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#1
Old 08-13-2002, 07:07 AM
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Did Hawaiian women ever wear coconut shells on their breasts?

In this GD thread on ethnic Halloween costumes, it is stated that one way to stereotype the Hawaiian (woman) is to depict her wearing a coconut shell bra. My GQ-- is there any credible proof that Hawaiian women actually did this?

You'd think I'd know, having been born and spent 249/10 of my 25 years living in Hawaii. I don't. I swear, I didn't play hooky during all the field trips to the Bishop Museum, and honestly, I enjoyed the Polynesian Cultural Center (even though the bus ride there was a drag). I even remember my basic Hawaiian vocabulary from elementary school. But I have no recollection of seeing authentic Hawaiian clothing that had husked-out coconut shells for boobholders.

Hawaiians made cloth out of plant fibers, which they dried and flattened out by pounding it with hollow wooden shaft mallets. The cloth was called kapa. They decorated it with dyes made from leaves, berries, and flowers. As I understood it, that's all they used for common, everyday clothing until the missionaries came, and brought with them cotton, polyester, chenille, vinyl, and rhinestone-studded velvet.

Traditional hula dress, as far as I know, differed only in that it was fancier, dyed with bright colors, and worn with adornments, like kukui nut, leaf, and flower leis.

The only times I have seen coconut shells covering boobies is at tourist-oriented places or situations. I have seen (generic) Polynesian dancers wearing them, but they were at malls, airports, on cruise ships, the aforementioned PCC, hotels-- in a (coco)nutshell, touristy places.

Though I mean no offense to tourists (really, spend more of your money, please! ), I can't help but question the authenticity of those representations. Tourism in Hawaii, after all, is all about selling the native landscape and culture, and it has to be made appealing. And there's definitely appeal in a hot chick baring lots of skin with skimpy shells on her chest.

The image of a hula girl wearing a green grass skirt and coconut shells on her chest is associated immediately with Hawaii. I wonder, however, if Hawaiian hula dancers never actually wore coconut shells, and if the quintessential hula dancer image was crafted by shrewd marketers.

So... is there any credible documentation of Native Hawaiian traditional hula dancers wearing coconut shells?
#2
Old 08-13-2002, 07:38 AM
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Well, I've spend zero percent of my life in Hawaii; so obviously I'm well-qualified to answer!

I thought that pre-colonial Hawaiian women wore wraps or maybe went topless. I think the reason behind the coconuts is that it just wouldn't do (as far as Westerners are concerned) to have women running around topless. Coconuts are associated with Hawaii and other Pacific islands, and they're a convenient shape, so the stereotype was invented by the tourists.
#3
Old 08-13-2002, 07:42 AM
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I'd say I'm certain they just left them out there in the warm air for all to see. I've seen many sketches of women from pre contact time and they are usually revealed to the world up on top. If you search for sketches of them you could probably find some.

Generally if you see one wearing a coconut bra you can be pretty certain she'll end up dancing something from Tahiti, not from Hawaii. Plus hula was a male thing, women didn't do it until later.

Plus coconuts hurt as bras!
#4
Old 08-13-2002, 07:45 AM
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Actually, most images prior to the 1950s that I can find of the "hula" girl show her either barebrested, with her flowing hair carefully placed over her brests or with a lei situated so there is no indication of the dreaded nipples.

Because of this interesting time line, I have a hunch that the musical South Pacific and the scene from it that features the song "Honey Bun" had something to do with the proliferation of coconut shell flopper stoppers.

The musical was incredibly popular on Broadway, in touring companies and finally as a movie.

TV
#5
Old 08-13-2002, 08:05 AM
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If you do a google image search for "Sandwich Islands" you'll find several sketches from the early contact period.
#6
Old 08-13-2002, 08:39 AM
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The use of coconuts for bras in Hawaii actually goes back quite a ways. Until horses were introduced to the Hawaiian islands by Europeans, Hawaiian kings and their knights had to travel on foot, with an accompanying woman to assist them by knocking together a pair of half-coconuts to produce the "clippity-clop" sound. This is also, incidentally, the origin of "knockers" as a synonym for breasts.
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#7
Old 08-13-2002, 08:43 AM
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Just a side note: Having also visited the Polynesian Cultural Center I can attest that it is about as authentic as Disney's Pirates of the Carribbean exhibit.

I was there after spending a week in Fiji; in Fiji there are no Mormons to slice the penes off the fertility statues.
#8
Old 08-13-2002, 09:25 AM
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cmkeller, wonderfully explained!!
#9
Old 08-13-2002, 09:37 AM
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The scary thing is that one day we will start to receive emails containing cmkeller's etymology of "knockers".
#10
Old 08-13-2002, 11:42 AM
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I thought the coconut shell bras were just boob-substitutes for guys in drag portraying "native girls"...


~VOW
#11
Old 08-13-2002, 12:06 PM
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I'm pretty sure nothing resembling any type of bra was worn in Hawai'i before the missionaries came. Maybe wraps at times but mostly topless.

From what I can remember, Hawaiian hula skirts were made from ti leafs. Grass skirts are Tahitian and were imported for the old school Kodak Waikiki Hula Showcase (whatever it was called). Traditional hula is religious, somewhat sedate, graceful and beautiful. Tourists thought: BORING! So a lot of Tahitian practices (extrememly fast drumming, shaking hips, flaming poi balls) were brought in and are now thought of as "Hawaiian."

Coconut bras. How stupid is that concept? It's sad. Hard to think of a culture more pimped out and destroyed by tourism than that of Hawai'i.

This discussion reminds me of a routine by 80s Local comic Andy Bumatai (this is highly paraphrased):

Hawaiian greeting Captain Cook: Welcome to our beautiful islands! You are our guest! Drink our food, sample our women, you have arrived in paradise!

Captain Cook: Thank you. The first thing we must do is to clothe these naked native women in the name of God.

Hawaiian mumbling angrily: Where's my spear..?
#12
Old 08-13-2002, 12:17 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Osiris
If you do a google image search for "Sandwich Islands" you'll find several sketches from the early contact period.
Um a google search of "Sandwich Islands" returned 249,000 hits. Mind being a little more specific?
#13
Old 08-13-2002, 01:06 PM
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Gingersnap, there are four tabs above the Google search window; the default mode is "Web"; click on the "Image" tab and Google will return only images, displayed as thumbnails.
#14
Old 08-13-2002, 06:15 PM
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What About "Polynysian Cuisine"?

Where I live, there are "chinese" restaurants advertising "polynisian" cuisine. Having never been to polynisia, I have no idea what this is. However, people teel me that real Hawaiian food is pretty gross stuff-steamed pork and mashed taro root (poi). Is it true that poi can be used as a substitute for library paste?
Like all things touched by the exoticism of time and distance, the reality is that polynisia and hawaii just ain't all that exotic-the grass skirt stuff was probably invented by some writer, just like Victor Bergeron in vented the whole Hawaiian restaurant thing (back in the 1930's).
#15
Old 08-13-2002, 07:54 PM
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Not to sound unappreciative , but does anyone have any cites for anything?

Following TV time's South Pacific hunch-- Hawaii's not in the south Pacific, so is it that the idea of south Pacific female islanders wearing shell bras got generalized across all female islanders in the Pacific? I've never seen the musical, but I think it's set in Tahiti, not Hawaii, so it only makes sense if people decided that Tahitian is similar enough to Hawaiian to assume that what goes for one goes for the other.

If wearing shell bras was made up by the author(s) of South Pacific, was there any basis for it, or did they just think it was cool if women wore shells? As others have posted, coconut shell bras are uncomfortable, and Native Hawaiians (pre-Missionary) didn't seem to give a pig's patootie if women went around barechested, so I can't see Hawaiians as having been the ones that decided that women ought to pack themselves into hard, small shells.
#16
Old 08-13-2002, 08:01 PM
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Victor who? Invented Hawaiian restaurants? I'm sorry, but what are you talking about?
#17
Old 08-13-2002, 08:19 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by AudreyK
Victor who? Invented Hawaiian restaurants? I'm sorry, but what are you talking about?
Trader Vic. Cecil gives a little of the history in Who invented the cocktail umbrella?
#18
Old 08-13-2002, 08:20 PM
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Trader Vic's
#19
Old 08-13-2002, 08:25 PM
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Coconutbras.com

#20
Old 08-13-2002, 08:28 PM
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Re: Did Hawaiian women ever wear coconut shells on their breasts?

Quote:
Originally posted by AudreyK
...until the missionaries came, and brought with them cotton, polyester, chenille, vinyl, and rhinestone-studded velvet.
What church were those missionaries from?
#21
Old 08-13-2002, 08:37 PM
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Re: Re: Did Hawaiian women ever wear coconut shells on their breasts?

Quote:
Originally posted by saoirse
What church were those missionaries from?
#22
Old 08-14-2002, 12:06 AM
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Sorry, I was confused about the "invented Hawaiian restaurants" part. The link to Cecil's column helped clear that up, as did this link. I've never heard of Trader Vic's or anything related to him. There aren't any of his restaurants in Hawaii (not now, anyway). And based on what I can tell, I'm about ten years too young to really know who he was and what his impact was.

And as for that other link... good god. At least now I know where they come from...
#23
Old 08-14-2002, 01:33 AM
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Well, finding a link for that would probably be next to impossible. One of those things that no one would think they would have to actually calrify.

Unless your brave enough to send an e-mail to Haunani Trask or some other Hawaiian Studies scholar I think you can rest assured that if they existed they would certainly have appeared in some of the early sketches

A Chief and his wife c. 1824
This nice site has dancing girls from c. 1821 a a couple other shots
Several prints from the late 18th century, one or two with women from the islands

Plus how could the ancient Hawaiians have had bras when they weren't even invented in the west until ... early last century?
#24
Old 08-14-2002, 01:50 AM
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Very interesting links Osiris, the woman from the first link seems to have some pretty well devloped arms.

In the second link, the women seem to have african features and some seriously developed calves! A few of them look like men with breasts.
#25
Old 08-14-2002, 05:36 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Osiris
Well, finding a link for that would probably be next to impossible. One of those things that no one would think they would have to actually calrify.
Well, it wasn't so much a website link I was looking for. Any kind of cite will do. I'll take a book title, magazine article, interview transcript... as long as it's something more than a personal anecdote or hunch.
Quote:
Unless your brave enough to send an e-mail to Haunani Trask or some other Hawaiian Studies scholar <snip>
Uh, no thanks. In addition to being a very busy lady, she's also one scary lady.
Quote:
Plus how could the ancient Hawaiians have had bras when they weren't even invented in the west until ... early last century?
Good point.

EasyPhil-- Native Hawaiian women weren't wispy, dainty tropical maidens. They could be big, strong, and tough. And as you noted, some Native Hawaiians share features that are similar to those of African descent, such as broad noses, dark skin tones, and full lips. Hair textures are similar.
#26
Old 08-14-2002, 05:45 AM
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coconutbras.com? What the hell was all that about? Is there a coconut bra fetish group out there? Sheesh.
#27
Old 08-14-2002, 02:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by AudreyK
Native Hawaiian women weren't wispy, dainty tropical maidens. They could be big, strong, and tough. And as you noted, some Native Hawaiians share features that are similar to those of African descent, such as broad noses, dark skin tones, and full lips. Hair textures are similar.
It's amazing how the images we are fed have little or no basis in reality.
#28
Old 08-14-2002, 02:52 PM
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I'm referring to images potrayed on TV.
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