Let me give you a little background. I guess it all started some 20 years back when I was but a wee keiki (that’s hawaiian for “child”, if my research serves me). I had the great fortune of traveling with my family to the paradise that is Hawaii – Maui to be specific. Anyone who’s been there already knows, when I say, that it changed my life – profoundly. Sure, one could sing about the amazing climate, the sprawling sandy beaches, the beautiful tropical flora, and don’t get me started on ukulele music. But, even more than all the obvious stimuli, Hawaii, and its people have a spirit and a genuinness that instantly makes you feel like you’ve come home.
I did manage to make a few more trips back during my earlier years. (To be fair, I’m only just about 34 as of writing this, but it’s been many years since I’ve been back: life, right?) Being such, it wasn’t until years later that I first started making an effort to understand what it was about the place and the culture that resonated with me, and still does today.
There’s a lot of really good books and blogs out there which already lay out the entire history leading up to the modern “tiki” culture. I’ll try to footnote some of them later on. But, let me try to give you a very brief summary. In many early Pacific and Caribbean cultures, “Tiki” referred to some form of mythology, weather it was the First man, a God, or even just a phallic symbol. These early societies often times carved figurines to honor their given idols, which in pop culture became known collectively as “tikis”.
Fast forward quite a ways through some fascinating history to World War II, when an entire generation of ambitious servicemen were dropped into the Pacific in search of the enemy, and coincidentally, rediscovered the Polynesian culture in all its exotic and majestic wonder. Eager to share their experiences during their time abroad, they would take record of the tropical isles, the unique dwellings, the foreign foods and novel fruits, and the exotic native people – particularly the fairly clad women – and of course the abundance of the local spirit: rum. They also snatched up all manner of souvenirs, including the unusual native idols.
As mainland America became enamored with the idea of these unbelievable places, just out of reach, they inevitably began trying to recreate the experience for themselves. Homes, hotels, and restaurants all sought to draw in the growing masses in search of their own local paradise. However, the second hand accords lead to a lot of misinterpretations and inaccuracies until eventually the whole idea became a cliche of itself, and people adored it. The great irony is in the way the actual locations ultimately began to adopt the cliche into their original culture, as a way to appeal to tourists.
At the center of it all, was an entire new genre of exotic, sweet and fruity cocktails, being served to a generation newly obsessed with liberation and having a good time. Self proclaimed cocktail aficionados were constantly creating new variations in an attempt to stay ahead of customer demand. Amassing hundreds of varieties of rum from around the world. Mixing and matching fresh fruit juices, and unique bitters and syrups in an attempt to best the alternatives. Where flavor lapsed, showmanship filled in. Drinks were served in hollowed out pineapples, bamboo, and coconuts, with garnishes as bis as your head. Some were served in large vessels with extra long straws to be enjoyed by 4 people at once.
The culture of tiki eventually waned a few decades on as its community aged and popularity shifted to more modern ideals. Many of the great tiki escapes met their ends via aggressive renovations or the force of a wrecking ball. Though, as hangers-on, and younger generations, such as myself, continue to rediscover the magic of Polynesian kitsch, the culture stays alive in a handful of remaining establishments which serve as meccas for the faithful.
This blog was created as a way for me to keep that spirit alive. I hope you enjoy!!