20 Sep 2018

Outrage in Fiji over use of tradition by US business

3:42 pm on 20 September 2018

There's outrage in Fiji over a United States-based businessman trademarking the word 'bula'.

Bula Kafe in Florida

Bula Kafe in Florida Photo: Facebook / Bula Kafe

'Bula' is a commonly-used traditional Fijian greeting.

Ross Kashtan owns three Florida-based businesses with 'bula' in their names, including the Bula Kafe whose products include kava.

It means Mr Kashtan can take legal action to prevent other businesses like his using the word in the US.

An indigenous Fijian, Joseph, said he was disgusted with Mr Kashtan's move which he described as insensitive to the integrity of his culture and its autonomy.

"I don't approve of the unsolicited use of certain aspects of my culture, especially when those aspects of my culture have been somewhat secured for the financial interests of a foreigner and outsider, and misrepresented in a way for financial gain."

Joseph said Ross Kashtan's online presentations of the Fiji tradition and kava consumption were misinformed.

"It's based on some sort of selfish motive in order to draw customers in with something seemingly exotic," he said.

"For an outsider to do that without any form of research or proper dialogue, it's sort of like theft."

Mr Kashtan declined RNZ Pacific's request for an interview, but said that he had spent years building up his business, whose online literature professes great respect for Fijian culture.

He said no one would have anything to worry about regarding the trademark, "unless you come to the USA and try and open a physical location which is going to be a kava bar" using the word Bula.

Joseph said Mr Kashtan's move could cause problems for those with more valid claims to using the word 'Bula' who are looking to enter the American market.

But he said it was a secondary concern after the cultural appropriation at play with the use of 'Bula'.

"Societies nowadays just need to be more sensitive in terms of what they want to use when drawing inspiration from other cultures or other ethnic groups, because these things are steeped in hundreds of years of tradition, especially a language which is an intimate part of any ethnic or cultural group," Joseph explained.

"I guess if you're going to use it for commercial purposes, you might want to do your research, you might want to gain some sort of consent if possible.

"I think hopefully at the end of the day, there should be more policies, diplomatic policies in terms of trademarks and trade when using non-material cultural items such as language."