Manufactured culture

2003-10-21 00:47

What would “aloha” mean if there were no tourists in Hawaii?

This is not an entirely trivial question. There’s a feedback loop. Take any cultural practice. Now, clean it up and make it look neat for the tourists. Tell them all about it, to make it part of your distinctive atmosphere. Now… What happens over time? The simplifications, the overgeneralizations, all tend to become a little true. If there were no tourists, would luaus be nightly events with professional bands? How much did people say “aloha” and “mahalo” before they became words you told tourists about so they would understand the distinctive regional customs of Hawaii? There are people whose natural vocabulary does not include these words, who are told by their employers to use them in certain contexts. Are these contexts the ones that these words would have been used in before?

The luau that just happened outside had a caller. Did luaus have callers who told you when to applaud, cheer, or try to sing along before? It doesn’t seem likely, but I’m not even sure anyone would remember now.

Heisenburg has implications for anthropologists, I guess.

Peter Seebach

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