Friday, 11 September 2015

Tiki in Honolulu

I recently rewrote an article about Tiki culture in Honolulu, but the extended version of the article ended up unused, in favour of the original shorter piece.

So I've adapted it into a blog post about the Tiki phenomenon and where to encounter it in the Hawaiian capital. Enjoy...

Grimacing masks! Flaming torches! Replica volcanoes!

If you saw these items around your restaurant table in the 1950s or 1960s, as a waiter arrived with a tray of Mai Tai cocktails, you were deeply immersed in the cultural craze known as Tiki.

When American soldiers returned from World War II, they brought with them an experience of Polynesian culture, encountered when they'd shipped through Hawaii and other islands on the way to the Pacific war.

Curiosity about the region had also been fuelled by San Francisco's World's Fair of 1939, which featured Pacific nations.

The time was ripe for Tiki, a style which took inspiration from Polynesian culture but turned it up to 11.

First Donn Beach opened his Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Hollywood in the mid-1930s, followed by Victor Bergeron's Trader Vic chain which spread throughout California and beyond.

Tiki's visual aspects were its most memorable, not least its leering statues and masks, including giant Easter Island heads. But there was always more to it than that.

Tiki culture also spawned a line of cocktails - the most famous of which being the Mai Tai.

Less well remembered is Exotica, a music genre which was part of the Tiki trend. It's a form kept alive by bands such as The Waitiki 7, based in Honolulu.

“Tiki is going through its third revival,” says Waitiki 7 bass player Randy Wong.

“Tiki was essential from 1954 to 1968, then got so big it became a cliché. There was a revival in the mid-90s, starting with the group Combustible Edison in Boston.

“It died down again, then around 2003 Tiki festivals started picking up steam.

“Now we have the Internet so everyone’s like ‘Oh my god, there are other people interested in this, not just me.’ It’s commercial, it’s tribalism.

“People take it different ways,” he adds. “Tiki can be playful, but there’s room for Tiki to be taken seriously.

“Personally, I’m more interested in the old-fashioned Exotica.

“You see the fellows who are more into the darker side, the voodoo side of Tiki. There’s a crowd who are into rockabilly, tattoos and biking. There’s the burlesque side. There’s room for all of those interests within Tiki.”


Places to experience Tiki design and drinks in Honolulu:

Disclosure: On this trip I travelled courtesy of Hawaii Tourism and the Oahu Visitors Bureau.