Posted on June 22, 2005

Forced Assimilation May Hurt Hawaiians

Gordon Y.K. Pang, Honolulu Advertiser, June 20

“Cultural trauma” caused by forced assimilation into Western culture continues to wreak havoc on the health and well-being of Native Hawaiians even today, according to a Hilo, Hawai’i, researcher.

Bud Pomaika’i Cook, education director for Ka Maluhia Learning Center, said evidence suggests that what he refers to as “the cultural trauma syndrome” has occurred not just with Native Hawaiians, but also with aborigines in Australia, American Indians in South Dakota and others he characterized as “disenfranchised populations.”

All disenfranchised populations appear to share similar trends and a primary one is the attacks that were made on their cultures, which he defined as “shared beliefs, values and practices.”

Western writers who arrived in Hawai’i in the late 1700s described Native Hawaiians as “a very vibrant, very healthy, very vigorous and fit race,” Cook said at a breakout session of the three-day Pacific Global Health Conference last week.

But a study done by the state Department of Health in 2002 concluded that a Hawaiian male, on average will die six years earlier than the average male in all other populations, Cook said.

One common pattern of cultural trauma syndrome is that often, attacks against the original culture start to manifest themselves from within, he said. “This is . . . where a person becomes his own worst enemy, and (engages in) self-destructive behavior,” he said. Often, people will engage in “suicide by lifestyle,” which could result in such things as ignoring the advice of health experts to eat healthier, exercise more or quit smoking.