benched as some
find it culturally
To depict a Hawaii warriorBy Rod Ohira and
as a cartoon-like character is
demeaning, critics say, and the
mascot is on hold
Gordon Y.K. Pang
For the "Rainbow Warrior" mascot, this University of Hawaii football season has been a bust.
The mascot did not suit up for the first three Rainbow home games and likely will not make an appearance at Aloha Stadium any time soon.
Some have argued that the costume depicting a buffed-up warrior is degrading to Native Hawaiians. The "warrior" has been sidelined since UH officials received an anonymous letter threatening harm to the mascot before the season-opening game.
"Right now, it's on hold," UH Athletics Director Hugh Yoshida said. "It's a sensitive issue and we're trying to get students, some from the Hawaiian Studies program, involved to come to some closure.
"I hope we can come to some understanding as what the expectations are."
Lilikala Kameeleihiwa, a Hawaiian Studies professor, said throwing a Hawaiian warrior into the same mascot category as cartoon caricatures and animals is demeaning.
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"We've always found the mascot to be very offensive, that a pretend or pseudo-Hawaiian man with rubber muscles should represent the University of Hawaii football team," she said.
Several years ago, a UH volleyball team asked the department if it would be all right to put an image of the warrior god, Ku, on its jerseys.
Department officials objected.
"You don't put Jesus' face on the jersey," Kameeleihiwa said.
Warrior chiefs are the same thing, she said.
"High chiefs in traditional society were gods who walked the earth."
Charles Izumoto, a member of the Associated Students of the University of Hawaii, said he and his colleagues are going to be looking at the issue this semester.
Izumoto, a senior majoring in political science and economics, said, "I'm Japanese, and I'm thinking, hey, what if they had some exaggerated form of a Japanese guy with slant eyes, a yellow-skinned uniform and a rice paddy hat. That would offend me."
But most of the people interviewed yesterday on the Manoa Campus felt the mascot was not offensive.
Kanalu Young, a professor of Hawaiian Studies, does not personally object to the costumed warrior but says he can understand why some Hawaiians would.
"It may offend some because you're turning an entire tradition into a caricature," Young said.
"The gestures the warrior makes and the context the warrior is in is to those people who criticize it offensive because some of these individuals are descendants from genealogies of Hawaiian warriors.
"Now having said that about the warrior character, my opinion is that I have no problem with it because I think (UH head football coach) June Jones has instilled in his players what the warrior tradition is. It's not about ranting and raving, it's about proper conduct."
Kumu John Lake believes the mascot's image is in the eyes of the beholder.
"To me, the buff young man is a symbolism of today's spirit of a warrior," Lake said. "I find nothing offensive about it. It has nothing to do with sacred Hawaii."
Tom Bingham, director of the UH Marching Band, said the mascot is part of the spirit of Rainbow games.
"I miss him," Bingham said. "I have trouble understanding what is offensive because I don't see the character demeaning anyone.
"The Marshmallow Man we had one year is questionable. (The Warrior mascot), I think, is a positive representative and not an over-the-edge caricature who makes fun or demeans what he is designed to represent."
Freshman Shireen Garcia, a member of the UH Marching Band, agrees.
"My parents brought me to a lot of UH games and I always felt the mascot represented who we are," Garcia said. "He should be out there with us."
But, for sure, it won't happen this Saturday when UH plays Texas-El Paso at Aloha Stadium in its homecoming game.
"We're not exactly sure what is offensive and we want to address all the concerns before making any decisions," Yoshida said.