A mobile app called “Hula,” which is used to provide information about sexually transmitted diseases, will change its name after complaints that the use of the word was culturally insensitive to Hawaiians, the app’s owner said Tuesday.
“We immediately engaged the community and listened with an open mind,” said Ramin Bastani, founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based Qpid.me Inc. “By doing so, we gained a great respect for hula, the Hawaiian culture and its history.”
Bastani said the decision came after weeks of learning to understand concerns of the Native Hawaiian community.
An online petition asking him to change the name argued it exploits the sacred cultural dance. Bastani previously said the name would remain, even after the petition gained some attention in March. But he said he immediately removed any references to “getting lei’d” in marketing the app.
“As we continued to listen and learn, we realized this is the right thing for us to do,” he said. Recently, the controversy seemed to die down, he said, but that “quiet period” allowed the company to “truly reflect.”
Dr. William H. “Pila” Wilson, a professor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikolani College of Hawaiian Language, said Tuesday afternoon he was happy to hear the news of the planned name change.
“Associating hula with sexually transmitted disease, it’s a very negative association for Hawaiian culture,” he said. “Especially for something that’s played such an important part in reviving the whole Hawaiian identity.”
He pointed out sexually transmitted diseases have played a dubious role in Hawaii’s history, making the name sting that much more for Native Hawaiians and others who call Hawaii home.
“STDs had an especially devastating impact on the Hawaiian population when Captain Cook and others came and brought these diseases with them, diseases Hawaiians had never seen before. Lots of people died from that. It had a devastating impact on the population. That makes the name definitely offensive,” he said. “You don’t appropriate someone’s identity and use it, and especially don’t attach it to something that negative.”
Wilson said he was also pleased the company took the public outcry about the name seriously, despite the fact Native Hawaiians are a minority with little voice on the national stage.
“Hawaiians make up less than 1 percent of the country’s population, so I’m really pleased that they decided that,” he said. “It’s very good news.”
Wilson added College of Hawaiian Language student Alika Guerrero played an important role in spreading news about the app and mounting with other students an online campaign at change.org to have the name changed.
Attempts to contact Guerrero for comment late Tuesday afternoon were unsuccessful.
“While it cannot be denied that Hula, the mobile STD alert app, is a monumental step towards STD awareness and protection, the people of Hawaii and their supporters must make their voices heard in regards to the marketing campaign used to promote your product,” reads the introduction to the online petition, which had almost 4,500 supporters Tuesday afternoon.
“By this petition, we as a people reach out to Hula and its CEO, Ramin Bastani, in the hopes that our pain and concerns will be addressed. Using Hula (because it gets you lei’d) as the premise for the product harms Native Hawaiians everywhere.”
On the “Reasons for signing” section of the site, Hilo resident Dillon Keane Domingues shared his opinion first in Hawaiian and then translated it into English:
“I’m very hurt by this because I’m Hawaiian,” he wrote. “I don’t in any way support the relating of STD’s to my people, especially not the using of one of our sacred, traditional practices, hula, for something of this nature.”
On Friday, the state Senate Hawaiian Affairs Caucus and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs issued a statement calling the name “highly insensitive, tactless and inappropriate.” An OHA spokesman Tuesday said he would reach out to the leadership for reaction to the latest development.
Bastani said a new name hasn’t been determined.
“We promise to change the name in the very near future,” he said, estimating it will happen in the next month or so, after ironing out legal details and other issues.
“We need to redo our entire website, all of our marketing, our application,” he said. “There’s a lot we need to do.”
Bastani said he’ll continue to educate others not to associate “getting lei’d” with his health app.
The app, according to its website, hulahq.com, allows users to find local STD test centers, receiving their results online, and then sharing their verified test results with others.
“Use your beautiful Hula profile to make ‘the conversation’ less awkward, online or in person,” the site reads. “You have strict control over your privacy settings — no one will ever see your results unless you choose to share them. Link to your profile from your favorite dating and social applications or download Hula for iPhone to share your results in person.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Email Colin M. Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org.