The Pacific heritage arts with spiritual cultural significance such as mats, tapa and carvings are not ‘handicrafts’. Dr. Cresantia Frances Koya Vaka'uta from U.S.P addressed the issue during her keynote presentation at the second Pacific Islands University Research Network Conference (PIURN) at the National University of Samoa (NUS) this morning. "This is derogatory and is an example of a colonial hang-up," said Dr. Vaka'uta.
"A handicraft by definition is something made by hand usually made with whatever material is available to you. For e.g. a door mat made from old t-shirts, a bottle turned into a vase, christmas decorations made from clothing scraps and many others. These are handcrafts, and have no spiritual or cultural value.” "We see our heritage arts in handicraft stalls and markets," she said.
She also mentioned the exploitation of the Pacific cultures over the last decade. "The Fijian Masi marketed as AZTEC by American Designer, Maori Moko as print motif by non-Maori designer, Samoan Tattoo on Nike leggings, using Moko to sell sunglasses, Papua New Guinea Bilum trademarked by French handbag company, shower curtains depicting a Maori tribal leaders and battles sold by an American company, plastic Tongan taovala made in China and carpets featuring tapa designs," she said. "In most of these cases, Pacific scholars and art practitioners (including myself) have reacted and responded formally to the corporations and individuals.” “Nanette Lapore, pulled the Fijian Masi Aztec dress and issued an apology through her agent. Nike retracted its Tatau legging, and the Maori shower curtains have been discontinued," she said.
One of these cases includes Disney's animation Moana. "The name Moana was licensed by a German company which means that they reserve the right to use that name for their products which includes a whole range of items including toilet paper. "In July this year, Disney was fighting a legal battle to register ‘The Moana’ for rights to the upcoming cartoon/ animation,” Dr. Vaka'uta said.
"One of the concerns that has emerged regarding this animation was a visit of Disney big guns to Fiji, where it is said that consultations took place and the eventual decision was to model Moana’s canoe on the Camakau, a sailing vessel attributed to a small community from Moce in the Fiji Lau group, an Eastern group of islands with ties to Tonga," she said. Dr. Vaka'uta cited Mua voyage coordinator Colin Philip: “From what I understand, they visited Korova settlement in Laucala Bay and are using one of the canoes as a replica for the animated movie.
"While it is great that Pacific island voyaging culture is being featured, I do hope the owners will receive appropriate compensation for use of their canoe design since the movie will make billions of dollars. I hope that the people from Korova are not being exploited,” Mr Philip was quoted as having said.
In this case Disney could not be reached for a comment. "In true Disney style, we see emerging Halloween costumes up for sale, plush toys, stuffed toys and plastic doll sets, including the Camakau," Dr. Vaka'uta said.
"There are many reasons to safeguard our languages and we know that each language contributes value to linguistic science. "So if we really want children to fulfil their full educational and economic potential, their home languages, arts and heritage should be supported,” Dr. Vaka'uta said.
Caption: Disney’s Studio Polynesia them movie ‘Moana’ is due for release later this year.
*By Katalina Tovia (Katalina Tovia is a final year media and journalism student at NUS)