The Fiji national greeting “Bula” has been allegedly wrongly trademarked by a US company and the tiny nation is fighting back against the company for remedy alleging that the act was “tone-deaf and wrong”.
The allegation is against a chain of bars and cafes in Florida that also serves a mildly narcotic drink called Kava which is popular throughout Fiji and a number of other Pacific island countries.
The Fijian greeting that is at the centre of the controversy has a much wider cultural significance.
This action was equated to a “blatant case of heritage-highjacking” by Fiji.
“We would never give permission for anyone – particularly someone outside of Fiji looking to profit – to effectively claim ownership of ‘bula’, a word so deeply-rooted in our national identity that it has become synonymous with Fiji,” Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum of the country said in a radio interview.
“The idea that a single person could control the use of a word so dear to the hearts of Fijians is offensive, it is tone-deaf, and it is wrong,” he said, adding his government would “fight this trademark with every power international law affords”.
The greeting has a literal meaning of life which is often said with a great deal of enthusiasm but the Fijians mostly use it as something like “hello” and like the Hawaiian word “aloha”.
This word is generally said to wish the person greeted a good life. And it means health if it is said twice.
It’s also used in the word for hospital and is even part of the Biblical term for messiah.
Fiji has even coined the phrase Bula Spirit as a marketing slogan in order to promote tourism.
The word is also associated with kava which is a popular traditional drink throughout most Southern Pacific islands and saying “bula” is a core to the ceremony of kava-drinking.
But through the use of the word bula, a bar chain in Florida called Bula Nation has attempted to acquire some of the flavour of the vibe of the island.
The word was allowed to as a trade mark for the owner of the chain Ross Kashtan, last year.
While protection of a brand name is the right of business, Fijians are enraged at the move of the business which was probably intended to not allow the word being used by a rival bar next door.
“It’s a matter of respect,” Fijian academic Tarisi Vunidilo at Hawaii University said in a television interview.
A petition alleging that the owner of the business chain engaged in cultural appropriation for purely commercial purposes was initiated by her.
“Speaking from an indigenous persons’ point of view, before we take something, we would always ask beforehand,” she said.
“They should have at least made an effort to contact someone in Fiji, but they didn’t.”
There has so far been no response from the Florida bula bar and its owner.
“It’s a big story on TV, in the papers and also in social media,” Ms Vunidilo explains. “I was really surprised how many young people in their teens and twenties are deeply caring for this issue.”
(Adapted from BBC.com)