The CEO and founder of an app called "Hula" Ramin Bastani told the Associated Press on Wednesday that he will not change the name of his app, despite protests from Hawaiians.
A petition was started on Change.org that has more than 1,000 signatures to change the name of the app Hula. The app is described as a "simple way to obtain and share your verified STD results."
The petition was started by three college students — Kaio Tubera, Alexandra Guerrero, and Kelly Luis — originally from Maui who graduated from Kamehameha Schools, which is designed to serve students with Native Hawaiian ancestry, and noted that the app is completely unrelated to Hawaiian culture.
In the Apple app store, the STD info app called "Hula" comes up first in the search results, before the many apps about hula.
The app is particularly insensitive the petition said since "the arrival of Europeans exposed Native Hawaiians to foreign diseases such as gonorrhea and syphilis, which consequently caused death and infertility." The exposure to STDs and other foreign diseases dramatically reduced the population of Native Hawaiians in the late 19th century.
Through the writings of early settlers and missionaries in the islands, the idea that Hula is simply a sexual and savage expression has led to an orientalist view that is constantly propagated throughout popular culture. The hula girl stereotype not only reduces Hawaiian women to purely sexual play things, but it presents the idea that the embodiment of Hawai'i and its culture is childlike and primitive.
Up until recently we had not heard any complaints about our name, service or marketing. In no way did we intend to offend anyone, especially the Hawaiian community - and for doing so, we deeply apologize. We have already taken steps to gain a better understanding of hula, the Hawaiian culture and its history.
Many of the reviews of the app are negative, citing the offensive name, and were written in February.
One review explains that hula is a sacred Hawaiian cultural practice and says they "are deeply offended" by the negative portrayal of "our culture."
Other reviews say hula "is a uniquely Hawaiian dance" and the app's name is "disrespectful and hurtful"
The company removed references to "getting lei'd" from the app last month, Bastani said after concerns were first brought to his attention.
"We didn't realize that it was offensive," he said. "We removed any connection to it."
He said the name Hula will remain, because: "Changing the name, for us, doesn't make sense." He defended the name because he said he had learned hula is a "communication tool" and "that plays very well with what we actually believe as the core of the company."
The company name was changed from Qpid.me to Hula six months ago because it sounded similar to a dating site, Bastani said.
The founder also said he used to wear a plastic lei to events, but said he will stop.
"It's still inappropriate," Alexander Guerrero, one of three college student who wrote the petition to change the name, said to the Honolulu Star Advertiser. "I appreciate him removing 'getting lei'd' from the marketing scheme, but the name still misrepresents what hula is."