Most Pacific Islanders whoâ€™ve had any access to social media within the last five plus years have probably seen or know about The Royal Family. And while some may not recognize her name, we recognize Parris Goebel and her crew when we see them dance.
Like many other Pacific Islanders who first saw the Royal Family megacrew via ReQuest, when I saw their dance movesâ€” I saw the dances of the Pacific Island people. And as the Royal Family and Parris Goebel established themselves in mainstream dance championshipsâ€” I beamed with an intense pride.
Itâ€™s the kind of pride you get from seeing your culture, your ancestry on display on a mainstream stageâ€” and, for once, itâ€™s not a novelty.
Itâ€™s seeing beautiful island men and women with last names that are just as hard to pronounce as your ownâ€” and theyâ€™re not â€œsavageâ€ footballers or â€œexoticâ€ women in grass skirts.
Parris Goebel was only fifteen years old when the Royal Family got their startâ€” but she and the entire dance crew provided a huge boost for the worldwide Pacific Islander community by introducing Polyswagg, a modern dance form heavily influenced by the dances of our Pacific seafaring ancestors.
So when one of my favorite websites published your article, titled â€œ#PatraTaughtYou: 9 Dancehall Videos That Created the â€˜Polyswaggâ€™ Movement,â€ it goes without saying that my heart dropped and my cultural identity took a bit of a hit.
In your Blavity post, you accuse Parris Goebel of cultural appropriation. I chose the word â€œaccuse,â€ because said cultural appropriation isnâ€™t alluded to nor gradually brought upâ€” you opened your post by writing:
The articles concludes:
I would be remiss not to say that many Pacific Islander do, indeed, love reggae music. Whether itâ€™s Roots, Lovers Rock, Rocksteady, Dancehall or any of the other subgenres– because it carries a rhythm that resonates with many of us. But that is another discussion for another day.
Today, I just want to address your accusation against Parris Goebel and cultural appropriation as it pertains to dance.
To insist that Polyswagg is simply a Polynesian (because the â€œPolyâ€ mustâ€™ve come from somewhere) appropriation of Caribbean dance is to deny the respective histories and cultures of the Polynesian people, and thus Melanesians and Micronesians as well.
It is saying that the Tongans dancing their Mako, the Samoans performing their Faâ€™ataupati, the Fijians play their Lali drums or the Tahitian men playing the Toere while the women perform Oteâ€™a and ‘ori Tahitiâ€”and all the people of the Pacific whoâ€™ve learned and performed their respective dancesâ€” it is saying that our cultures are not our own, or furtherâ€” that our respective cultures are simply â€œnot.”
It is to further denigrate and relegate an ocean of people who are not merely dealing with the after-effects of colonialism, but people who are dealing with colonialism in the present time.
In a time where information is readily accessible on the internet, your decision to misinform people based off of an interview given last year to Elle magazine is dangerously divisive.
You cannot erase anyone’s respective histories and cultures for lack of knowledge on your part. That does not constitute a shift in the paradigm. That is usurping the place of the colonizers and raising yourself by placing us beneath you.
Look, I get that Elle probably wasnâ€™t the greatest choice, in terms of where to make your interview debut. In a time of heated socio-political upheaval, Original People (thatâ€™s you and me both) need to learn about each other trulyâ€” and not through the lens of the very people whoâ€™ve been dividing and attempting to conquer all of us ever since they figured out how to leave their icy terrains.
I genuinely tried to learn more about you before I started writing this by reading your other work and perusing your website. Because it seems, to me, like the proper way to go about writing a response.
In doing so, Iâ€™ve learned that youâ€™re incredibly talented. Youâ€™re an excellent writer, quite funny Â AND you cherish your culture and heritage. Moreover, as a bonafide Daddyâ€™s girl, I truly admire how youâ€™ve used your site to pay tribute to your father.
But most of all, Iâ€™ve learned that you are so much better than this.
That said, I do admire your work and hope you donâ€™t see this as an angry diatribe or find it offensive, because that isnâ€™t my goal.
Really, I just wanted to put this information out there for my fellow Pacific Islanders. Even though our ocean is the biggest, we number in the fewestâ€” and itâ€™s hard to maintain our identities, particularly in America, when so many people forget that we exist in the first place.
Sha Merirei Ongelungel