The Portrayal of A Hawaiian: What You See, Is Not All That There Is

Do you surf or play the ukulele? Do you speak pidgin or dance hula? I am sure many of you can guess what I am talking about. As soon as I tell someone that I am from Hawai’i, these are the kinds of questions that I receive. From the time I was a little girl, Hawaiians have been stereotyped as a laid back person who likes to surf, play the ukulele, speak pidgin, and exhibit violence. Popular culture has also glorified a Hawaiian to experience this “paradise living” due to the nature of it’s geographical location. Little do we know, popular culture’s influence of this stereotypical view of a Hawaiian plays a critical role in a Hawaiian’s life.

Why did you move from Hawaii to Oregon? Many people have asked me this without ever going to Hawai’i. Due to popular culture, paradise living is the epitome of a Hawaiian. Many people think about a perfect island, where the weather is always sunny and the water is always warm. Many assume that if you are a Hawaiian, you are living on an island without a care in the world, hence, “paradise living”. On the other hand, perfect weather and perfect life, is not necessarily the case for a Hawaiian. Everyone is a potential victim in the exposure of this stereotype, however, they have a choice whether to accept or refute this stereotypical view of a Hawaiian.


To begin, as shown above, the movie Lilo & Stitch made by Walt Disney is what brainwashed people of this Hawaiian stereotype the most. This movie was targeted for families with young children. The first time that I watched this movie, my main takeaway was “Ohana means family and family means that no one gets left behind or forgotten.” I perceived the main message of this movie as this, no matter what happens, you stick together because family is the most important foundation, but after watching it a second time, I noticed certain details that has offended my identity.

First, it is portrayed that if you are a Hawaiian, it is in your blood to surf. In this movie, there is a strong correlation of a Hawaiian and surfing. I understand that having the beach in your backyard increases the probability of a Hawaiian to surf, However, I am a born and raised Hawaiian who has never even laid a foot on a surfboard. What I am trying to get at is that not all Hawaiians are surfers. Although I wanted to learn how to surf, it was never a top priority for me. When people ask me if I surf when I tell them I am from Hawaii and I reply no, I experience discrimination. It’s as if I have to prove to people that I am a Hawaiian just because I have never surfed in my life. Due to this stereotype, it seems that if you do not surf you are not a Hawaiian, even though my blood states otherwise.

Second, the ukulele is another detail that occurs frequently. In the beginning of the movie, the first time that Lilo, the little girl, met Stitch, the alien, she teaches Stitch to play the ukulele, as if playing the ukulele is what makes you a Hawaiian. Do you play the ukulele? This is a common question that I am asked when I tell someone that I am a Hawaiian. Being a Hawaiian, the ukulele is a cultural instrument. Throughout my years of growing up in Hawaii, my island incorporated Hawaiian culture with education which was interesting because the ukulele was not originated in Hawaii. The “ukulele” is a musical instrument that originally came from Portuguese immigrants. Therefore, it is very interesting how the ukulele is strongly correlated to a Hawaiian in Lilo and Stitch. Although ukulele classes were not mandatory, I chose to attend the ukulele classes not because I am a Hawaiian, but because it seemed fun. As of right now, I do not play the ukulele, further emphasizing to people that the ukulele is not for all Hawaiians, yet this movie makes the ukulele such a great factor for a Hawaiian.


Furthermore, the TV show Hawaii Five-O, is another factor that has contributed to the portrayal of a Hawaiian. Due to the nature of the geographical location, when living on an island, it is all about paradise living, paradise as in warm weather. In Hawaii Five-O, it is always clear and sunny. There has not been an episode with rain or an overcast weather. This portrayal has contributed to the stereotype of a Hawaiian. Many people tell me things like “if I had weather like that, I would never leave”, when I say that I am from Hawai’i but I live in Oregon now. In all honesty, we do have “bad” days.  There was a time that my island rained for 2 weeks straight. Although the climate is frequently warm, our skies are covered by dark clouds that send pouring showers on the island on some days. The main point that I am getting at, is that Hawaiians do experience bad weather, yet Hawaii Five-O continues to brainwash their audience about Hawaii always being sunny.

In addition to brainwashing their audience, another important aspect in the movie is that with paradise living results in informal language, and pidgin is the perfect example. Pidgin is a type of informal language. It would be saying “hoi” instead of “you”. In Hawaii Five-O, pidgin is incorporated quite often. First, two main characters are foreigners, unaware of this informal language, however, as time progresses they begin to pick up on it, frequently using it whenever they speak. Second, the Hawaiians only speak pidgin in the movie. It seems as if speaking pidgin is a way to fit in when you live on an island. If you speak proper English, you are looked down upon. In my opinion, although pidgin is prevalent on my island, it is not as “cool” as it seems. To elaborate, you are looked down upon if you do not speak pidgin on island, however, I speak proper English on my island. I do not care what others think because when I do speak pidgin, I feel very unintelligent.


Moreover, do not mistaken pidgin for Hawaiian language, as they are two complete opposites. As popular culture has proven, Hawaiian language is an important aspect in the identity of a Hawaiian. To elaborate, take the Merrie Monarch into account. The Merrie Monarch is a weeklong festival in which groups compete by honoring the perpetuation of Hawaii’s traditions, native language and arts. The type of Hawaiian language portrayed in the Merrie Monarch is both verbal and nonverbal. As David Kalakaua asserts “Hula is the language of the heart, therefore, the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people.” This festival allows everyone around the world to access it because the complete festival is recorded live and posted online. Hula is what has always stood out to me. Hula is a Hawaiian tradition, however, some Hawaiians do not dance hula. I am a primary example because even though I am Hawaiian in blood, I have never danced hula in my life. Hula is a beautiful story spoken from the body, yet, I feel that I am not graceful so I do not participate. Although hula is a great factor in Hawaiian Tradition, many Hawaiians do not dance hula and that is okay.

Equally important, is the physical appearance in the Merrie Monarch Festival. The picture shown above of a Merrie Monarch group is the perfect example. Coconut bras, puka shell necklaces, and hula skirts are accessories that are commonly shown in the Merrie Monarch Festival, which many people believe to be the typical outfit of a Hawaiian. Personally speaking, I have never worn a coconut bra before. Throughout my upbringing, I wore similar clothes as a foreigner, that is, a t shirt and shorts. Why should the physical appearance define someone’s identity? If that was the case, a foreigner could wear a coconut bra and a hula skirt, and she would be deemed as a Hawaiian. Being a Hawaiian should be more internal than external. Although I did not wear a hula skirt, I am a Hawaiian, yet this secondary source focuses on the ideal physical appearance of a Hawaiian.


With that said, naturally tanned skinned is another aspect of the physical appearance of a Hawaiian. In the movie, Beyond Paradise, the Hawaiians do not have to lay out in the sun, they are born that way. Every Hawaiian character is dark skinned. Based on someone’s skin color, you can tell if a person is a Hawaiian or not. Yes, I can become tan skinned from the sun, but this tan skin does not occur naturally. On the other hand, many would argue that the association of tan skin and Hawaiians is due to the pigment in the Hawaiian, however, I am Hawaiian, yet, I can pass as a foreigner because I am white as paper. strong association with physical appearance and a Hawaiian. From my perspective, the stereotype of a tan skinned Hawaiian came from the belief that a Hawaiian’s geographical location is always sunny, in which stated above, that is not the case.

Besides the idea that a “white Hawaiian” can exist, the lifestyle of a Hawaiian is anything but “paradise living.”, and Beyond Paradise is the artifact used to substantiate this claim. Beyond paradise is a semi-autobiographical film of, the director, David Cunningham’s, experience in Hawaii. This movie is unlike any other because it is the polar opposite of the stereotypical Hawaiian movies that portray the paradise living. The purpose of this movie is to show their audience the interaction between a foreigner and an islander. This movie does not sugar coat anything as do majority of movies about Hawaiians do. Unlike movies that sugar coat the reality of a Hawaiian, Violence occurs frequently in Beyond Paradise. The theme with violence in this movie is about a “kill or be killed” mentality. In the movie, a foreigner moves to the island and is bullied by the Hawaiians. Many of the Hawaiians physically and verbally abuse the foreigner because the Hawaiians do not welcome Haoles. Thus, instead of talking it out, they exhibit violence. As I have I have witnessed firsthand of this type of altercation, this is an accurate depiction of how violent a Hawaiian can be towards a haole. Although I, a Hawaiian, am anything but violent, violence does occur frequently in a Hawaiian’s lifestyle, contributing to refute this “paradise living” that many associate with Hawaiians.


Despite the prevalent view of Hawaiians being violent, some Hawaiians are nonviolent. I have told many of my friends to come with me to my island for a short vacation. However, they reject the invitation because they think that Hawaiians are scary, violent, and dangerous, when in fact some are not.Take for instance, the article, Pure Hawaiian: Beyond the glitz of tourist beaches, locals cling to the spirit of the ocean written by John Lancaster, an author for National Geographic. While Lancaster encountered many experiences with Hawaiians, the thing that stood out to me was when he stated this, “”We got nice people here, but if you treat them bad, they’ll treat you bad.” It wasn’t a threat, just a simple statement of fact. The man who uttered it was sitting on a tree limb that had washed up on the beach. Though well past retirement age, he looked like someone you didn’t want to cross, a thick-chested guy in board shorts, sunglasses, and a black sun visor.” This is important because the author states his assumption. He profiled the man to be someone that you did not want to cross because of what he looked like. More importantly, although Hawaiians are seen as violent, it is because they have to be when they are provoked. Although many Hawaiians are quick to assume when it comes to outsiders, Hawaiians will not initiate the violence. To elaborate, as echoed by the article, I am not mean unless someone makes me that way. For example, as I was minding my own business in the ocean, an outsider started throwing sand at me for no reason. I tried to ignore it but they did not want to stop, constantly egging me on. Attempting to distinguish the fire riled up between myself and the outsider, I politely asked them to stop multiple times, yet they did not understand my message. After a nonviolent gesture did not work, I then dunked their head under water. Although I acted violently, that was only because I had to. Many assume Hawaiians are violent, yet they do not know the justification for their violence. They do not know that Hawaiians have to be violent when all else fails.

Also in the article, I found the word “uncle” to be important, which the author does a great job in explaining. As many people know, an uncle is your relative, however, it can have a different meaning for a Hawaiian. In the article, Lancaster refers to Keaulana, the Hawaiian man, as “the most prominent of Makaha’s famous “uncles”—the mostly Hawaiian elders who serve as guardians of the community”. In other words, an uncle is either your mom’s brother, or dad’s brother, but a Hawaiian refers to a male elder as an uncle, regardless if they are related or not. As for my experience, I call all my elders aunty or uncle, based upon their preferred gender. When I refer to them as aunty or uncle, it is out of respect. Hawaiians highly respect their elders and referring to them as aunty or uncle is the way that they show their respect.

All in all, being a Hawaiian is challenging sometimes because I am the complete opposite of what popular culture has portrayed. Although I do not play the ukulele or surf, I am still a Hawaiian. Although I do not wear aloha print clothes or have naturally tanned skinned, my identity of a Hawaiian will never change. More importantly, not only are Hawaiians lifestyle anything but paradise due to violence being ever so prevalent, but also, Hawaiians geographical location does not mean always sunny. People need to realize that by supporting the stereotype of any identity, it can negatively impact an individual. Imagine what it would feel like day in and day out, to have someone tell you what you are supposed to be because we say so, and if you do not accept this, you are looked down upon. Popular culture has brainwashed society, telling individuals who they are, when they really do not know at all. Many people blindly accept this stereotype without ever questioning what this does to the individual that has been stereotyped.


This entry was posted in Spring 2015 by penkeo56. Bookmark the permalink.

About penkeo56

I am originally from Hawai'i, however, I knew that I was meant for something much bigger than what my island could offer me. Volleyball is my all time favorite sport. I love to travel, hike, and hangout with friends.

6 thoughts on “The Portrayal of A Hawaiian: What You See, Is Not All That There Is

  1. Hi, I really like your post. I think it was interesting to talk about ‘paradise living’. When culture thinks of Hawaii, they think of it as paradise because it’s a one-place stop for vacation. Temporary space to take a break from ‘regular life’ and we don’t really take into account that there are actually people who live on this island all year-long. And that it’s only a ‘paradise’ for the vacationers for a brief time. But life is still substantially ‘regular’.

    thank you for your essay.

  2. Hello!
    I think you did an astonishing job pointing out the stereotypes you and other Hawaiian’s face on a daily basis. However, the stereotype that islanders are violent was new to me and I’m glad you pointed that out because now that I think about it, I can recall those stereotypes every so often from films I have seen. Although this has been a big stereotype amongst Hawaiian’s, it hasn’t stopped me from going to Hawaii since my best friend happens to be Hawaiian as well. It’s unfortunate to think that a stereotype such as this could stop someone from visiting a beautiful destination in this world. I also concur with you that Hawaiian’s are not mean to outsiders unless they have a reason to because from the times I have visited, they’re all extremely nice. On a separate note, I didn’t know that the word “uncle” could apply to any male elder, which I thought was neat. Moreover, in regards to the stereotypes such as playing the ukulele, surfing, and living on a paradise island, I have seen all of these patterns in many films. Overall, I think you did an excellent job with detail, depth, and being informative. Great job!

  3. Hi there!
    I was also going to make a comment about how you talked about paradise living. I will admit that I have always viewed Hawaii as a vacation spot for me and the family. I would consider it “paradise”. After reading this it really opened by eyes. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Hi Penny!
    I really enjoyed reading your final draft! I liked that throughout your entire draft you refer back to yourself as a way of showing that not all people are stereotypical Hawaiians. I have to admit myself that everything I knew about Hawaii was from shows and movies like Lilo & Stitch. Thanks so much for writing this post and sharing your point of view on how Hawaiians are viewed in the media, I can really tell that this means a lot to you!
    Have a good rest of the term and summer 🙂

  5. Hi!

    It’s very interesting to read about your blog! I’ve never been to Hawaii before, but I learned some fascinating facts in you blog. I enjoyed how you connect stereotypes to your thesis statement, in this case, Hawaii. I would consider there as a “Paradise” before, but now I think it’s just another regular place where people live a normal life there, just like everywhere else. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Hello penkeo56,

    I have so many friends from Hawaii that I met this year. I would be lying if I said I am not guilty of making these assumptions. When I met my friends, I asked if they surfed and if they speak Hawaiian and if they spit fire. I was all wrong. None of them did any of that stuff and it was not fair for me to assume they did. They even told me that they do not blame me for those assumptions because that is how media portrays them. I really liked your blog because I can see that you have this frustration deep down from being misjudge. After taking Pop Culture and understanding right and wrong, I apologize for making these kind of assumptions. You got to learn somewhere right? Keep up the good work!

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