Coconuts and Pineapples: For the Love of Tiki

Aloha! Recently on a trip to the island of Oahu, Hawaii, for a conference, I was awash in the casual elegance of tropical decor. Palm trees, bamboo, and large floral prints are found in restaurants and hotels all throughout the prime tourist areas. To create that tropical look, here are a few items to begin with, such as Island Plantation dinnerware:

The popular Waikiki beachfront shopping area houses rows upon of rows or retail shops catering to the casual buyer seeking items with Hawaiian flavour, such as quilts from Hawaiian Style Quilts.

Wikipedia states that:

Hawaiian quilting derives from the kapa moe, an indigenous bed cover textile. Kapa was constructed from the inner bark of local trees. Traditional kapa was beaten and felted, then dyed in geometric patterns.

Quilting may have begun in the Hawaiian islands with the arrival of missionaries and Western fabrics in the 1820s. The climate of Hawaii is unsuitable for cotton cultivation and kapa is unsuitable for quilting so all Hawaiian quilts are constructed from imported material. The earliest written reference comes from Isabella Bird who visited Hawaii in 1870 and wrote a travelogue Six Months in the Sandwich Islands.

Today the mass market quilts sold to tourists are most likely made in China. For a more historically accurate aesthetic,  the Bishop Museum in Honolulu contains collections of authentic Hawaiian quilts. From their Ethnology Database:

Early missionaries taught quilting to Hawaiian women, who adopted, then adapted the introduced art into a uniquely Hawaiian form. Quilt motifs are often drawn from nature, and bold silhouettes of favorite plants are very popular. Each quilt pattern bears its own name, often assigned according to the creator’s fancy. Hawaiian quilts typically have a central appliquéd motif. Patterns of subtle quilting stitches echo that design. The pattern of quilting stitches is often likened to the faint imprint left by a patterned beater on Hawaiian kapa, while the appliquéd design of the quilt mimics the stronger painted or stamped design on the surface of kapa.

No tropical decor would be complete without a reference to Tiki culture:

Tiki refers to large wood and stone carvings of humanoid forms in Central Eastern Polynesian cultures of the Pacific Ocean. The term is also used in Māori mythology where Tiki is the first man, created by either Tūmatauenga or Tāne. He found the first woman, Marikoriko, in a pond – she seduced him and he became the father of Hine-kau-ataata. In the Māori language, the word ‘tiki’ was the name given to large wooden carvings in roughly human shape, although this is a somewhat archaic usage. The carvings often serve to mark the boundaries of sacred or significant sites.

Far removed from its original usage, Tiki decor has now moved to fabulous vintage kitsch:

Tiki culture in the United States began in 1934 with the opening of Don the Beachcomber, a Polynesian-themed bar and restaurant in Hollywood.[1] The proprietor was Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt, a young man from Louisiana who had sailed throughout the South Pacific; later he legally changed his name to Donn Beach. His restaurant featured Cantonese cuisine and exotic rum punches, with a decor of flaming torches, rattan furniture, flower leis, and brightly colored fabrics. Three years later, Victor Bergeron, better known as Trader Vic, adopted a Tiki theme for his restaurant in Oakland, which eventually grew to become a worldwide chain.[2] The theme took on a life during the restaurant’s growth in the Bay Area. The Trader Vic in Palo Alto not only spawned architectural choices, such as the architectural concept behind the odd looking Tiki Inn Motel,[3] which still exists as the Stanford Terrace Inn.[4] There also currently exists a modern sculpture garden from Papua New Guinea[5] that was made to celebrate the modern form of art that was a large part of the original inspiration for tiki culture.[6]

Specialized shops, retail and online, now cater to Tikiphiles, with both vintage and modern reproductions of the American kitsch aesthetic. From Tikimaster, a typical tiki lamp:

I had to stop myself from buying up whole shops in Waikiki, and settled to begin a Tiki collection with a bamboo pineapple cutting board from ABC Stores. Hilariously, the back is carved the words “Aloha from Hawaii” right next to a scan bar code sticker that reads, “Made in China”:

As a lover of all things kitsch, the Tiki aesthetic tickles the vintage Americana fetish quite nicely. My aqua kitchen (paint colour in photo above) lends itself nicely to the theme. Full conversion to tiki and/or Americana aesthetic will have to wait until the summer, but already it’s exciting to begin planning around a theme that inspires fun and just a little bit of alcoholism. Until the next Blue Hawaii cocktail, Okole Maluna!


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