Tiki in Hawai‘i: Love It Or Hate It, The Tiki Aesthetic Lives On

Posted in: Culture & History, Editor's Blog, Food & Drink, The Arts

By Richard Melendez, Digital Editor

La Mariana
Photo: La Mariana Sailing Club

Tiki. Love it or hate it, the imagery of this unique style permeates our thoughts of old Hawai‘i and what some people think the islands were, are, and/or supposed to be.

The mere mention of the word ‘tiki’ evokes images of tacky aloha shirts, grass skirts and plastic lei while strumming on a cheap, toy ‘ukulele. Throw in a carved wooden representation of an indeterminate deity and a colorful rum cocktail with an umbrella or another prop sticking out of it and, and, well, you’ve pretty much nailed the basics. The tiki aesthetic is pure escapism for some. For others, it perpetuates harmful stereotypes about Polynesians and island life.

For better or worse, tiki is intrinsically tied to the last century of Hawai‘i’s cultural history. Its influence can be found in music, fashion, cuisine, home decór, and even in television and film. One of the most common ambassadors of tiki culture is the tiki bar, a themed venue whose heyday has long since passed here in the islands. La Mariana Sailing Club is one of the last survivors of that bygone age. They’ve had a troubled history and managed to avert a shutdown about a decade ago. Sadly, they’re yet again facing a questionable future.

Whatever your thoughts are on tiki style in general or this venue specifically, it is undeniable that La Mariana is a landmark and the last of a dying breed. We'll see if they're able to pull out of their current situation. If not, it will mark the end of a notable era.

Tiki bars seem to be making a comeback on the mainland, however, and there’s even buzz about a tiki-inspired venue opening up sometime soon in Chinatown. Even as the originals die off, the spirit will live on.


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