Thursday, October 30, 2008

Tiki Culture

Tiki culture refers to a mid-20th-century theme used in Polynesian-style restaurants and clubs originally in the United States and then, to a lesser degree, around the world. The connection to Tiki, a character in the mythology of portions of the South Pacific, is tenuous at best.

Tiki culture in the United States began in 1934 with the opening of Don the Beachcomber, a Polynesian-themed bar and restaurant in Hollywood. The proprietor was Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt, a young man from Louisiana who had sailed throughout the South Pacific; later he legally changed his name to Donn Beach. His restaurant featured Cantonese cuisine and exotic rum punches, with a decor of flaming torches, rattan furniture, flower leis, and brightly colored fabrics. Three years later, Victor Bergeron, better known as Trader Vic, adopted a Tiki theme for his restaurant in Oakland, which eventually grew to become a worldwide chain.[1]

When American soldiers returned home from World War II, they brought with them stories and souvenirs from the South Pacific. James Michener won the 1948 Pulitzer Prize for his collection of short stories, Tales of the South Pacific, which in turn was the basis for South Pacific, the 1949 musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein, also a Pulitzer Prize winner. Hawaiian Statehood further drove interest in the area and Americans fell in love with their romanticized version of an exotic culture. A further factor was the excitement surrounding the Kon-Tiki expedition. Polynesian design began to infuse every aspect of the country's visual aesthetic, from home accessories to architecture.

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