By: Alexis Harrison
My social justice presentation discussed the relationship between tourism; cultural appropriation and heritage-hijacking; American opportunism and the disparity between trademark protection in various areas of the world. ‘Bula’—pronounced ‘boolah’--is a greeting phrase heavily used in Fiji which translates to life or good health. The phrase is akin to theHawaiian greeting ‘Aloha’ and is often stated with enthusiasm. ‘Bula’ is also related to theceremony of kava drinking in Fiji. Kava is a mildly narcotic drink. Fijians say the kava drinking ceremony has deep cultural meaning and value to its people; thus, they are angered by commercial use of the phrase in US businesses. The kava drink has become a popular drink for Fiji tourists. Additionally, it is worth nothing that the Fiji trademark laws are largely outdated and the US system provides superiors protections for its citizens and innovators.
‘Bula’ has been registered in various marks submitted to the USPTO. However, the issue that incited outrage from Fiji officials was caused by the 2018 news story of a Florida bar andcafé chain’s registration of “BULA KAFE.” Critics point out that the purpose of using ‘Bula’ isso that the business may capitalize off of the goodwill and vibes associated with the island. SomeFiji officials has adamantly publicly opposed the registration arguing that the mark is a “blatantcase of heritage-hijacking.”
My presentation explored whether the nuanced differences between culture and heritagemake for a sound argument that “heritage-hijacking” is somewhat different and more seriousthan cultural appropriation. I theorized that the complexity of the necessary conversation surrounding cultural appropriation as a legal phenomenon to avoid, warranted more serioustreatment for the so called “heritage-hijacking” or at least an increased cultural sensitivity whenfiling for marks based on foreign customs. The negative connotations and general indifferencesurrounding “cultural appropriation” may be lessened by finding a “reasonable” standard which society can use to measure whether the wrongful exploitation of another group’s customsamounts to conduct that requires legal action.
Cultural appropriation is defined as “the act of adopting elements of an outside, often minority culture, including knowledge, practices, and symbols, without understanding orrespecting the original culture and context.” ‘Heritage’ is a broader term that sometimesencompasses aspects of culture but is known to be more consistent, permanent and synonymous with inherited customs and traditions. The emphasis on inherited information to facilitate priorgenerations’ legacy differs from the definition of culture focusing on current people in society ascreators. If we draw stronger distinctions between culture and heritage larger audience may more readily understand the significance of cultural explotation.
The quote which inspired my presentation was made by the Attorney General for Fiji:“We would never give permission for anyone - particularly someone outside of Fiji looking to profit - to effectively claim ownership of ‘bula’, a word so deeply-rooted in our national identitythat it has become synonymous with Fiji.” Therefore, cultural appropriation may be sufficient towarrant legal action--such as the cancellation or opposition of a mark--when the exploitedmaterials and customs are so “deeply-rooted in [a specific group’s national/cultural] identity that it has [becomes] synonymous with [the stated cultural or national group].” While this standard is theoretical rather than factual, the quote does provide a basis for understanding when culturalmay go too far to allow another to effectively profit from another group’s misfortunes.