Samoan adages is “Atonu e sa’o ae le a’o” (“[you] may be correct but not right”). In a nutshell, correctness often connotes a particular conformity within a specific time, setting and subject whereas rightness involves a broader and more inclusive sphere, context and continuum.