Mid-century modern Polynesian-Pop phenomena, commonly referred to as “TIki Style” or simply “Tiki” is widely celebrated, but what is it really?
First, it must be said Tiki is a sacred object to many in the South Pacific. It is First Man. It is a venerated god and takes different forms for different people. Tiki represents a connection to the spirits and nature, and its display should be respectful and appropriate.
“Tiki Style” or Poly-Pop is a wholly American creation that hit its stride post WWII with the perfect storm of returning GIs, Hawaii’s statehood, and disposable income. It manifested in bars and restaurants that combined Chinese food, tropical rum cocktails from the Caribbean, and decor from the South Seas. A new music genre was born, a blend of jazz, Latin, and non-Western instrumentation known as “Exotica” after Martin Denny’s 1957 release of the same name. This faux-Polynesia spread like wildfire in the 1960s, into backyards and basements, even becoming a Disney attraction in 1963 with “The Enchanted Tiki Room.”
Essentially it’s a VIBE. It’s escapism with its own drinks, mood, and music. It’s the way you dress, and the way you decorate your home or home bar, it becomes your esthetic. It’s what you collect: the mugs, the glassware, the vintage ephemera of swizzles, matches, menus, coasters, and napkins, the only traces of history from the long-gone faux Polynesian Palaces. It becomes your community, the people you identify with, the people you congregate with, your second family, your Ohana.