A HAWAIIAN high chief was to perform a blessing at a new restaurant in Westminster, Colo. yesterday. The headline of the news release begged a further read and it turns out that Colorado's sixth Rumbi Island Grill
would be blessed by Siaosi Talitimu, a Western Samoan High Chief.
Hawaii's cachet gets capitalized upon all the time. Often it's the kitschy, cheesy connotations that get played up -- cellophane hula skirts, faux tikis and food topped with pineapple, glazed with teriyaki sauce or sprinkled with macadamia nuts and proclaimed therefore to be "Hawaiian."
To digress for a moment -- the word teriyaki is Japanese. Please tell every nonlocal person you know. Thank you.
The stereotypes are usually exploited by outsiders with little to no understanding of the cultural and often spiritual origins of Hawaii icons. In other words, they know not what they do.
But really, messing with a Hawaiian blessing?
The Rumbi Island Grill announcement explains that, "a Hawaiian male spiritual leader, bare-chested and clad in the traditional grass skirt and accessories, will perform the non-denominational blessing ceremony ... will speak in his native tongue and will perform native Hawaiian dances and songs."
Talitimu's native tongue, according to a publicist, is Samoan.
Talitimu and many other Polynesian entertainers are part of the Hawaiian-Way Ohana entertainment company, based in Colorado and run by John Coelho. His Hawaii-based partner is Melveen Leed.
"Talitimu will be bare-chested but dressed from head to foot in attire that denotes his royalty," said Rumbi publicist Jan Hemming, in an e-mail.
She continued, "Coelho said this blessing is 'ethical' because it's Polynesian in origin (which Hawaii is part of) and what is represented reflects the Polynesian culture in general."
The ceremony was to include, "unblemished sea salt, tea leaves and maile leis, flown in from Hawaii to add a touch of the islands and symbolize good fortune," said the release.
Did they mean ti leaves?
They did use the word fortune, so perhaps it was another mixed ethnic malapropism.
The Web site of the restaurant, named Rumbi by Utah-based founder Dave Duffin, is sprinkled with Hawaiian words including aloha and e komo mai. Aloha is the first word Rumbi's automated answering system uses.
It is also the first word exclaimed by order-taking cashiers behind the counter, according to a November review by Kathryn Eastburn in the Colorado Springs Independent.
A former Hawaii resident, she was okay with the food.
"The macaroni salad, creamy and innocuous, sent me right back to Honolulu's old-fashioned saimin noodle stands."
Colorado food blogger Claire Walter did take issue with the way Rumbi "purports" to be Hawaiian.
"If it were really Hawaiian, it would serve lomi-lomi and poi," she harrumphed, noting the use of Hawaiian words to name dishes such as "Aloha Mango Chicken Salad," "Hula Salad," and "Luau Pork Sandwich."
Rumbi also invokes other tropical islands' auras using words like Caribbean, Calypso and Bahama Mama.
Walter attended the Rumbi opening in Boulder but didn't stay for food.
Had she lingered, she could have dined on several "authentic" island dishes, such as a Luau Pork Plate of slow-roasted, pulled Kalua pork, topped with teriyaki sauce -- you know, the way we always eat it. Maybe Walter would have gone for a Hawaiian Chicken Sandwich. Served on a soft Kaiser bun, it comes with grilled chicken breast, Swiss cheese, red onion, light mayo, lettuce, tomato, Hawaiian teriyaki glaze and guess what else? Grilled pineapple.
is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4747, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org