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News of Zealand

New Zealanders Call Out Appropriation After Businessman Trademarks “Bula”

“They are trying to steal something that doesn’t belong to them.”
A Fijian man demonstrates the correct use of the word "Bula". Image via Shutterstock

A Florida businessman has trademarked the Fijian greeting “Bula” in an attempt to restrict other businesses from using the word. Ross Kashtan owns three “Bula” cafes and bars dotted across the US state. Bula Kafe, Bula on the Beach and Bula Coco Beach all sell kava, a popular social beverage made from Piper methysticum, a plant native to the western Pacific islands.

The appropriation has provoked a huge backlash here in Aotearoa. Josiah Tualamali'i, chairperson of New Zealand Pasifika youth charity Pacific Youth Leadership And Transformation, is one of many who are furious. He is asking people to leave one-star reviews on Bula Kafe’s Facebook page, RNZ reports.


"I just thought 'well they have 4.9 as their overall rating so let's pull that back a bit,'" he said. "We know they are listening because they removed my comment and some others, so this has got to them and that was the point."

Kashtan has used a "bula" logo extensively, from bottle design, signage and even “bula babe shorts”. Classy. "They are trying to steal something that doesn't belong to them," said Tualamali'i. "It really has to end."

Checkpoint wasn't able to reach Kashtan but spoke to one of his workers who was well aware of the unfolding controversy. "It's not to inhibit anyone to use it, we just don't want anyone calling their businesses that because we have a ten-year-old business called 'Bula'," the worker said. "It's not to hurt anybody… we are really good people I promise."

The Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio, said the recent trademark was “a disturbing revelation” that was “distressful not only to Fijians in New Zealand but to all Fijians throughout the world".

"It is unbelievable that a company from another country can trademark what belongs to another group of people," he said.

More than 2000 people have signed the petition, “Bula Belongs To Fiji”.