Cultural Misrepresentation on TikTok


Photo: Madison Velasco

By Madison Velasco, Grade 7 Kamehameha Schools Kapālama

TikTok is one of the most downloaded mobile apps today. Many ʻōpio (and mākua) enjoy watching dancing videos, funny moments, scary content, and more. However, there is a portion of TikTok that has informational videos on a wide range of topics. One of them being about Hawaiʻi and Hawaiian history. A lot of the content being shared about Hawaiʻi is about our gods, our culture and our food.

It is important to note that many of the people posting these things are not from Hawai’i. When asked about where they got their information, they say they learned about it from their friends who vacationed here in Hawaiʻi.

TikTok video shows an individual dressed as “Lilo”
This still from a TikTok video shows an individual dressed as “Lilo” (from Lilo & Stich) attempting to dance the hula.

These people who talk about our culture on TikTok have spread false information about Hawaiʻi and have unintentionally (or intentionally) mocked our culture and traditions.

This is harmful to us as a people because they are romanticizing and reducing our culture to party favors. When false information is shared, people who know nothing about us will think that Hawaiʻi is a place that has no real history when that’s the exact opposite.

When people come here and believe that they know everything because a person on the internet said it was true, it really revokes the meaning and significance of our traditions.

Another harmful thing about these stories on the internet is that they wipe away a part of our history. They talk about how pretty and perfect Hawaiʻi is, yet they don’t know that our Queen was wrongfully imprisoned and overthrown.

Or they think hula is just some dance where you swing your arms like waves and shake your hips. They don’t know that hula was forbidden and our kūpuna were forced to leave their culture behind because foreigners deemed it inappropriate for them to showcase their moʻolelo through dance.

We’ve been silent for too long and we’ve allowed others to tell our stories for us. We’ve let them shift the narrative and that time of us being silent must stop now. We, as Hawaiians, should be using platforms like TikTok to showcase our stories instead of letting our colonizers do it for us.

By telling our moʻolelo in our own way, we can ensure that non-Hawaiians (who know nothing about us) aren’t spreading falsehoods about our heritage. TikTok can be used as a tool to properly educate people about who we are as a lāhui – and we must take advantage of this opportunity now.

Madison Velasco is from Pauoa, Oʻahu