Venus of Willendorf
Tiki's Appear: Ice age art
c. 23,000 BC
Art and Society
c. 2006 A.D.
When people hear the term tiki, some think of torches or those scary statues propped against the wall at a tropical-inspired bar. But most people don’t know the story and mystery behind the term.
Most Polynesians believe that Tiki was the first man created.
In Polynesian mythology, Tiki or hei tiki is a sculpture carved in the shape of a god, housing a spirit. The creation of tikis is known from all over Polynesia. Among the Maori of New Zealand, the women wear small tiki talismans around their necks to protect from infertility. The giant moia of Easter Island are some of the mysterious carvings that were discovered in 1722 by Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen. There are over 200 moia on the island that were once worshipped by the inhabitants. Some of these statues weigh nearly 80 tons. So how did the tiki become such a hype in the United States, you might ask.
To many, the Tiki was more than just a statue. It symbolized everything about the South Pacific. Polynesian-themed restaurants opened in the 1930s and 1940s, offering tropical rum drinks, and housing flaming torches, rattan furniture, flower leis, and brightly colored fabrics. People inspired by the success of these restaurants began to open their own tropical taverns. Around this time, soldiers were returning home from World War II, bringing with them stories and souvenirs from the South Pacific. Americans immediately fell in love with the exotic culture, and designers and artists began to incorporate the Polynesian culture into their work. From home accessories to architecture, Tiki was big in the United States. All of this was widely known as the Tiki culture.
Relax with some of the Polynesian culture
The Tiki’s popularity skyrocketed in the late 1950s and early 1960s marked by the entrance of Hawaii as the 50th state in 1959. Tiki mugs and torches that once collected dust in thrift stores became hot items. Anything Tiki-inspired took the center stage in the world of Polynesian culture. Some people even believe that having a Tiki item in the house adds a breezy island spirit that makes homeowners feel like they are on vacation year-round.
But the widely known Tiki statue still remains a cultural staple in Polynesia. In Hawaii, you can find Tiki statues welcoming guests and visitors at the entrance of the Polynesian Cultural Center, some hotels and other Polynesian-themed locations. Waikiki gift shops carry a variety of Tiki-inspired souvenirs and gifts, and some local candy companies use the Tiki statue in their logo.
12 Polynesian Tattoo Designs and Meanings
Polynesian tattoos feature several distinctive artistic elements that have special meanings. While these designs are now shared across different Polynesian cultures, every ancient Polynesian culture had its own patterns and twists. Most of these tattoos are made up of geometric patterns, but the shapes, placements, and other details can change depending on the tattoo artist and the location of the tattoo.
1. Shark Teeth
Shark teeth are among the main elements in Polynesian tattoos. They are creatively designed in a unique pattern that symbolizes shelter, power, orientation, fierceness, and adaptableness. Known in the Polynesian language as niho mano, the shark teeth design represents courage, power, ferocity, flexibility, and guidance. It is also important to mention that a shark represents the god of Polynesians.
The spearhead design represents combativeness and bravery. If you consider yourself a warrior, then you should include this spearhead design in your Polynesian tattoo. Sometimes this pattern is designed as a row of several spearheads.
In Polynesian society, an ocean represents the water from beyond where the ancestors lived. It can also mean death or life after death. Furthermore, the ocean is the main source of food for the Polynesian people. In some Polynesian cultures, the ocean symbolizes life and fertility.
Sometimes the ocean pattern can be used as a complement to another different tattoo. This pattern comes in different forms, including ocean waves that symbolize the planet or the place where people go when they die.
The Tiki pattern represents a being that is half-human and half-god. This being is considered the ancestor of human beings. The Polynesian people believe that Tiki can feel and hunt evil. Therefore, this tattoo pattern represents authority and masculinity.
Sometimes this Tiki tattoo design is used as a lucky charm because some people believe it can protect them against evil spirits. In some Polynesian cultures, Tiki represents sacred ancestors, chiefs, and priests who became semi-gods in their afterlife. Tiki designs are often drawn facing forward, sometimes with a stretched tongue as a sign of defiance.
In the Polynesian culture, a turtle is one of the most important animals, if not the most important. It signifies strength and security. The animal is also seen as a spirit that is capable of traversing freely between the world and the ocean.
Many Polynesian people believe that a turtle was created to facilitate the passage of departed souls to their resting place in the world beyond. In the Polynesian language, a turtle is referred to as hono and represents health, peace, richness, foundation, and long life.
Among Polynesians, a lizard is a sign of divine appearance. Therefore, it represents divinity and the presence of gods. Many people include a lizard in their Polynesian tattoos as a sign of luck and affluence.
In the Polynesian language, lizards and geckos are referred to as mo’o or moko. Polynesians believe that gods and other minor spirits manifest themselves in the form of lizards. They also believe that these animals facilitate communication between men and spirits.
The stingray design represents freedom and quiet force. So, if you consider yourself to be reliable, a person who thinks before acting, or someone who is always pursuing justice, you should consider including a stingray pattern in your Polynesian tattoo. This pattern is available in several styles.
8. The Sun
The sun pattern in a Polynesian tattoo symbolizes splendor and prosperity. It also indicates eternity, rebirth, and renewal, especially since it brings a new day when it rises. You should include this design in your Polynesian tattoo to symbolize your rebirth or renewal.
9. Marquesan Cross
In the Polynesian culture, the Marquesan cross symbolizes coordination and peace in different situations.
10. Koru Flower
Koru is a Polynesian word meaning folded or coiled. It is often styled as a coiled shape in many Polynesian tattoos to signify a sprouting fern. This symbolizes life or new beginnings. It also represents tradition.
Just like a stingray pattern, a dolphin design in Polynesian tattoos represents freedom. In ancient Polynesia, a dolphin guided the people to the promised land while shielding them from the sharks. Therefore, the animal is very important to the Polynesians because it means complete protection of their guidance.
Tribal Polynesian tattoo designs and their meanings vary with culture. But in most Polynesian cultures, a tribal tattoo tells the story of the wearer’s heritage and achievements. Some of them signify protection, authority, and strength.
Art of the South Pacific: Polynesia
South Pacific art history is generally organized into three geographic regions: Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia. While the regions have interacted, traded, and exchanged culturally for centuries, there are defining aesthetic, political, linguistic, and cultural traits within each region. This lesson considers art from Polynesia, comprised of islands within a triangular area bound by Hawai’i, New Zealand, and Rapa Nui (Easter Island) (See map in Slideshow for more). Polynesia is further subdivided into three sections: West Polynesia, East Polynesia, and the Polynesian outliers. West Polynesia (Tonga, Samoa and American Samoa, ‘Uvea, Futuna, Tokelau, Tuvalu, Niue, and Rotuma) also will include Fiji, whose indigenous populations are generally considered Melanesian. Fiji has cultural and arts traditions that align with West Polynesia, however, hence its inclusion here. Polynesian outliers include islands that are technically outside of the Polynesian triangle but are culturally related to Polynesia (Nukuoro, Kapingamarangi, Tikopia, Anuta, Rennell, Bellona, Nukumanu, Sikaiana, Ontong Java). East Polynesian islands are: the Society Islands, French Polynesia (including Tahiti), the Marquesas, Austral Islands, Tuamotu Islands, the Cook Islands, Chatham Islands, Rapa Nui (also known as Easter Island, nearly 2,300 miles off the coast of Chile), Hawai’i, and New Zealand. Geologically, Polynesia ranges from volcanic to coral islands, and its environmental diversity shaped cultural traditions via the media and technology available on the islands.
The Polynesian islands share linguistic and cultural similarities, although the material expression of each island group is different. Linguistic and cultural analysis place the migration movement from West to East, and the origin culture is generally cited as the Lapita peoples migrating through Fiji (in the second millennium BCE), landing at Tonga and Samoa, and eventually moving to other island groups. Lapita pottery is usually the starting point for chronologically organized South Pacific surveys (Read Jennifer Wagelie’s summary of Lapita culture here. Polynesian arts visually express the values and organization of life, belief, power, and knowledge within the region. The pieces in this lesson relate to three major themes: the paired concepts of mana and tapu, community and prestige, and genealogy, concepts that govern the aesthetic structures and use of objects. Mana is supernatural power that moves within and through people, time, and objects. According to Adrienne Kaeppler, mana is linked to genealogical rankings, fertility, and protocols. It is protected by a set of rules governing actions and ritual, called tapu. Social status was (and is) linked to these concepts, with specific members of the community holding specialized cultural knowledge. For example, hereditary chiefs (ariki, ali’i), sea experts (tautai), craftsmen (tufunga), and warriors (toa) all had mana, and they enacted their specialized knowledge in sacred spaces (like malae, marae, and heiau). It was important to use the correct and appropriate objects in the correct contexts, and history and lineages held (and continue to hold) an important place in Polynesian culture. Today, artists incorporate media and contemporary life (including global cultural influences) into their artwork, rooting new work within South Pacific artistic traditions, and this lesson notes just a few of these artistic changes within a vibrant contemporary art scene. The pieces in this lesson address Polynesian community, prestige, and lineages from the eighteenth century to present. The resources included (particularly video) are intended to aid students in reflecting on how many of these objects came into Western museum collections and to demonstrate how to engage with museum objects. Finally, a note on pronunciation: South Pacific terminology is used when possible, and these words may be unfamiliar and/or difficult to pronounce—as many South Pacific voices as possible are included through video to aid instructors in pronunciation, emphasis, and tone.
Carved by Raharuhi Rukupo of Rongowhakaata, Interior of a Maori meetinghouse, Te Hau-ki-Turanga, 1840–2. Owned by the Rongowhakaata Tribe. Te Papa Tongarewa Museum, Wellington, New Zealand.
D’Alleva, Anne. Art and Artifacts of Polynesia. Cambridge, Mass.: Hurst Gallery, 1990. (recommended textbook)
Kaeppler, Adrienne Lois. The Pacific Arts of Polynesia and Micronesia. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. (recommended textbook)
Stevenson, Karen. The Frangipani Is Dead: Contemporary Pacific Art In New Zealand, 1985-2000. Wellington, New Zealand: Huia, 2008.
Thomas, Nicholas, Oceanic Art. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1995. (recommended textbook)
Videos (interviews with scholars and curators)
This lesson uses nineteen objects (vessels, figural works, architecture, textiles, and body arts) in a wide variety of media and techniques available in the South Pacific to explore three essential and overlapping concepts to understand Polynesian aesthetic systems (mana and tapu, community/prestige, and genealogy). Those works include:
- Dish for Yaqona, Fiji, early nineteenth century, wood and shell, Fiji Museum, Suva, Fiji
- Pahu-Ra (Ceremonial Drum), Ra’ivavae, Austral Islands, 1800–50, tamanu wood, sharkskin, sennit, Indiana University Art Museum, Wielgus Collection
- Tapuva’e (Stilt Step), Marquesas Islands, nineteenth century, toa wood, H. 17 ¾ in. (45.1 cm), Indiana University Art Museum
- ‘U’u (Club), Marquesas Islands, early to mid-nineteenth century, wood and fiber, H. 60 1/4 x W. 6 5/8 x D. 3 3/4 in. (153 x 16.8 x 9.5 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller
- Moai at Ahu Tongariki, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), 1400, volcanic stone and scoria
- Moai Kavakava, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), nineteenth century, wood, bone, obsidian, Indiana University Art Museum
- HeiTiki pendant, Maori peoples, New Zealand, nineteenth century, nephrite, haliotis shell, H. 9 in. (22.9 cm), Indiana University Art Museum, Wielgus Collection
- To’o (Image) representing the deity ‘Oro, Tahiti, Society Islands, eighteenth century, wood, coconut husk fiber, feathers, H. 18 1/8 x Diam. 2 7/8 in. (46 x 7.3 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller
- Carved by Raharuhi Rukupo of Rongowhakaata, Interior of a Maori meetinghouse, Te Hau-ki-Turanga, 1840–2. Owned by the Rongowhakaata Tribe, Te Papa Tongarewa Museum, Wellington, New Zealand.
- I’e toga (Fine Mat), Samoa, Early nineteenth century, pandanus fiber, parrot feathers
- Tapa (clockwise, beginning top left):
- Ngatu (Barkcloth), Tonga, 1972, mulberry and pigment, British Museum, 413 x 201 cm
- Kapa (Barkcloth), Hawaii, eighteenth century, processed bark bast, 80 x 45 cm, Bernisches Historisches Museum
- Siapo (Barkcloth), Samoa Islands, c. 1930–50, mulberry bark fiber, pigment, Indiana University Art Museum, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Edward J. Kempf
- Masi Kesa (Barkcloth Panel), Naitauba, Lau Islands, Fiji, late nineteenth–early twentieth century, barkcloth, pigment, L. 165 in. (419.1 cm) Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Elizabeth S. Williams
Ariki/ali’i: hereditary chiefs.
Art: Thinking about Polynesian art history requires contextualization of the term “art” in Polynesian cultures—a combination of all creative processes in tangible materials, performance (singing, recitation, dance, music), and scent—the formal manipulation of any of these is considered art. Terms that aid in thinking about Polynesian culture are the following: skill, indirectness (the gradual unraveling of layers of meaning through the growth of cultural knowledge and experience over time), and integration (of the senses).
Genealogy: a governing principle of Polynesian culture, often expressed artistically through an emphasis on backbones and the recitation of family lineages, particularly amongst chiefly families.
Kaona (Hawaiian) or heliaki (Tongan): indirectness, one concept by which to understand Polynesian culture and art, referring to hidden or veiled meanings that are unraveled until cultural metaphors are understood (for example, an object or performance cannot be understood at a surface level, but must be examined through its social and cultural systems and evaluated by Polynesian aesthetic principles).
Kava: a drink, an infusion of Piper methysticum, a tropical pepper, used during ritual.
Mana/tapu: Mana is a supernatural power. According to Adrienne Kaeppler, one of the most prolific scholars of South Pacific art, mana is linked to genealogical rankings, fertility, and protocols. It is protected by a set of rules governing actions and ritual, called tapu.
Marae/heiau: sacred spaces in Polynesia.
Tapa/kapa: a pounded textile made of bark, by women, with designs made by rubbing, printing, and painting, often a prestige gift.
Tufunga: craftsmen, whose skill in manipulating material culture is considered specialized knowledge.
Containers, like the dish for Yaqona from Fiji (early nineteenth century), are ubiquitous in Polynesia. Containers for sacred drinks and food, material culture treasures, and musical instruments (receptacles for sound) figure substantially in Polynesian life. This Yaqona dish, called a tanoa, is large and shallow and meticulously decorated. Made of wood (vesi, a high-quality wood used in the South Pacific and Southeast Asia with a red-brown color), a specialist carved it using a metal-bladed adze, rasped it with a piece of coral, and polished it using a boar’s tooth and pressure. The dish held a sacred drink, called Yaqona in Fiji (kava in Tonga, ‘ava in Hawaii and Samoa, and sakau in Pohnpei). As with all of the material art forms from Polynesia in this lesson, the Yaqona bowl is one part of an aesthetic and artistic structure that incorporated multiple media and performance, as well as the integration of many people to execute ceremonies (community). In the lesson, the bowl stands alone, while in situ it would be positioned within the materials for making kava (stones for pounding, mats for holding, polished coconut cups for drinking, and special attire worn by kava mixers, servers, and drinkers). Kava-drinking occasions vary among Polynesian societies, ranging from informal drinking to theater and spectacle typically, kava ceremonies incorporate specialized speech, music, and performance, facilitated by the material objects. Adrienne Kaeppler discusses two ways that Yaqona features in Fijian society the Yaqona drinking ceremony in the chiefly sphere borrowed from Tongan culture, and as a feature of Fijian priestly activity. First, consider the Fijian Yaqona bowl as part of chiefly events that reinforce social prestige and organize space onceptually. Yaqona-drinking spaces are oriented by placing the sea and land in a hierarchical order (with the sea being higher), relating the highest-ranking chief, who sits with his back to the sea to an (often mythical) ancestor arriving from the sea (genealogy). The chief is set “above the bowl,” and people of lesser importance sit “below the bowl,” opposite. There is a performative emphasis in Fijian ceremonies on the serving of Yaqona. Sculpted in the form of a bird, the vessel pictured would have been used by a Fijian priest invoking and being possessed by spiritual forces. Placed on the floor of a spirithouse, priests knelt in front of the dish, sipping Yaqona through a straw, as the lips and head of a priest (infused with mana), were sacred and could not touch the vessel. Similar types of dishes were also used by priests for mixing coconut oil and paint in preparation of engaging the gods. Many of these vessels entered museum collections through missionaries who collected them after the conversion of chiefs and priests to Christianity in the nineteenth century. At right, you can see a contextual photo of a man preparing Yaqona (you can tell he is of chiefly rank, as he wears a civa, the breast ornament). Additionally, you can explore all of the objects associated with this tradition through the exhibit “Fiji’s Treasured Culture,” a joint effort between the Museum of Victoria (Australia) and the Fiji Museum, Suva.
The Pahu-rafrom the Austral Islands (1800–50) is made of Tamanu wood, with a sharkskin drum head and ties of plaited sennit. Tall and cylindrical in shape, the bottom of the drum is characterized by its intricate openwork carving. The degree of intricacy in this drum indicates that the carver used metal tools, and helps date the instrument, as the influx of European trade in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries brought a variety of metal tools through the Polynesian islands. Drums accompanied births, wars, and funerals, and they were incorporated into the use of sacred sites. Kaeppler cites similar drums used in Hawaii, and the Metropolitan Museum cites a 1777 sketch by John Webber showing one in use on a sacred site (marae) on Tahiti. The base of the drum is where the drum’s mana, its spiritual strength, was stored. Examine the image details, and observe the registers of carved crescents and human figures. According to Kaeppler, the crescent, also a tattoo motif, “means to cast a shadow, to drive away, ward off, frighten, spirit, apparition, and ghost, as well as brightness, shining, glittering, splendid…during rituals, the arms of human participants were raised skyward, forming crescents like those carved on pahu” (see suggested textbook). In these images, the crescent shape links the human figures, whose hands are joined around the drum base. Compare this pahu to another drum from the historically important Oldman collection at Te Papa. For an introductory article on musical instruments, see: Moulin, Jane Freeman. “Gods and Mortals: Understanding traditional function and usage in Marquesan musical instruments.” The Journal of the Polynesian Society, 106 (3) (September 1997): 250–83.
Figural sculptures also express Polynesian concepts about genealogy, prestige, community, and mana. The next several objects provide the opportunity to compare and contrast the formal expression of these ideas across different island cultures. Polynesian sculpture is made from wood, basketry, textiles, feathers, ivory, bone, and greenstone.
The stilt step and club (‘U’u) from the Marquesas Islands demonstrate how Marquesan artists conceive of Polynesian concepts visually. As seen in these Marquesas Islands stilt step and ‘U’u, wooden figural work from these islands is visually distinctive. Described as “goggle-eyed,” the stilt step featured on the left would have been lashed to a stilt five- to seven-feet long (the step being lashed about three feet up), and used in competitions where Marquesan men demonstrated feats of athleticism—namely races—but also spiritual strength during religious events. The full figure positioned around and below the step curve is a tiki (a figural representation embodying the first man), and although his facial features are typically Marquesan (emphasis on the rounded eyes and arched eyebrows), his body composition is typically Polynesian, with bent knees and arms carved across his stomach. To the right is an ‘U’u (war club), and according to Carol Ivory, they are the most popularly found objects from the Marquesas islands in museum collections. Compositionally, stilt steps and ‘U’u are carved in both high and low relief. The format of ‘U’u is a long piece of toa (hardwood) whose rounded, broad top functions as an armrest, carved on both sides with figural designs. Visible in both pieces are the extraordinarily large eyes and arched brows. Carved in high relief on the face are the eyes and the nose, which on the ‘U’u project from a horizontally placed bar. Above the large face, a smaller face appears on the very top of the club. Ivory also highlights the three registers of designs (including a second set of eyes) below the horizontally projecting bar, relating some of the designs to tattooing found in the Marquesas. It is these three registers of design that scholars use to separate ‘U’u into stylistic groups because those are the sections on which there is the most design variation (see fig. 5, p. 57 in Ivory’s cited article for her complete chart stylistic variation of ‘U’u in museum collections). The earliest contextual information about ‘U’u in western scholarship are drawings from the Cook expeditions. You can compare the one depicted here to another ‘U’u with a feathered handle from the Pitt-Rivers Museum, or for more information, see Carol S. Ivory, “Marquesan ‘U’u: A Stylistic and Historical Review.” Pacific Arts: The Journal of the Pacific Arts Association, No. 9/10 (July 1994), 53–63. Ivory’s article serves as a model for undergraduates doing comparative studies and historical contextualization for museum collections and would make an excellent short essay question or blog post reflecting on class material.
The large stone moai(left), moaikavakava figures (right), and barkcloth figures (not included) are three instances of figural arts on Rapa Nui (also called Easter Island), 2,300 miles off the coast of present-day Chile. The large moai carved from volcanic tuff are the most recognizable. The largest monolithic figural carving in Polynesia, the composition of a moai is one-third head and two-thirds body, emphasizing the head, the part of the body with the most mana. Moai faces have elongated noses and ears and heavy eyebrow ridges, and the carving on the chest emphasizes the clavicle. They likely had inlaid shell eyes (no longer in situ). Long fingers extend across the stomach area of the body, and some moai have additional carving on their backs like the moai Hoa Hakananai’a and the birdman cult at the British Museum (listen to audio or view sign language version here). Some moai have topknots called pukao made from scoria, a red volcanic stone also quarried on the island. Today, they are found partially carved in Rano Raraku (the basalt stone quarry, directly across the valley from Ahu Tongariki, pictured), re-erected onto ahu (ceremonial platforms often associated with burials and the ancestors), as well as unearthed from the “moai road” leading out from the quarry along the island (and, of course, in museum collections around the world). Of the moai positioned on ahu around the island, all except one group face inland, with their backs to the sea. Thought to have been carved between 1000 and 1680 (the broadest date ranges), a number of scholarly mysteries surround the moai for example, how were they moved (see a number of theories here)? Ahu Tongariki, pictured, is the largest, with fifteen moai on the ahu. The moai are related to ancestors, and ahu are sacred spaces.
Moai kavakava are smaller, wooden figures also carved on Rapa Nui. Like moai, these figures have elongated earlobes, pronounced brow ridges and chins, and carved clavicles. They often have inlaid bone, shell, and obsidian eyes. Their skeletal forms emphasize the backbone and ribs of the figure, visually linking the figures to concepts of genealogical heritage and the ancestors. Like other Polynesian figures, the moai kavakava have bent knees and distinctively carved heads. They may have been worn around the neck and wrapped in barkcloth when not in use. Many moai kavakava feature incised designs on top of their heads. See other detailed images of moai kavakava at the Seattle Art Museum and the British Museum.
The figure at left is a nineteenth-century Hei tiki, a carved Māori nephrite pendant worn suspended from the neck. The medium nephrite is greenstone jade found on the South Island of New Zealand/Aotearoa. Tiki (as mentioned above) is a general term for human figures embodying the first man, and hei means something suspended from the neck. Both men and women wear the hei tiki, and while their meanings are varied, all are considered taonga (treasures), passed through families as heirlooms, and some are given specific names. All are imbued with mana and the histories and power of their previous owners. Compositionally, the figure here is typical, with tilted head resting on a bilaterally symmetrical body, open legs, and inlaid eyes (of shell, or, post-contact with Europeans, red sealing wax). Although tiki figures are found throughout Polynesia, the meaning of hei tiki pendants are less clear. Three theories proposed by the Te Papa Tongarewa museum are that hei tiki “represent Hine-te-iwaiwa, a celebrated ancestress associated with fertility and the virtuous qualities of Māori womanhood…Tiki, the mythical first human…[or] the unborn embryo, particularly children that are stillborn.” See this video from Te Papa, about Te Paea Hinerangi’s hei tiki.
According to Kaeppler, the early nineteenth-century To’o figure for ‘Oro (Tahiti’s major deity) is made from wood, covered in sennit and red feathers. The figure was periodically activated in the pa’iatua ritual at important events (like the installation of a chief, seasonal rituals, and times of crisis). Some figures, like the one pictured here, take figural form in sennit, emphasizing the face, arms and hands, and navel. Although they may not look like other Polynesian figures in the lesson, the aspects of the human form included indicate the most important human features that are repositories for mana (especially the head) or connections to the ancestors (the navel). The material, sennit, is spiritually important, and the skillful manipulation of the medium increases its value. To’o were kept in specially crafted godhouses and renewed through cleaning, rubbing with scented coconut oil, wrapping the figure in white cloth, and being presented with offerings like red feathers along with other sacrifices and incantations. According to Kaeppler, these objects also reinforced hierarchies within Tahitian society only the highest-ranking people could participate in the To’o’s renewal other people could look upon the figure and still others could not even view the piece. Thus, the object renewed relationships between the spiritual and earthly realms through the practices associated with its use.
Māori academic and artist Sidney Moko Mead noted: “We treat our artworks as people because many of them represent our ancestors who for us are real persons…They are anchor points in our genealogies and in our history. Without them we have no position in society and we have no social reality. We form with them the social universe of Māoridom.” The Māori cosmos is rooted in ancestral traditions, continuously evolving over time into cultural and aesthetic traditions that move back and forth between the historical and the present people. The visual artistic traditions are highly valued in Māori culture, especially as expressed through carving, hand-woven works, and tattooing—all of which exist alongside dance, music, oratory, other types of performance, and architecture. Māori peoples share origin stories and concepts organizing society and material culture. The Māori creation story goes as follows: Rangi (the sky-father) lay with Papatuanuku (the earth-mother), and they had four offspring: Tane (god of forests), Tangaroa (god of fish and reptiles), Tu (god of destruction), and Rongo (god of cultivated foods), as well as two specialized gods (Haumia and Tawhiri—gods of uncultivated foods and the winds, respectively). With their parents still joined, the children debated how to separate them and bring light to the world. With Tawhiri dissenting, the others attempted to separate Rangi and Papa—with Tane succeeding by pushing his head against mother earth and his feet up towards father sky. Tawhiri rose with Rangi, letting loose his offspring (the winds, clouds, and hurricanes) against his brother. Tangaroa’s fish plunged into the sea and the reptiles fell into Tane’s forests. Rongo and Haumia hid inside mother earth. Rangi and Papa, never reconciled to their separation, connect through Papa’s sighs (rising as mists) and Rangi’s tears (falling as dewdrops).
It is this story that underlies architectural forms, like this Māori meeting house and pataka, the raised storehouses. Traditionally the pataka was the most important structure on a marae, but today it is the meetinghouse that is the most important and largest structure. The large structure is constructed in an A-frame shape with a recessed entry leading into an open interior space through an off-center door to the left with a carved lintel atop the entryway, marking the sacred space. The pointed roof is supported by central column posts that are carved and painted. The space is organized both vertically and horizontally modeling the cosmos, as an historical metaphor and an embodiment of the ancestors. Like the initial darkness Rangi and Papa’s children found themselves within, it is dark inside, as Rangi embraces the earth. Building materials come from the domain of Tane, and carved ancestors in posts and panels express genealogical relationships of members of the group to whom the house belongs. The meetinghouse has also been discussed as physically embodying the first ancestor, his head at the apex of the bargeboards (his fingers and arms), with the ridgepole running the length of the house down the center referencing the ancestor’s spine. Painted rafters are his ribs, and carved slabs around the sides of the house are more recent ancestors, joining the roof to the floor. These alternate with plaited wall panels, which also cover the floor. The right side (the important side) is considered tapu, reserved for visitors and men, and is associated with death. The left side, (less important) for locals and women, is associated with life. Important spaces within the structure are doorways and the porch (representative of transitions, as between life and death, or sex/reproduction). Lintels (pare) often represent Hine-Nui-Te po (goddess of death), and female symbolism is related to women’s roles in removing tapu to neutralize visitors with bad intentions. Meetinghouses often represent male ancestors, but have also incorporated female ancestors into the house. Carving must visually convey metaphor and allusions to cultural values and is a sacred act embedded with tapu. The spaces and objects of the meetinghouse are so culturally defined that, when painting replaced carving in meetinghouses, they carried the same meanings through a transfer of medium. However, after the 1870s, local histories and identities not regulated by tapu emerged in communities. Artists actively engaged their world that included a New Zealand occupied by both Māori and white New Zealanders, operating within traditional governing and belief systems and the structures of British colonialism. More on British colonialism in New Zealand can be found here. As in other visual art forms in this lesson, the meetinghouse and its various parts and visual structures are augmented by the actions and events that occur within the space. Other important parts of Māori iconography are the koru, spiral, and mangaia. Understanding the multiple layers of meaning embedded in and designed on a meetinghouse can only happen after a person spends time within the community and space often, different meanings are unraveled over a long period of time.
Textiles like this Samoan I’e toga (fine mat) belonged to high-ranking chiefs. Belonging to and touched by powerful ancestors, the objects accrued mana as they were passed down through lineages, conveying that spiritual power to the present chief. Samoan fine mats were gifted on important occasions, with different meanings and names associated with different types of events. I’e toga are made by women—plaited pandanus in thin, narrow wefts in a check pattern, adorned with feathers (originally Collared Lory, and today, dyed chicken feathers)—and valued for the preparation of the medium and skill of the plait (resulting in a soft textile with a sheen). Watch Samoan women weave and discuss I’e toga here. Read more on the material preparation and weaving process here.
Tapa, or barkcloth, is as blanket term for Polynesian textiles made from tree bark (mainly the inner bark of the mulberry tree). It is known by different names, but pictured in this lesson are Hawaiian kapa, Tongan ngatu, Samoan siapo, and Fijian masi. Tapa is made using a multi-step process, and the design and method of elaborating the cloth varies on different island groups. Women separate the inside bark of the mulberry tree from the outside and soak the interior in water to soften it. The bark is beaten with a wooden beater on a wooden anvil to soften it further and create a thin layer of bark. In Hawaii, the bark pieces are felted together, while in the rest of Polynesia, layers of bark are pasted on top of one another, using an arrowroot starch paste (resistant to insects) or other adhesive starch. Pieces of barkcloth are also sewn to each other to make larger pieces (and sewing can also be seen in older and used pieces as evidence of repairs to the valuable and prestigious cloth). In some traditions, the cloth is beaten with a wooden beater that has incised patterns or rubbed against a patterned board (called an ‘upeti board), and has, therefore, an underlying pattern impressed into the cloth. The cloth is decorated in various ways, including painting, dying (one example of indigenous vegetal dye is a deep brown color made from the koka plant), and stamping. Tapa has multiple uses: as clothing (including, today, wedding and prom dresses), wrapping (ritual objects), funerary wrapping, and as a presentation gift at important ceremonies and weddings. Barkcloth sculptures are also found in Polynesia, most notably on Rapa Nui. Making tapa is a labor-intensive, gendered (women make tapa), skilled venture that was (and is) collaborative, and tapa-beating songs guide women as they create textiles together. Videos of women making tapa are included in the online resources above, and tapa-beating music is available on iTunes. In these four examples, you can see aesthetic properties specific to each island. Often, museum collections have portions, rather than complete pieces of tapa, as the large textiles are sometimes portioned off when gifted. For example, the Tongan piece seen here has been cut, with the numbers indicating the section of tapa on the original textile. This piece of Hawaiian kapa collected by an artist on Captain Cook’s voyages (today at the Historisches Museum in Bern) has been freehand painted in black and red, and you can observe where swatches of fabric have been cut from the textile. The Samoan siapo seen here has a composition consisting of grids and rows with triangles, rectangles, and circles creating a visually complex design, emphasized by black and brown pigments. The Fijian masi pictured has stenciled geometric designs in black and red pigments. For further reading on Tongan barkcloth, see: Kaeppler, Adrienne L, “Poetics and politics of Tongan barkcloth,” in Dirk A.M. Smidt, Pieter ter Keurs and Albert Trouwborst (eds.), Pacific Material Culture. Essays in Honour of Dr. Simon Dooijman on the Occasion of his 80th Birthday, (Leiden, 1995), 101–21. As a class activity, you could discuss cultural appropriation in relation to South Pacific textiles, using this article on Fijian tapa as a jumping-off point.
When European colonists and missionaries colonized South Pacific islands, they often introduced new clothing styles, materials, and techniques these objects in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries often replaced the clothing styles and artistic adornment traditions on the islands until concerted efforts to preserve and reintroduce traditional arts in the mid-twentieth century (although there were artists who continued making older art forms on nearly every island). However, in some cases, introduced art forms were assimilated to traditional island functions and became prestigious artistic traditions in their own right. One of these traditions is quilting, introduced by European missionaries and prized particularly in the Cook Islands, Tahiti, and Hawaii (see studies by L. Rongokea, S. Kuchler and A. Eimke, V. Poggioli, and S. Kamehiro). The tivaivai (sometimes written tivaevae), or Cook Islands quilts seen here are examples of an imported tradition being adapted by Cook Islands artists they modified the designs for local visual expression and function. Like quilt traditions globally, Cook Islander quilters both piece and applique their quilts. Pieced designs (tivaivai taorei) tend toward tiny geometric shapes resulting in quilts with fractal-like patterns, and large-scale applique quilts (tivaivai manu) are vegetal designs with heavy embroidery outlining the applique pieces. According to labels in the Cook Islands museum on Rarotonga, the term tivaivai actually means to “patch repeatedly,” but the term tivaivai now refers to any style of the textile. Today, the quilts are prestige objects, often kept in special cabinets or given as gifts, and they serve to ceremonially designate occasions like weddings, rites of passage (like hair-cutting ceremonies), and twenty-first birthdays. Tivaivai also functioned as funerary shrouds. Originally, tapa (Cook Islands barkcloth) served these ceremonial functions. Quilting is both a collaborative and an individual art-making practice often one woman will cut the designs, but many women may work on the stitching in a single tivaivai. Even if the stitchwork is completed by a single woman, women gather in groups to work on their projects together (as in quilt guilds globally), sharing stories, songs, and food while they work. As seen in the two Cook Islands quilts pictured here, the applique quilts often consist of a two or more contrasting colors and intricately cut designs. Pineapples, breadfruit trees, hibiscus, and other native plants are popular tivaivai designs, although quilters incorporate designs from daily life and the Diaspora flora. For more on contemporary Cook Islands quilting, see: Rongokea, Lynnsay and John Daley. The Art of Tivaevae: Traditional Cook Islands Quilting. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2001.
Like other artworks in this lesson, this eighteenth-century Ahu ‘Ula(feathered cloak) is made by a combination of skilled handwork and performance. The cloak can be discussed in three ways: as a prestige object, as an object imbued with mana and intimately woven into Hawaiian belief systems, and as a product of a collaborative artistic system. Constructed of a fiber network with honeycreeper and honeyeater feathers attached in conjunction with chanting, Hawaiian cloaks like this piece were prestige objects. This circular cloak with red and yellow feathers is the best-known compositional structure for these objects. The cloaks were worn during ceremonial and combat situations, alluding to their use in both organizing Hawaiians’ conceptual universe and also the active role that objects play(ed) in life’s important and dangerous moments. According to Teresa Wilkins, one meaning these cloaks carry in Hawaiian communities is unification, as their construction requires a cooperative effort. Additionally, Wilkins cites the color scheme as important for understanding Hawaiian belief systems the color red is associated with warfare, being both the color of blood, and of the god Ku (For a seminal text on Hawaiian belief systems, see Valerio Valeri (1985), Kingship and Sacrifice: Ritual and Society in Ancient Hawaii). Through chanting during construction, the cloaks were imbued with mana, and the wearer was protected through the cloak, as well as through his own personal mana. The cloak is also a marker of social status, through its precious materials and value within the specialized spiritual and material skills necessary to the construction process. A single cloak could take years (or in some cases, decades) to construct and are heirloom pieces that, when worn, convey a public image of wealth and societal status. This cloak is composed of nearly half a million feathers, and Kaeppler has identified the precious object as one of the cloaks gifted to Charles Clerke, Captain Cook’s second-in-command on his third voyage, indicating that the straight neckline and rounded edge dates to a pre-European contact style. You can read more here, or for a thorough introduction to feather art from Hawaii, see: Wilkins, Teresa. Ruffling feathers: Hawaiian feather art 1770–2012. PhD dissertation, 2014.
Māori cloaks are made in a variety of media and with different techniques, and we will focus on the kākahu portrayed here, examining its material, techniques, composition, and aesthetic value. To see in-depth explanations by Māori scholars (art historians, anthropologists, conservators, scientists, and family owners) on how to examine and understand Māori cloaks, please see the 23 videos arranged and posted by Te Papa here. Kākahu convey mana onto their wearers, elevating their prestige through the value of their materials, the power in their skilled construction, and the weight of family history, as kākahu are often passed through families as heirlooms. Kākahu are constructed on a base frame made from muka, the extracted inner fiber of harakeke, New Zealand flax, and incorporating dyed flax, feathers, dog or goatskin, wool, and tassels, among other materials. Te Papa lists seven styles of cloak, ranging from a rugged rain-impermeable cloak, to the prestigious dog-skin cloaks prized before the Pacific dog’s (kuri) extinction in the mid-nineteenth century, to beautiful Kahu huruhuru and Kaitaka (feathered chiefs’ cloaks and skillful flax cloaks with woven taniko—geometric borders—respectively). Kaitaka are especially prized for the luminosity of the cloaks, which is created by the artist using muka (the inner fiber of the flax plant). The taniko (geometric border designs) are the only decorative design on the cloaks and are created using the technique of finger twining (with full and half twists of colored materials woven in by the artist). Kaitaka are invested with power (and reciprocate) the mana of the wearer, and when the Kaitaka is placed upon another person, it can emanate protective powers. Kahu huruhuru (feathered cloaks) are also highly specialized works, in which the artists weave the shafts of thousands of bird feathers into the flax fiber framework. Weavers use the feathers of different types of New Zealand (and introduced) bird species to allude to various Māori stories, metaphors, and personal messages. Māori art specialists also use feathers to establish provenance for cloaks, as feather types can indicate dates, geographies, and other information about a particular cloak. Different birds can also enhance the value and mana of a cloak for example, the nocturnal kiwi’s feathers are especially prized, and the color (red) of the kaka bird are incredibly valuable. Contemporary Māori artists continue to explore the form and function of cloaks in Māori society: for example, Te Rongo Kirkwood’s glass-feathered cloaks (see the University of British Columbia collection).
The wealth of online resources connected to Māori cloaks presents an opportunity for students to deeply engage these artworks. One option for classroom activity is to ask groups of students to engage the various aspects of looking at, researching, caring for, and presenting cloaks, historic and contemporary. After watching the videos, students could investigate a cloak in a museum collection with very little associated information and present a plan for researching the piece (and then follow through with their plan).
The Hawaiian Lei Niho Palaoa in this image is another object of personal adornment infused with mana and connected to prestige and genealogy. Prestige objects worn by both men and women, these pieces are made of valuable materials: a walrus tooth or bone (whale teeth are were also used) pendant strung on cords of braided hair. A person’s head is the place with the highest concentration of mana, infusing the object with power. Scholars characterize the shape of the pendant as either crescent or tongue-shaped, both of which also allude to the presence of mana, conferred upon the wearer.
Tatau was (and is) an important aspect of Polynesian life, and is especially important in Samoa, New Zealand, Hawaii, the Marquesas, and Rapa Nui. Both men and women are tattooed with designs that are meaningful to the individual, and the art is associated with prestige, societal rank and status, and genealogical ties. Tattoos are signifiers of Samoan identity both on the island and in the Diaspora. Samoan men’s tattoos, called pe’a, cover the body from waist to knee for women, the malu covers the upper thigh to behind the knee. Pe’a designs are dense, and malu designs are slightly less so. Traditionally, Samoan tattooing is performed with specialized instruments called ‘au ta. See images of them here, and watch Te Papa curator Sean Mallon speak more on the meaning of tatau here (also hyperlinked in the PowerPoint below).
At the End of Class.
As a pre-lecture classroom assessment technique, you could:
- Have students engage some of the main ideas contextualizing Polynesian art to think about how Polynesian objects originally entered Western museum collections. Divide students into groups and ask them to blog about two of the earliest Pacific explorers: Captain James Cook and Abel Tasman. Ask them to construct a paragraph (as a group) about the given explorer. In a second paragraph, ask each student to discuss a work in a museum collection collected by Cook, Tasman, or a member of their crews. Students can source objects from one of the following books (Kaeppler, Adrienne Lois. James Cook and the Exploration of the Pacific. London: Thames & Hudson, 2009 Kaeppler, Adrienne Lois. “Artificial Curiosities”: Being an Exposition of Native Manufactures Collected On the Three Pacific Voyages of Captain James Cook, R. N., At the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, January 18, 1978-August 31, 1978, On the Occasion of the Bicentennial of the European Discovery of the Hawaiian Islands by Captain Cook, January 18, 1778. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1978), or by searching for Cook/Tasman objects in a repository like the British Museum. Another excellent resource for students is the Smithsonian’s “Creating Hawaii” podcast, discussing the construction of culture through objects.
- As a one-minute paper warm-up, have students reflect in a few sentences on their readings. Ask them to discuss any of the following topics: Polynesian artistic media (natural materials and technology), social structure, or the importance of genealogies in the Pacific.
- Ask students to discuss the terms mana and tapu, and use them to explore a specific work of art from their reading.
- Have students watch the 23 short videos on Māori cloaks featured on the Te Papa website (in groups or before class). Divide them into groups and ask them to consider the various aspects of researching and working with Māori artists and cloaks in the museum context. Ask them to construct a plan for researching a Māori cloak—what kinds of questions need they ask, and to which experts do they turn? How would they figure out what types of materials are incorporated into a cloak? What kind of questions would they ask experts (artists) if they had the opportunity? What kind of information could they tell by visually examining a cloak?
- Debate cultural appropriation in the South Pacific. Ask students to read an article about cultural appropriation, and ask them to debate and discuss different aspects of the argument. Further, ask them to investigate instances of cultural appropriation within their own countries or communities or regulations regarding the use of indigenous imagery. You could, for example, ask them to investigate this question in other media (like tiki imagery—you could use Daniel McMullin’s article as a jumping-off point: McMullin, Daniel, “Tiki Kitsch, American Appropriation, and the Disappearance of the Pacific Islander Body,” LUX: A Journal of Transdisciplinary Writing and Research, Claremont Graduate University. 2(1), Article 21. 2013). This topic also works well as a starting point for blog posts, end of lesson reflections, and as a connection to other sections of a course on global arts, as cultural appropriation is at issue for other art historical fields outside of the South Pacific.
To assess learning after class:
- After the lesson, ask students to reflect on indirectness to contextualize a single work of Polynesian art. Ask them discuss why and how this concept is integral to understanding that artwork.
- Assign students a contemporary artist from Polynesia, and ask them to write a single paragraph examining how one of that artist’s works engages and builds upon Polynesian aesthetic concepts combined with contemporary experiences. (For example: Fatu Feu’u, Mary Pritchard, Jim Vivieaere, Reuben Paterson, or Lisa Reihana).
Stephanie Beck Cohen (author) is a PhD Candidate in Art History at Indiana University.
Jon Mann (editor) is an Adjunct Lecturer at Lehman College, a Senior Contributor at Artsy, and a lecture contributor and editor at Art History Teaching Resources and Art History Pedagogy and Practice.
AHTR is grateful for funding from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and the CUNY Graduate Center.
A Brief History Of Tiki Torches
Here is a brief history of tiki torches, from its origins in Polynesian/Hawaiian culture, to the spread of tiki culture across America in the 1930s.
The Polynesian Goddess of Fire And Light
Tiki torches originated from Polynesian culture. The word Tiki itself refers to wood and stone objects, carved to resemble human beings. The torches are a sign of fertility, and used in religious ceremonies to pay respects to the tiki gods. In Polynesian culture, these “torches of fire” were a symbol of Pele, the goddess of fire and light.
American Adoption In The 1930s
The tiki fire torches began becoming popular in America in the 1930s, as Americans became enthused about Pacific Island culture and started adopting and assimilating Polynesian and Hawaiian decorations into American culture and decor. The phrase “tiki torch” was actually coined by an American business in Torrance, California. The business he founded was called The Tiki Torch Corporation, and the first torches it manufactured were actually made of metal and painted black, as opposed to the bamboo torches that became the norm for tiki lights and are popular even today.
It is rumored that restaurateur Ernest Gantt helped popularize tiki torches in the early 1930s when he used them in his Polynesian themed restaurant and bar, Don the Beachcomber. The Huntington, California restaurant became quite popular, and as it did, the style became popular as well, and soon spread to other restaurants. In just a little bit of time, bars and restaurants that used the torches as part of their design scheme became commonly known as tiki bars.
Modern Tiki Torches Coming to Age
Tiki torches continued to grow in popularity, peaking in popularity around 1950s and 1960s in America, although they are commonly found today as well. As time went on, tiki torches have been modernized and can be found crafted out of a number of metal materials. In some landscapes they are permanent tiki lighting fixtures that are connected to a gas pipe for easier control, and less maintenance. There are tiki lamps that can be used on tabletops, patios, and decks. You can also find citronella tiki torches which act as an organic and natural insect repellent while they burn.
Starting out as a part of tiki history, tiki torches are now integrated in landscape lighting for gardens, swimming pools, beaches, resorts, and beach parties around the world. Visit the L+L LOOK BOOK to see a range of tiki torch photos.
About Our History
The era of European exploration began in the 1500s when “ships without outriggers” began to arrive. In 1521, Magellan spotted the atoll of Pukapuka in what is now the Tuamotu Islands and, in 1595, the Spanish explorer Mendaña visited visited the island of Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas. More than 170 years later, Samuel Wallis, captain of the English frigate HMS Dolphin, was the first to visit the island of Tahiti during his journey to discover Terra Australis Incognita, a mythical landmass below the equator thought to balance the northern hemisphere. Wallis named Tahiti “King George III Island” and claimed it for England. Soon after, and unaware of Wallis’ arrival, French navigator Louis-Antoine de Bougainville landed on the opposite side of Tahiti and claimed it for the King of France.
European fascination with the islands peaked as news spread of both the mutiny of Captain William Bligh’s crew aboard the HMS Bounty, and the tales told of the beauty and grace of the Tahitian people. Fascination with Tahiti and the South Pacific continued to expand with the illustrations of Tahitian flora and fauna and the first map of the islands of the Pacific that Captain James Cook brought back. In the 1800s, the arrival of whalers, British missionaries and French military expeditions forever changed the way of life on Tahiti, while also serving to provoke a French-British rivalry for control of the islands.
The Pomare Dynasty ruled Tahiti until 1880 when King Pomare V was persuaded to cede Tahiti and most of its dependencies to France. By 1958, all The Islands of Tahiti were reconstituted as an French Overseas Territory and renamed French Polynesia. In 2004, French Polynesia became an Overseas Country within the French Republic with self-governing powers and a mission to provide for her people through commerce and investment.
Our Rich Heritage
Polynesian culture has its roots deep in the mythical origins of great ancestral seafarers who settled in the islands 3,000 years ago.
Our culture was passed on from generation to generation by the sacred word. The oral tradition sustained our culture through the centuries. At times, our stories seemed to be on the verge of extinction, only to rise up again at the last moment. In this centuries-old tradition, today’s singers chant the magnificent accents of songs – sacred or secular – losing their echoes in the constant murmurs of the ocean over the coral reef. It is in this tradition that dancers find inspiration for their extravagant choreography. This tradition also inspires enthusiasts of va’a (traditional outrigger canoe) to discover the art of building and sailing their fine outrigger canoes over the ocean and lagoons.
From tradition comes the art of audible percussion from the big, deep pahu and the rattling to’ere, the art of beautiful, complex tattoos, as well as the art of wood sculpture of the Marquesas. Offspring of the great tiki, these stone statues are still standing among the lava of the marae in the bottom of the secret valleys.
In the bountiful Polynesian Islands, all talents converge with natural splendors to make craftsmanship into an art form.
The Art of Living - Polynesian Style
“‘IA ORA NA,” “MAEVA” and “MANAVA”… are three words of greeting with which Polynesians will welcome you.
Proud of their islands, the Polynesians are happy to share their natural joie de vivre (joy of living) with their guests. It is a joy expressed in dance and music of all kinds polyphonic chants from a religious, sacred music group along with the rhythm of percussion from traditional instruments, the pahu and toere. There may even be harmonies from guitars or ukulele that liven up local orchestras. It is a joy that Polynesians express through their leisure and indulging in their favorite pastimes such as fishing, surfing and traditional outrigger sailing, or through va’a, the emblematic sport of the archipelagos.
Testimonials from the Past
The beauty of The Islands of Tahiti and its people have long captivated visitors to our shore.
Bougainville (1768): ‘The character of the nation appeared to us as gentle and kindly. It appears that there has never been a civil war on the island nor any specific hatred of any sort although the country is divided into small villages, each with an independent lord we are convinced that the Tahitians bear good faith to each other and that they never question this. Whether they are in their homes or not, the houses are open day and night. Each person harvests fruit from the first tree they find, takes it into the house and goes in. It appears that for the necessities of life, there is no ownership and everything belongs to everyone.’
James Morrison, second boatswain on board the HMAV ‘Bounty’ (1789): ‘The young women wear their hair long, falling in waves down to their waists and decorated with the white leaves (hinano) of the fara (pandanus or screw pine) as well as with scented flowers. They also make necklaces with fara seeds and flowers that are beautifully arranged. This is not only very flattering but is a bouquet pleasing to themselves as well as to all who are seated near them. All in all these are the most beautiful women that we have seen in these seas…’
Customs and Traditions
Cradle of the Ma’ohi civilization, stretching into the Polynesian Triangle, the Marquesas Islands have preserved impressive parts of customs and lively traditions. The Tiki, stone statues and the me’ae and paepae, religious sites and sacred places comprised of raised stones that are aligned in pyramidal structures, can be found on all the islands.
The renaissance of traditional art can be seen in the development of the art of tattooing, the first ancestral expression of politico-social-religious values. Today, it is a decoration and ornament for the body, where the aesthetics of the motifs reflect their original meanings.
It is found again in the renewed expression in dance and polyphonic chants such as the tarava, ute or ru’au that truly express the depths of the soul of the Polynesian people.
This intense, cultural movement is expressed fully through numerous festive manifestations of which the main one is the grandiose festival of Heiva i Tahiti in July, where groups of singers, dancers, musicians and actors – up to 150 in all – compete in a musical, choreographic and costume extravaganza. Poetry regains its former excellence in the arts of oratory or ‘orero with its spectacular rantings. It is an ancient oral tradition that is often accompanied by the pure sound of the vivo or the nasal flute.
The Birthplace of the Overwater Bungalow
The overwater bungalow. This vision of romance was invented in The Islands of Tahiti in 1967, and has become the quintessential symbol of this South Pacific paradise, and of mutiny-inspiring experiences. Staying in an overwater bungalow is a “can’t miss experience.” When you stay in an overwater bungalow, you get direct access to the renowned Tahitian blue lagoons from a private deck along with all the amenities and service of a first class hotel. The overwater bungalow is the pinnacle of the ultimate private getaway.
The overwater bungalow was first conceived and built by three American hotel owners known as “The Bali Hai Boys.” They took the traditional local Polynesian grass huts and set them on concrete stilts over the water’s edge. Today, most resorts throughout The Islands of Tahiti feature luxurious bungalows, suites and villas perched over calm and mesmerizing lagoons.
Throughout the history of The Islands of Tahiti, many authors, singers, artists, poets and yachtsmen have spent time here. Some of them even died in Tahiti.
These men and women are part of Polynesia’s historic heritage, with many of them leaving traces of and testimonies to their island life. They were struck by our islands’ charm, hospitality and lifestyle. In their own way, each of them helped promote the fame of our islands worldwide.
- Herman Melville (1819-1891), the American author and adventurer, was the first to use the South Seas as a setting for a literary narrative (“Typee,” 1846 and “Omoo,” 1847). He spent a few months in Tahiti in 1841 arriving on board an Australian whaler and later spent some time on Moorea.
- Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), the French painter, began living in Tahiti in 1891 and later moved to the island of Hiva Oa in the Marquesas, where he lived out the last two years of his life. He experienced many misadventures in Tahiti while trying to escape civilization. Gauguin was not always well regarded by the Polynesians – especially the Marquesans. However, he remains one of the most influential painters of his century. He is buried in Atuona Cemetery, Hiva Oa.The Paul Gauguin Museum in Pape’ete (Tahiti) and the Paul Gauguin Cultural Centre in Hiva Oa provide an outline of the life of this nonconformist, as well as reproductions of some of his works.
- Pierre Loti (1850-1923), the French naval officer and author, penned an autobiographical novel in 1879 with our islands as the setting titled, “Rarahu, a Polynesian Idyll,” also known as “Le Mariage de Loti.” You can swim in the Bain Loti next to a statue of the author erected in 1931 (get directions here).
- Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), the Scottish novelist, visited our islands aboard his yacht, Cosco, during his journey to the Pacific in 1888. He later wrote “In the South Seas” in 1891.
- James Norman Hall (1887-1951), the American author, who wrote “Mutiny on the Bounty” and “The Hurricane” (adapted for the screen) with co-author Charles Nordhoff, made Tahiti his home in the 1920s. He died in 1951 and is buried in Arue on the hillside above his home alongside his Polynesian spouse, Lala, who died in 1985. You can visit the home in which he lived, now converted to a museum and classified as an historic monument: James Norman Hall House in Arue.
- Rupert Brooke (1887-1915), the English poet, who wrote the famous poem, “Manea” in 1914 after visiting Tahiti. This classic poem helped carve out a place for Tahiti in modern English literature.
- Alain Gerbault (1893-1941), the aviator, WWI hero, tennis champion and solo yachtsman (he was the first Frenchman to complete an around-the-world journey by sailing boat), lived for six months in Bora Bora in 1932. He returned in 1940. A fierce defender of Polynesia, he wrote eight books condemning colonialism and the destruction the island paradise. In 1941, Gerbault died of malaria in Timor. In 1947, his remains were returned to the main square of Vaitape in Bora Bora where a commemorative plaque was erected in 1951.
- Marlon Brando (1924-2004), the American actor and director, purchased Tetiaroa after completing the filming of “Mutiny on the Bounty” in 1961. He married his co-star, Tahitian Tarita Teriipaia, with whom he lived for 10 years until 1972.
- Bernard Moitessier (1925-1994), the French yachtsman and author, lived for a dozen years in Tahiti and the Tuamotu Islands. Moitessier moved to the atoll of Ahe, where, together with his wife and son, he devoted himself to cultivating organic fruit and vegetables. He was also a strident critic of nuclear testing in the Pacific.
- Jacques Brel (1929-1978), the Belgian singer-songwriter and actor, retired with his partner to the Marquesas at the end of a successful career aboard his sailing yacht, Askoy. Stricken with lung cancer, Brel lived out the last three years of his life on Hiva Oa. Using his private aircraft, Jojo, Brel provided many services to the islanders. He is buried in Atuona Cemetery.The small Jacques Brel Cultural Centre on Hiva Oa recounts the singer’s life in the Marquesas. His song, “Les Marquises,” describes the simple lifestyle and strength of the inhabitants of “The Land of Men.”
- Joe Dassin (1938-1980), the American-born French singer-songwriter, died in Tahiti. He lived in Tahaa, where he bought a luxurious villa on the beach between Toretorea Point and Tiamahana (accessible only by boat or on foot). A plaque at Le Retro, a restaurant/bar in Pape’ete, commemorates his death on August 20, 1980 following a heart attack.
- Alain Colas (1943-1978), the French yachtsman, was the first to complete a solitary round-the-world race in a multihull. He was lost at sea in 1978 during the Route du Rhum yacht race after having passed the Azores. He began living in Tahiti in the 1970s, where he met a Polynesian, Teura Krause, with whom he had three children.
- Bobby Holcomb (1947-1991), the poet, singer, musician, dancer and painter, moved to Huahine in 1976. He died 14 years later. Holcomb was heavily involved in the Maóhi cultural revival movement alongside other celebrities and artists such as Henri Hiro and John Mairai and is one of the best-known artists in The Islands of Tahiti. He is buried at the foot of the sacred mountain, Mou’a Tapu, in Huahine.
The Islands of Tahiti on Film
Our natural scenery has inspired major directors and producers. Feature films show in Polynesia are primarily adaptations of books originally published in English.
Here are a few of the most famous films shot in our islands. Film buffs can seek out filming locations during their trip to The Islands of Tahiti.
- “A Ballad of the South Seas” (1912) was filmed in Papara by the brother of Georges Méliès. Unfortunately, copies this film can no longer be found.
- “White Shadows in the South Seas” (1927), a co-venture in which Robert Flaherty played a role, was shot in the Marquesas. Considered to be a crowning achievement in exotic film, this film, co-directed by W.S. “Woody” Van Dyke, Jr. (who also directed “Trader Horn,” “Eskimo,” the first “Tarzan” films, “San Francisco” and a host of other films), is a very poetic silent film. Admired at the time by the Surrealists, he spoke out against the colonization of the islands of Polynesia, considered a paradise lost.
- “Tapu / Tabu / A story of the South Seas” (1929), a silent film by the famous German film director, F. W. Murnau, and based on a story by Robert Flaherty dealing with the daily lives of the islanders, was filmed in Bora Bora. A few scenes showing naked swimmers were censored in the United States and in Finland. The film shoot, which lasted eighteen months, was turbulent and shrouded by legend (because of drownings, poisonings and mysterious explosions supposedly caused by magic spells). Murnau and his team were said to have violated several local taboos by setting up their headquarters in an old burial ground and by filming in sacred reefs. To top it off, Murnau died in a car accident eight days before the film premiered in New York.
- “Last of the Pagans” (1935), was directed by Richard Thorpe, a former actor turned director, based on the Melville novel, “Typee,” and released by Metro Goldwyn Meyer. The film tells the story of two raids aiming to capture humans: the first raid is carried out by a clan from a neighboring island to take wives by force so they can replenish their “stock” and the second is carried out by whites seeking laborers for phosphate mines. The dialogue is in Tahitian with subtitles.
- “Mutiny on the Bounty.” The first Hollywood version, filmed in 1935, was directed by Frank Lloyd and starred Clark Gable. It played fast and loose with the facts. The better-known 1962 film, shot in 1960/1961 with more than 2,000 actors, 8,000 extras and a budget of $27 million, was a boom to the Polynesian economy. After the shoot, Marlon Brando bought Tetiaroa Atoll. In 1984, a scaled-down version, filmed in Moorea, was released starring Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins and directed by Roger Donaldson. Although the HMS Bounty was just one of many ships sailing the South Pacific in the 18th century, her mutinous voyage helped make Otaheite (or Tahiti, as it is called now) the world’s most infamous paradise. The drama and beauty of the islands and her people were showcased in the 1932 book “Mutiny on the Bounty” and the movie adaptations of 1933, 1935 (Best Picture), 1962 (Best Picture nominee), and 1984.
- “Tahiti ou la Joie de Vivre” (1957) was a comedy directed by Bernard Borderie starring Georges de Caunes. A reporter asks to be sent to Tahiti to find heaven on earth.
- “The Restless and the Damned” (1961), directed by Yves Allégret. The film tells the story of the troubles of a couple who move to Polynesia to seek their fortune in phosphate mining.
- “Tiara Tahiti” (1962) is a British film directed by Ted Kotcheff. An adventurer living in Tahiti unexpectedly runs into his former commanding officer who had him court-martialled. To get even, he decides to make life tough for his adversary, who now works in the tourism business.
- “Tendre Voyou” (1966), directed by Jean Becker starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, relates the escapades of a gigolo.
- “Hurricane” (1979), inspired by the novel by James Norman Hall and Charles Nordoff, was filmed in Bora Bora and directed by Dino de Laurentis. It is a remake of the 1937 film of the same name directed by John Ford.
- “Le Bourreau des Cœur” (1983), directed by Christian Gion, was shot on Tetiaroa and stars Aldo Maccione. The film was a huge success at the box office in France (more than 1.6 million tickets were sold).
- “Les Faussaires” (1994), based on a novel by Romain Gary, “La Tête Coupable,” was directed by Frédéric Blum. The protagonist is an author who has come to Tahiti to write a biography on Paul Gauguin.
- “Love Affair” (1994), released by Gaumont, is a love story and a remake of the 1939 film of the same name. It was shot in Tahiti and starred Katharine Hepburn in her last appearance in a film.
- “Les Perles du Pacifique” (1999) is a 13-episode television series produced by Gaumont about life on a pearl farm.
- “Le Prince du Pacifique,“ directed by Alain Corneau and shot in Huahine in 2000, stars Thierry Lhermitte and Patrick Timsit.
- “South Pacific” (2001), a musical comedy directed by Richard Pierce, stars Harry Connick Jr. and Glenn Close.
- “Couples Retreat” was released by Universal Studios and shot in Bora Bora in October 2008. With only $7 million invested in the film locally, it was the highest grossing film for Universal that year. Nearly fifty journalists were invited to travel to the filming location by the producers.
- “L’ordre et la Morale” directed by Matthieu Kassowitz, was shot in 2010 on Anaa, a small island in the Tuamotu Islands selected as the setting for events in Ouvea (New Caledonia). Events depicted as taking place in Noumea were filmed in Pape’ete.
Other TV shows and documentaries
Every year, the islands are selected as the location for a number of documentaries, TV reality shows, cooking shows and commercials for major international brands. Surfing the waves in Teahupoʻo as well as in a few secret spots in the more distant archipelagos is obviously a favorite subject for film. The same can be said of our sharks and whales (which ply our waters from July to November). The US TV series, “Survivor,” shot in 2002 in the Marquesas (Nuku Hiva), helped publicize the archipelago in North America.
The Institute for Audiovisual Communication (ICA) is the audiovisual repository for The Islands of Tahiti.
For the last 10 years, the Oceania International Documentary Film Festival (FIFO) has been screening the best documentaries on the region. FIFO takes place in February each year at the Maison de la Culture.
Great Outrigger Canoes
The now generally-accepted theory is that it was from south-east Asia that great migrations took place three to four thousand years ago, leading to the settlement of the Pacific by Polynesian populations.
Using outrigger canoes with double sails, built out of wood and plaited fibers, these first intrepid navigators, thanks to their knowledge of the wind, currents and stars were able to travel towards the East, colonizing the archipelagos of the Central Pacific (Cook Islands, The Islands of Tahiti…) between 500 BC and 500 AD.
These great expeditions, that ended in about 1000 AD brought about what is known as the “Polynesian Triangle” that is made up of Hawaii (in the north), Easter Island (in the East) and The Islands of Tahiti (to the west) and of New Zealand (in the southwest). The different languages used in these islands, that stem from the Ma’ohi language, are evidence of the common origin of their inhabitants.
Aboard massive, double-hulled outrigger canoes called tipairua, Polynesians navigated the vast ocean by stars, winds, and currents and created new civilizations in their wake. Today, the canoe continues to play an important role in everyday Tahitian life and is honored in colorful races and festivals. Centuries before Europeans concluded that the Earth was round, Polynesians had mastered the vast blue expanse of the Pacific.
Hawaiki Nui Va’a: It is the world’s largest and longest international open-ocean outrigger canoe race and covers a grueling 77 miles. The race encompasses 3 steps: the 1st one links Huahine to Raiatea, the 2nd one links Raiatea to Taha’a and the last one links Taha’a to Bora Bora. The start and finish are celebrated with a grand festival of tahitian food and music.
The Arrival of the Europeans
In the 16th century, Magellan, then Mendana respectively, reached the Tuamotu and Marquesas Islands. However, it was the Englishman, Samuel Wallis who is memorable in the European discovery of Tahiti (1767). The following year, the Frenchman Antoine de Bougainville baptised this island, “New Cythera.” A year later, The Islands of Tahiti were divided into several chiefdoms and kingdoms where the Polynesian cosmogony had different divinities. Little by little, Protestant and Catholic missionaries preached the gospel in the islands, and then in 1797, with the help of the Europeans, the chiefs succeeded in establishing their supremacy and created the “Pomare dynasty.”
In the nineteenth century, The Islands of Tahiti were the scene of Franco-British rivalry that was religious, commercial and strategic at the same time. In 1842, the French Protectorate was finally signed by Queen Pomare IV (on Tahiti and Moorea) then Annexation was accepted in 1880 by Pomare V, last King of Tahiti.
The 1960s marked a turning point for The Islands of Tahiti that rushed the region into modern times. With the establishment of the CEP (Pacific Experimentation Centre) in 1963, there was an influx of inhabitants to Tahiti, bringing rapid growth to the local economy.
Chronology of The Islands of Tahiti’s History
Strength, power, influence, supremacy, greatness, sovereignty, omnipotence, prestige, control, genius, authority, superiority, nobility, stature, presence, elegance, beauty … the list goes on and on.
These words define the Mana in a precise situation, a particular context, from a specific point of view. Mana is a mythical and essential concept in Tahiti culture, a fundamental truth. It’s both tangible and intangible, expressive yet imperceptible, revealing but enigmatic, so natural but also mysterious and esoteric.
Mana lives, animates, raises up, ennobles and transcends every thing, every being, every element in every dimension it can also annihilate, ruin and destroy until the last vital vibration.
Mana is seducing, enchanting, glamorous, penetrating, fascinating. The Mana is frightening, dangerous, consuming, lethal.
It is the root of the duality of life and death.
It is the essence of the universal power, the heart of the Polynesian universe and Polynesian culture, the beings bringing it to life, the elements shaping it, the existential, cultural and spiritual values which created the Polynesian/Mā’ohi who glorifies this universe.
The Mana is purity (ma) it arises from the life, humility, respect, dignity, love, sharing, beauty, goodness and peace of the beings and things that merge harmoniously in this Mā’ohi universe.
The Mana is wisdom (na/na’a) it emanates from the empirical, technical and ancestral knowledge, from the common sense arising out of the inalienable link between man and his environment for the people of Tahiti, from the faith in the divine, the state of grace that every thing and every being can reach through a spiritual, cultural and profane quest for the universal Mana, the promise to be reborn wiser, purer and more powerful.
Be pure, be wise and the Mana will live in you!
Let's Talk Tiki Bars: Harmless Fun Or Exploitation?
Archipelago, in Washington, D.C., is among a wave of new tiki bars across the country. But how do South Pacific islanders feel about tiki kitsch? Frank N. Carlson/Courtesy of Archipelago hide caption
Archipelago, in Washington, D.C., is among a wave of new tiki bars across the country. But how do South Pacific islanders feel about tiki kitsch?
Frank N. Carlson/Courtesy of Archipelago
Say you want to escape the doldrums of daily life — but you can't quite afford a trip to Hawaii. Why not to head to your local tiki bar for a sample of the South Seas?
These faux-Polynesian, palm-thatched rum palaces that were all the rage in the 1960s are now making a comeback. Leading this nouveau-tiki movement are Lost Lake and Three Dots and a Dash in Chicago, Lei Low in Houston and Latitude 29 in New Orleans.
The newest, hippest island-themed establishment in Washington, D.C., is called Archipelago — and it's tiki-kitsch to the max. There are glass fishing floats hanging from the ceiling. A lamp in the corner is shaped like a sexy hula dancer. And by the bar they've got a shrine dedicated to our favorite Hawaii-based TV private investigator, the '80s-tastic Tom Selleck.
When I meet friends — husband-and-wife duo Eden and Angelo Villagomez — for happy hour here, our first drink is a communal one. It's served in a giant, hollowed-out pineapple and garnished with a flaming lime. The concoction inside is mostly rum, with a bit of fruit on top.
"Can we please put that fire out?" says Eden, looking skeptically at the drink. She and her husband are both from the western Pacific island of Saipan, and they tell me that bars in their hometown would never serve anything like this. But Angelo savors what our bartender calls the Pineapple of Hospitality. "This is potent," he informs us, as he slurps with verve, through his neon orange Krazy straw (being careful to avoid the flame). "I'm feeling that hospitality."
So how did we end up at this boozy, tropical oasis in the middle of buttoned-up Washington, D.C.? To answer that question, we've got to look back about 80 years, says Ken Albala, a professor at the University of the Pacific who runs its food studies program in San Francisco.
The menu at Don the Beachcomber from 1943. The restaurant opened in 1934 in LA, kicking off the tiki bar craze. The menu was loosely inspired by the tropical flavors that owner Donn Beach encountered during his travels in the South Pacific. California Historical Society/Flickr hide caption
The menu at Don the Beachcomber from 1943. The restaurant opened in 1934 in LA, kicking off the tiki bar craze. The menu was loosely inspired by the tropical flavors that owner Donn Beach encountered during his travels in the South Pacific.
California Historical Society/Flickr
The first tiki bar, called Don the Beachcomber, opened in 1934 in Los Angeles ̶ and it's still operating. It was the brainchild of New Orleans native Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt, who traveled the world and explored the Caribbean and the South Pacific, before settling in LA, changing his name to Donn Beach and setting up his namesake restaurant and cocktail lounge. The menu was loosely inspired by the tropical flavors he encountered during his travels.
But the tiki trend didn't really take off until World War II, Albala says, when young men deployed to the war's Pacific theater were exposed for the first time to the South Pacific ̶ to Tonga and Fiji and Hawaii. They developed a taste for the tropical, which they passed on to the rest of the nation.
"It was a weird moment in history, when the whole country became fascinated with the South Pacific," Albala says, "just because it was unknown and exotic." Rogers and Hammerstein even came out with a fun musical. "Tiki bars and restaurants became wildly popular, Albala says, though they "made no pretense to being authentically Polynesian."
"The menus tended to feature this mish-mosh of pan-Asian fusion dishes," Albala says. Many tiki bars, oddly enough, served Chinese food, mostly because back in the '50s, Americans probably didn't know or care much for authentically Polynesian foods, he says. Chinese food was familiar, but still a bit exotic, "so they must have just decided, 'Well, that's close enough.' "
And although tiki cocktails often feature tropical fruits and flavors, they're entirely American inventions, Albala says. Trader Vic's claims credit for inventing the now-famous Mai Tai at its original location in Oakland, Calif.
A menu for Trader Vic's from 1939. The lounge claims credit for having invented the well-known island-themed drink Mai Tai. Jim Heimann Collection/Getty Images hide caption
A menu for Trader Vic's from 1939. The lounge claims credit for having invented the well-known island-themed drink Mai Tai.
Jim Heimann Collection/Getty Images
Of course, tiki decor draws from Pacific cultures. Tiki, after all, is a Maori word for a type of stone or wooden carving found throughout the islands. But the tiki bar "is just taking all those cultures and putting them all in a blender and blending it all together to create this Isle of Tiki, which is this mythical place where tiki bars come from," says Kalewa Correa, a curator at the Smithsonian's Asian Pacific Islander Center.
The man working the real blender at Archipelago, owner Owen Thomson, concurs. Tiki bars, he says, have always been "three steps removed from anything actually Polynesian." At his modern tiki bar, he says, "it's more about re-creating a piece of Americana, of that 1950s, 1960s style."
And, it's about re-creating "that whole ethos of escapism," Thomson says. "One of the reasons you're seeing tiki bars pop up all over America again is because . all of us [are] staring at our phones all day, wrapped up in whatever stressful thing." The tiki bar gives us a reason to sort of step out of your daily life, he adds. "There's island music and big fruity rum drinks, thatch and bamboo everywhere and you just kind of like, let it all go for a bit."
Letting it go — that's something Type-A D.C. folks like me should probably do more often. But here's the thing: I'm drinking a piña colada out of a ceramic mug that's shaped like what's actually an important cultural symbol for the Hawaiians and the Maori and the Samoans. And that's something I should probably pause and consider for a minute, says Correa from the Smithsonian.
"What you're looking at — the carvings are either representations of gods, or they're representations of ancestors," he says. "So if we were to put that into a context that Americans would understand, it would be like going into a Christian-themed bar" with drinks served in glasses shaped like the Virgin Mary.
Pacific Islanders have, for the most part, ignored this whole trend, Correa says. "But seeing your ancient gods or your ancestors in a bar somewhere far from where you are — I think that can be hard."
Seeing his Hawaiian culture commodified and turned into kitsch can feel invalidating, he adds. "Really at the root of it, it's exploitation," he says. "It's ignoring the real lives, the real culture and the real problems that we do face."
Tiki bars can also feed into the idea that the islands are just a place to vacation or escape, he says, when in fact, Pacific islanders have real concerns — like climate change threatening their homeland, and their traditional ways of living.
Back at the bar, my companion Angelo Villagomez agrees, but up to a point. "We're seen as a place that's just a tourist destination," he says. "It's only a place that you go to to have fun." That doesn't sit well with many islanders, who think of themselves as earnest, hard workers, he says.
But he can understand why tourists become so enamored with the islands that they try to re-create the experience at tiki bars and restaurants. "There is something special about Pacific communities," he explains. "When people visit they do feel welcome, they do feel like they're part of the community." The "Aloha spirit," as they call it in Hawaii, is infectious. "I think bars like the one we're at," he says, "are sort of an attempt by people in the mainland to re-create some of that spirit. And maybe they're kind of re-creating it completely incorrectly. But I do think it comes from a good place."
Besides, he adds, he's really into his Pineapple of Hospitality. "I mean, I'm having fun I've got good food, good rum" — not to mention a Krazy straw.
"The way we look in the popular culture is more an issue of identity," he starts to say before taking a swig of cocktail. But he loses his train of thought. "Man, this rum is good," he says, laughing. "What was your question again? Because I think rum is the answer."
In the most basic terms, a tiki is a Polynesian god, or more commonly, a physical representation of a Polynesian ancestor figure, usually carved in wood or stone. The Polynesian islands are spread out over a whole lot of ocean, and there are many different Polynesian cultures, each with its own figures and mythology.
In the mid-20th century, Polynesia was a mysterious, exotic place &mdash or at least it was to your everyday American. An idealized version of Polynesian culture was created on the mainland, featuring lush, over-the-top themed environments, just like stepping into a tropical vacation. Initially this was just in bars and restaurants, but eventually it spread to places like bowling alleys, minature golf courses, and ultimately the very homes & backyards of America. The country was recovering from a war and looking to build a bright, new future &mdash and spending an evening exploring their &ldquosavage&rdquo side was how Americans handled the pressure that came along with that.
It is difficult to appreciate today just how popular tiki bars were in the 20th century. Every city in America had not just one tiki bar, but several. Many of them were deluxe restaurants &mdash an upscale evening out, worthy of dressing up (unless you were wearing your very best aloha shirt). The food and drink presentations were elaborate. While the food usually looked better than it tasted (it was often simply a twist on American-Chinese food, dressed up in pineapple), it was revolutionary in a time when people did not commonly eat outside their own culture. It was the tropical drinks that could make or break a tiki bar. The proper mixing of tropical cocktails is a complicated art that is a challenge to find today. These masterpieces were often served in a ceramic tiki mug you could take home with you &mdash these mugs are now a huge area of collecting. The investment made in decorating the interiors was huge, sometimes featuring waterfalls, working volcanoes, massive tikis and dancing hula girls. One such restaurant, the Mauna Loa in Detroit, cost $1.6 million to build &mdash and that's in 1967 dollars.
As time went by, and the next generation grew older and increasingly dissatisfied with their parents' ability to turn a blind eye to the problems of the day (especially the Vietnam War), tiki bars became a symbol of all that was wrong, and fell out of favor. The restaurants remodeled themselves as plain Chinese restaurants, or simply went out of business. A small handful of them still stand today, and a resurgence in interest in Polynesian Pop has led to a new crop of tiki bars and restaurants.
Watch the video: Polynesian women peauty (January 2022).