Tiki culture - the fantasy world of thatch-roofed bars, Hawaiian shirts, and whimsical ceramic mugs - was largely a product of post-World War II American leisure society, when soldiers who served in the Pacific returned home to build and benefit from an unparalleled economic boom. With more money and more time off than their parents could have dreamed of, reminiscing of faraway beaches and palm trees, Americans took to the road during ever lengthening vacation days while building oases for themselves at home during the off-season. Advances in transportation could bring them virtually anywhere, whether by America's developing system of highways or the flyways of the new Jet Age. With Communist Cuba off-limits, an exotic, tropical destination was placed right on Americans' doorstep when Hawaii joined the Union in 1959. The fad for anything and everything evoking Polynesia, Oceania, even Africa and the Caribbean, exploded like an atom bomb, from Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room to Martin Denny's smooth Jazz to the ubiquitous at-home Tiki bar.
|Walt and Jose welcome guests to the Enchanted Tiki Room. Photo: Disney.|
Americans had already been primed by Polynesian exotica for several decades before WWII. The roots of Tiki culture are found deep in the DNA of America's relationship with the Pacific, in the very first tropical supper clubs that would become Tiki pioneers, in lavish Hollywood musicals, and in radio programs broadcast from the ballrooms of Hawaii's most glamorous hotels. Despite French and English interests in the South Pacific - New Zealand, for example, and Tahiti - it was the Americans' unique relationship with Hawaii that fostered the development of Tiki culture... Not as cultural appropriation, but rather, as an expression of genuine Americana.
|Resolution and Adventure with fishing craft in Matavai Bay (1776) by William Hodges.|