We Spoke To A Native Hawaiian Woman About Why Dressing Up As A Hula Dancer Is Harmful, And It's A Must-Read If You've Ever Wanted To Wear The Costume On Halloween

Meet Chelei Kahalewai, a 28-year-old Native Hawaiian woman living on O'ahu. With over 650k followers, the TikTok creator regularly shares her love for her culture and raises awareness of Hawaiian issues.

One such issue is non-Hawaiian people dressing as a hula dancer for Halloween. Chelei has used her large platform on TikTok to spread the message that cultural appropriation is not okay.


When I see someone wearing a culture as a costume on Halloween 🥴🤨 #halloween #culturalappropriation

♬ original sound - alohaitschelei

To learn more about the negative impact of people dressing up as hula dancers, BuzzFeed recently spoke to Chelei. "Hula dancers are greatly sexualized in the entertainment industry and Hollywood movies," she said. "When someone isn't from Hawai'i and they think of a hula dancer, the first image to their mind would be a half-naked woman in a coconut bra, grass skirt, and a fake lei. When in reality, hula is so much more."

A photo of a woman wearing a costume identical to the one described above, with a big red X drawn over it

"I've been dancing hula for 13 years now, and it has taught me most of what I know about my culture," she said. "Hula is a cultural dance for Native Hawaiians, and it is used to tell stories about our history, our experiences, our love, etc. Hula, at its foundation, is storytelling. Each song has its own meaning, and each hand movement in hula is directly connected to the translation of the song."

Chelei explained that hula is so important because Native Hawaiians traditionally used it to preserve and pass down knowledge.

  alohaitschelei / tiktok.com

"One of the reasons why hula is special to Hawaiian culture is because this is how our stories were passed down through the generations before writing came into the picture. Before we were able to document our history in books, we passed the stories on through hula."

When it comes to dressing up as Moana or Lilo, she believes that's fine, as they're specific Disney characters. "There are different opinions about using them as costumes, but in my opinion, people cosplay as movie characters all the time," she said. "At the end of the day, they are made-up characters in a movie, and they bring joy to people's lives."

Moana on the left and Lilo on the right

Chelei wants people to know that dressing up as hula dancers has a real-life impact on Native Hawaiians. "It is harmful to Hawaiian culture for people to continue to see us as no more than a costume or a party theme. When I see people dressing up as hula dancers for Halloween or even using us for a costume party, it's sad because I wish they took the time to understand what hula is and how important it is to Hawaiian culture," she said.

To learn more about Native Hawaiian issues and culture, be sure to follow Chelei on TikTok!