By Mark Frauenfelder
Americans fell in love with this romanticized version of South Pacific island culture, and books such as Michener's Tales of the South Pacific and Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki fueled the mystique. Soon, every kind of structure imaginable - from bowling allies to ski resort lodges - was sporting elements from Polynesian design. The most prevalent symbols, of course, were tikis, those carved wooden and stone statues found across the Pacific, from Hawaii to Easter Island to New Zealand.
The Polynesian pop phase flourished from the late '40s through the early '70s. Trailer courts were named "Bali-Hai Estates." Luau parties - with day-glo colored cocktails served in ceramic volcanoes and coconut mugs, ukulele music on the record player, and tiki-torches staked into the back lawn - became a yearly suburban tradition. But eventually, people lost interest in Polynesian pop. Across the country, one by one, Trader Vic's and Don the Beachcomber restaurants closed their doors, replaced by fern bars and discotheques. The tiki was forgotten, another cultural relic cluttering the way of people's quest for new fun.
In recent years, a small band of tiki-lovers has risen, hoping to restore their god to his rightful place in culture. They are....
The Tiki Worshippers
"Polynesian pop preservationists or silly statue scholars?"
Turf: Myriah's Polynesian Bazaar, Centralia, Missouri [+1 (573) 682 5520], Oceanic Arts (everything you need to turn your house into Gilligan's Island), Whittier, California [+1 (310) 698 6960]
Tools & Weapons: The Tiki News, "the only publication focusing on the Polynesian Pop Scene of Yesterday and Today."
Jargon: Various tiki styles: Rappa Nu, Lono, Ku.
Affiliates: Lounge Lizards, alt.music-exotica.
Quote: "In Maori lore, Tiki was the name for the procreative power and sexual organ of the god Tane, creator of the first woman. On Raevavae in the Austral Islands, just south of Tahiti, where ritualistic temple-sex was practiced, 'tiki-roa' meant 'the penis' while 'tiki-poto' was the term for 'the clitoris.' (Other fine vocabulary to spice up a conversation and give you an idea of what was going on there would be 'huri popo' - 'public sodomy' or the ever-popular 'pa-kika' - 'for a female with an enlarged clitoris to mount another female.')" - Tiki Scholar Sven-Tiki
Tiki Worshipper Q & A:
Bosko has been collecting tikis for about 10 years and carves and makes mugs for sale. He writes about Polynesian pop for Tiki News. He also likes Googie (aka coffee-shop moderne) architecture.
Tiki King began to make his own tikis after he and his wife became frustrated with the "hit or miss" results of scouring thrift stores for Polynesian pop artifacts.
What does the tiki represent to you?
Bosko: There's two answers to that question. I love the authentic Polynesian carvings because of the "Mana" the carvers tried to imbue in each carving - this is what separates Polynesian carving from any other primitive carvings. On a more personal level I was raised in the San Gabriel Valley, and there were (and still are) a great many amazing tiki apartments, restaurants, etc. ... So as a kid I used to see tikis every day.
Tiki King: The tiki represents a style of life that is all at once new and nostalgic. Nostalgic because it is a symbol of the past, new because a lot of us were not around during the '50s when Polynesian pop made its first appearance.
Where is the most unusual place you've seen or bought a tiki?
Bosko: Most of my tikis I've gotten from swap meets and junk shops, but in the past few years my brother and I have gotten into the "urban archaeology" side of Polynesian pop, so we've gone as far as crawling into trash bins to save tiki artifacts from going to the dump.
Tiki King: It was three little Rappa Nui heads outside Molly Malone's (an Irish Pub) in San Francisco.
Why do you think there is a renewed interest in tikis among the public?
Bosko: I think there's a sort of collective consciousness, what with the lounge scene and all the exotica music being reissued on CD.
How many tikis do you own?
Bosko: I would guess about 2,000 or so individual pieces. I've been collecting for about 10 years and I have many different categories of tiki stuff: mugs, menus, matchbooks, swizzle sticks, postcards, etc.
Tiki King: I don't know, hundreds?
What's your favorite tiki?
Bosko: My favorite would be one that Trader Vic's made and sold through their mail-order catalog (in three different versions, a mug and two sizes of decanters). It didn't have a name, so my friends and I refer to him as the Suffering Bastard - it's an Easter Island-style tiki holding his head because he is hung over.
What other kind of things go well with tikis?
Bosko: Before tikis became big in Polynesian pop, the thing that really started the movement was tropical drinks, made by mixologists like the originator, Don the Beachcomber. To achieve a proper "tiki" environment, you obviously need the drinks. Also a must is the exotica music (like Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman) and lots of clutter, some mood lighting around your tiki area.
Tiki King: It depends on your attitude. The tiki scene in general is pretty diverse. Tropical drinks, Hawaiian shirts, nautical decor, martinis, lounge music, limbo - I even have a fez emblazoned with a tiki.
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