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The Honolulu Advertiser
Updated at 11:30 a.m., Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Hawaiians sign petition against Dodge Kahuna

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

A lot of Hawaiians are clear on the concept, and they don't like the car.

Critics of the Dodge Kahuna, not yet scheduled for mass production, say it cashes in on the Hawaiian culture.

Dodge promotional photo

It's called the Dodge Kahuna and it's only a "concept car," but the use of a term that loosely translates as "priest" to name a minivan has driven hundreds to a Web site to sign an online petition in protest.

As a concept car, the Kahuna is not yet slated for mass production but has been making the rounds of car shows for the past year. It is patterned after the "woody" station wagons popularized by surfers in the '60s.

Shortly before Christmas, former Island resident John Book learned about the car and posted the petition.

Sam Locricchio, a spokesman for the company’s design division that produces the concept cars, said today that the Kahuna is still making the rounds of car shows. But there are no current plans for its mass production, he said: Elements of a concept car’s design usually turn up in future products rather than the entire vehicle being replicated.

"There is no effort to use the ‘Kahuna’ name to ‘sell’ product,” Locricchio added. “Rather, the name — which has evolved over time to find its way into pop culture and entertainment — was not used with malice but rather associated with attributes that would equal ‘a leader,’ ‘trendsetter’ or ‘role model.'"

The petition (at www.petitiononline.com/Kahuna04) acknowledges past appropriations of the word, including a reference to a hamburger called "The Big Kahuna" in the film "Pulp Fiction." However, Book wrote in the petition, naming a car after a kahuna represents cashing in on Hawaiian culture on a larger scale.

"I got a bit ticked off," he said yesterday from his home in Pasco, Wash.

He said DaimlerChrysler, the parent of Dodge, had offended Native Americans with its Jeep Cherokee.

"There are a lot of other Hawaiian words they could choose," he said. "I wanted to put this up and say, 'Look at this, do some research.' I just wanted to bring that to people's attention."

The publicity material posted at one car-show Web site describes the Kahuna as a model "that conveys an athletic, capable image that is readily associated with the California coastal culture."

The petition has been signed by more than 1,700 people. The list includes kumu hula Robert Cazimero, Manu Boyd, Tony Conjugacion and Sonny Ching; singers Ku'uipo Kumukahi and Keola Beamer; educator Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa, filmmaker Meleanna Meyer and sovereignty activists Pu'uhonua "Bumpy" Kanahele and Kai'opua Fyfe.

One who had not signed — but said he would — is Keola Lake, himself a kahuna nui, or high priest, who trains others as kahuna to supervise traditional Hawaiian rituals.

"It came out of the California culture, and 'Beach Blanket Bingo,' " he said, referring to the movies of the 1960s. "I find it offensive, especially now, because we finally got our own people who are practicing kahunas, the healers, and here are these guys making fun of it.

"They don't call a car a 'Witchcraft,' or a 'Voodoo,' " Lake added. "It's like the Tibetan monks: Let's call it 'The Dalai.' "

Reach Vicki Viotti at vviotti@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8053.