I have another obsession besides zombies. Okay, it’s not as much of an obsession, but it is part of my kitschy side. At one time, I owned easily 15 different authentic Hawaiian shirts, many with tiki icons on them, a few genuine retro, and some so hideously ugly that only a furiously angry and displeased tiki god would appreciate them as much as I did.
I also try to go to tiki bars whenever I can to partake of the absolute kitsch fest that this aspect of our strange American culture hides in the backs of its lounges.
I bring this up because tiki culture just SCREAMS for some fun settings for writing.
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What, you may ask, is this thing called “tiki”? My friends, as we here on the mainland might think, it is the utmost in seriously cheesy Polynesian pop culture.
But a “tiki,” first and foremost, and with utmost respect to its origins, is a physical representation of a Polynesian god or perhaps ancestor figure, usually carved in wood or stone.
Well, what happened to make us convert such awesome beginnings into the cheese-fest that is tiki culture on the mainland?
Funny you should ask. Royal Tiki has the answer:
Tiki culture first came into American consciousness in the 1930s, when Texas-born Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt, who had journeyed throughout the South Pacific, opened Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Hollywood. The Polynesian-themed restaurant offered Cantonese cuisine and exotic rum concoctions in a tropical ambiance of blazing torches, leis and brightly colored fabrics.
And thus was born a pop culture phenomenon. Tiki shirts, tiki drinks, tiki bars, tiki parties…you name it, the mainland went bats*** crazy for tiki up through the 1960s. And even today, there is still a hard core of tiki lovers who remember their days enjoying zombies (the drink) and blue Hawaiians in fake grass huts next to giant fake tiki statues in some smoke-ridden lounge back in the day. And there are always those who rediscover the phenomenon.
Tiki culture on the mainland is a completely fake-ass interpretation of Polynesian culture and beliefs. However, followers of the phenomenon hold not only the poppish elements in reverence, but also, I think, the actual origins of it, as well. Tiki culture connoisseurs know that their love of the kitsch is just that–a recognition that what they indulge in is kitsch. Tiki culture is an over-the-top shout-out, in many ways, to its origins.
Future tikist, you must thus access the following links, to ensure your journey to coolness is not fraught with incorrect knowledge:
Royal Tiki, cool stuff and cool articles.
Humuhumu’s Critiki: info, tips, links, history
Konokai: more excellent linkies and tiki drinkies
Tiki Master: 411 on the tikis of Polynesia and Polynesian culture
Mythic Hawaii: More actual history of tikis and carvings.
And TOTALLY, read yourself some tiki books! Awesome link to some.
Partake! Partake in the tiki!