Style guide clears up Island miscues
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By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Robbie Dingeman
In Hawai'i, a carved wooden idol shouldn't be called a tiki. It's a ki'i, a sacred object whose image shouldn't be used loosely.
Rocks stacked along highways or in parks are not a Hawaiian tradition and shouldn't be promoted that way in tourism marketing.
And that fish you had for dinner last night should be spelled as a single word — mahimahi — not two words.
All this advice comes from a new "Style & Resource Guide" designed by the state's tourism agency that came out this week with a target audience of travel journalists, as well as public relations and advertising people who promote or write about Hawai'i.
The Hawai'i Tourism Authority's outgoing marketing director, Frank Haas, said the project is partly in response to concerns that the industry isn't sensitive enough to cultural issues.
Rather than wince about the inaccuracies, Haas said, the agency wanted to offer a guide to doing it better.
"A lot of stuff that's done poorly or is insensitive isn't done on purpose, it's just that people don't know better," he said.
Haas said no one event prompted the publishing of the pamphlet although he could point to an infamous recent example: "The poster child of that was last year's Celebrity Cruises with the King Kamehameha and the champagne glass," he said.
In that case, the cruise company manipulated an image to show the iconic King Kamehameha statue holding up a glass of champagne. The Travel Weekly ad angered Hawaiian groups and shocked tourism officials. When officials realized the cultural gaffe, the Miami-based company pulled the ad and apologized.
The "Style & Resource Guide" attempts to clear up misconceptions about Hawaiian customs.
"Although rocks that are stacked or wrapped in ti leaves are sometimes seen along highways or in parks, this is not a Hawaiian custom and should not be promoted in marketing materials," the guide states.
Travel companies also are instructed not to confuse pidgin English with the Hawaiian language. Kau kau (food), for example, is not Hawaiian, the guide points out.
Haas said his agency spent about $5,000 to produce the first 2,000 copies of the 20-page guide, which he expects to be the first edition of many as it is updated over the years.
"It's important for us to understand how to respectfully promote the culture and to deal with the Hawaiian cultural community," he said.
Naomi Losch, chairwoman of the Hawaiian and Indo-Pacific Languages and Literature Department at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, said the guide seems very positive and includes a good description of the need for the proper Hawaiian punctuation marks.
"It looks pretty comprehensive. Even the 'okina are in the right direction," she said. She finds the best way to describe the 'okina is as a single open quote: "It looks like a little six not an apostrophe."
IT'S MA KAI, NOT MAKAI
But at least a couple of the entries would prompt double takes from many residents. The guide advocates the use of the direction words with a two-word spelling: ma kai, not makai, for toward the sea; and ma uka, not mauka, for toward the mountains.
Losch said the guide is correct in that the concept is a two-word thought though she knows people may be resistant when they first see something written differently from the way they knew it through their lifetime.
"I think eventually people will go with this," she said. "There's logic behind it. And that's the way it's being taught now."
Haas said the agency relied on advice from a panel of experts for the Hawaiian usage. But he's aware that doing something like changing the way common directions are given may prompt some questions. "Any time you make a change, you're going to have people react," he said.
Haas answered questions about the guide in a telephone interview while on a trip to Hawai'i Island, the term preferred over the nickname, Big Island.
So far, he said, there's been a lot of positive reaction to the guide, although he's already thinking of entries to add.
See Neighbor Islands, not Neighboring or Outer Islands.
Reach Robbie Dingeman at firstname.lastname@example.org.