What is, "cultural appropriation"?
- A simple definition of cultural appropriation, is when someone takes something from a culture that isn't theirs. But this simplified definition can be confused with "cultural exchange", which is the beneficial sharing of cultures to develop mutual understanding.
Cultural appropriation is neither mutual nor beneficial. It is explained further as, when members of a dominant culture take elements of an oppressed culture. Often times the dominant culture will seek to profit or gain something from the appropriated culture.
A key determinant if an act is considered cultural appropriation is if the the oppressed culture finds offense in the perceived appropriation. Additionally, if the act of appropriation further oppresses the oppressed.
In the case of today's Polynesian navigation the discussion becomes complicated. The present culture/knowledge of traditional navigation was taught to Polynesians by Master Navigator, Mau Piailug. Not so much a cultural exchange, but maybe best described as a gift. We are also dealing with two historically oppressed cultures, Hawaiians or native Polynesians and Micronesians.
However, the question of cultural appropriation is not about how Polynesians received the culture/knowledge. But rather, what they've done with it.
Should they call it "Polynesian Navigation"? Should they be profiting from a gift? Are they accurately representing this new age of Pacific Traditional Navigation?
Calling it "Polynesian" is disingenuous, it erases the connection between cultures that we should be embracing and promoting. It also enriches the Polynesian name and gives it an authority over traditional navigation or celestial navigation.
On the other hand, a single tide raises all ships. The hard work and accomplishments of this new era of Polynesian Voyaging should serve as a beacon for the rest of the Pacific. And we should not forget that this knowledge of traditional navigation was not stolen or taken without permission. It was a consensual exchange.
Maybe saying "Polynesians are culturally appropriating Micronesian navigation", is going too far.
However, there is a case to be made that Polynesians calling it "Polynesian Navigation" is a falsity. It should not be called "Micronesian Navigation" as well, for it is not. "Pacific Navigation"? "Oceania Navigation"?